Nearly four years late and half a world away, Australian race walker Jared Tallent finally received his chance to move up another rung on the London Olympics medal podium. This time it was for a gold medal stripped from Russia’s Sergei Kirdyapkin.
The lengthy delay was doping-related: Kirdyapkin, who was presented with the gold in the 50-kilometer walk at the 2012 Olympics, later received a three-year ban by the Russian anti-doping agency. Contentiously, that sanction didn’t cover his Olympic result.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport overturned the Russian decision in March, clearing the way for the 31-year-old Tallent to upgrade his silver to gold.
“It’s a victory for clean sport. Justice has been served,” said Tallent, who was presented with the gold medal by International Olympic Committee vice-president John Coates in a ceremony held in drizzly rain Friday in front of the Old Treasury Building in Melbourne.
Coates, also president of the Australian Olympic Committee, didn’t miss a chance to slam the Russian system.
“Presenting an Olympic medal is always an honor, but more so on this occasion to be part of rectifying, in some way, the massive injustice perpetrated on Jared by a doping cheat and aided by a Russian Anti-Doping Agency and Russian Athletics Federation that were rotten to the core,” Coates said at the beginning of his remarks at the ceremony.
Coates accused Russia of “playing games with us” over the timing of Kirdyapkin’s doping test results and the sanction.
Ironically, or perhaps not, track and field’s international governing body was to determine later Friday whether to restore the Russian track team’s eligibility for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in August. The IAAF suspended Russia from its global competitions after a World Anti-Doping Agency report in November revealed state-sponsored doping.
“I hope they make the right decision,” Tallent said Friday. “I will be very angry as more athletes will be robbed of medals again and it will tarnish the Games.
“There are athletes in my event in the past who have missed out on medals so I’m very much one of the lucky ones. I feel really sorry and sad for those athletes who have missed out.”
Coates didn’t think the IAAF would lift the ban before the Olympics, saying Friday: “I expect the IAAF will maintain the sanctions against Russia.”
Athletic Australia chief Phil Jones agreed, saying earlier “we would be astonished, given the extent of the systemic doping regime uncovered, if Russia has … taken all the necessary steps to ensure that they are WADA-code compliant.”
The gold medal completes a set for Tallent — he won silver in the 20-kilometer and bronze in the 50K-race at the Beijing 2008 Olympics. He’ll have another chance to add to his total in Rio as a member of the Australian team, along with his younger sister Rachel, whom he coaches.
“I am now the Olympic champion when I stand on the start line at Rio,” Tallent said Friday. “But 1,405 days ago I should have received the medal.”
With the medal revisions, China’s Si Tianfeng now takes silver and Robert Heffernan of Ireland moves up to bronze.
The belated ceremony for Tallent — complete with the playing of Australia’s national anthem and a flag-raising — will never replace what could have been.
“It’s definitely a bit hollow that you don’t get to stand on the podium at the Olympic Games in front of all the people and spectators who see you compete, you don’t get to see the Australian flag go up to the highest point,” Tallent said after the CAS decision was published in March. “That’s all been taken away, what comes with being an Olympic champion, I’ll never get (that) back.”
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