Remember when Russia ran a state-led doping system, cheating numerous hard-working Olympians of a level playing field, and robbing the Olympic movement of the ideals that make the Games so precious?
The IOC doesn’t.
With news of Russia’s Olympic reinstatement, every medal won by the country continues to carry an air of suspicion, including the 17 medals won in Pyeongchang, South Korea, by Olympic Athletes from Russia.
With little to no resolution on the horizon, can Canada legitimately measure its Olympic success by our medal haul?
“If I was OTP [Own the Podium], I would look at those results without the Russians,” said Dominick Gauthier, the co-founder and chief operating officer of B2ten, a privately funded athlete investment group that deploy resources to Canada’s top Olympic athletes.
“When I present our donors with a list of the medallists, I’m including [fourth-place] Alex Harvey,” Gauthier said. “I want to put an asterisk beside that performance and treat it like a medal. It was phenomenal. We can’t treat that performance like it was a disappointment, it was a success. The Russians ahead of him shouldn’t have even been competing.”
If you missed the gut-wrenching 50km mass start classic, reigning world champion Alex Harvey finished just off the podium.
It was a heart-wrenching finish for the Canadian in what was a spectacular showcase of athleticism and willpower in the Games’ most grueling event. Canadians watched as a distraught Harvey watched IOC president Thomas Bach award silver and bronze medal to Olympic Athletes from Russia Alexander Bolshunov and Andrey Larkov on the largest stage, the closing ceremony.
Ask any athlete, fourth place is tough. It’s the cut-off, a finishing position we arbitrarily treat as a failure because it isn’t recognized with hardware. But for Harvey to miss a medal to an athlete coached by Yuri Borodavko, a man previously suspended for doping offences, it must be an even tougher pill to swallow.
Like the luge team from four years ago, Harvey will likely be left to wonder if somewhere down the road, one of those medals should be his. Regardless of the circumstance, Olympic results are judged as a picture in time and the implications are larger than the impact on the individual.
In a targeted sport-funding system, medals matter.
“The OTP funding system requires accountability, when a sport wins an Olympic medal it gives them legitimacy to what they are doing,” Gauthier said.
The current state of Olympic sport calls into question the business implications of using the Olympic podium as Canada’s barometer of success. Sometimes the story behind the result is more compelling. For Cross-Country Ski Canada and Alex Harvey, they were prepared to win. They delivered in the moment and inspired all that watched. But without a medal, we don’t celebrate that feat in the same way.
Is that really who we are as Canadians? Should we still be saying medals are what matters when the IOC continues to fail athletes by not ensuring a level playing field?