In 2008, Antonio Pettigrew, a member of the gold medal winning USA 4x400m relay team at the Sydney Olympics, testified that he had taken HGH (human growth hormone) and EPO (erythropoietin) from 1997 to 2001. His teammate, the great US runner Michael Johnson, responded in a column that was published in newspapers across the world:
“As for the gold medal I won with Antonio, and Alvin and Calvin Harrison, who have all admitted to or have tested positive for drugs since 2000 when we won the medal, I’m sure that there will be calls for us to give it back. I’m not sure what will happen with that effort, but I know that the medal was not fairly won and that it is dirty, and so I have moved it from the location where I have always kept my medals because it doesn’t belong there. And it doesn’t belong to me.
“So, as difficult as it is, I will be returning it to the IOC because I don’t want it. I feel cheated, betrayed and let down.”
In 2007, Marion Jones, a five-time gold medalist at the Sydney Olympics and a member of the gold medal winning USA 4x400m relay team and the bronze medal winning 4x100m relay team, admitted that she used performance-enhancing drugs during the 2000 Games. She surrendered her medals and the International Olympic Committee’s Executive Board subsequently stripped her teammates of their medals.
Last week, six of Jones’ seven relay teammates successfully appealed the IOC’s decision in the Court of Arbitration for Sport. One of them, Passion Richardson, released a statement which said:
“We are thankful that the Court’s decision resolves, once and for all, that we earned our medals and no one can take them or the results we achieved.”
Unsurprisingly, Richardson chose to avoid much of the controversy surrounding the decision in her statement.
According to the CAS, “The Panel found that at the time of the Sydney Olympic Games there was no express IOC or IAAF Rule in force that clearly allowed the IOC to annul the relay team results if one team member was found to have committed a doping offence. The Panel, whilst it does not accept to impose a sanction on the basis of inexistent or unclear rules, acknowledges that the outcome of this case may be unfair to the other relay teams that competed with no doped athletes helping their performance.”
The findings continued: “The IOC’s argument that it would be logical to disqualify a team whose overall performance was boosted in some measure by one doped team member is not without force and is even commonsensical. However, in the view of the Panel, mere logic may not serve as a basis for a sanction.”
IOC President Jacque Rogge openly voiced his disappointment at the finding, while United States Olympic Committee spokesperson Patrick Sandusky said that “Although we continue to believe that the U.S. medals in the 4×100 and 4×400-meter women’s relays were unfairly won due to Ms. Jones’s doping, we have always recognized that the athletes who made up the U.S. teams might have a legal basis on which to defend these medals.”
Perhaps it’s easier to take the high road when you’re Michael Johnson than when you’re Passion Richardson – when you’re recognised as one of the legends of your sport and you have 4 Olympic Golds still safe and sound in your possession.
However, when it is being reported that the seven women who appealed the decision are now pursuing a case in commercial arbitration against the USOC, “arguing that in failing to support them [in their appeal] it breached a contractual duty,” it sounds like the high road was hardly a consideration.
Passion Richardson can continue to look at her bronze medal, housed in a wooden frame, every time she visits the home of her parents in Florida. She can gaze at it, knowing that the rules as they existed in 2000 did not prevent her team from being awarded medals even if its fastest member was taking performance-enhancing drugs.
And she’s right: no-one can take that medal, nor the results she and her team achieved, away from her.