100m

One-and-Done: No Place for Cheaters in the Olympics

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-John David Mercer/USA TODAY Sports

Usain Bolt was at it again on Sunday night, harnessing his energy like electricity flowing through his body to fuel his machine-like pistons for legs. He spurred ahead of the pack to take home the gold medal in the 100m sprint for the third straight Olympics.

Amongst those that he outraced was the United States’ Justin Gatlin, a rival that has gotten close to catching the world’s fastest man throughout the last couple of years. Like all other races before, he was unable to do so, but did put up a valiant effort in challenging Bolt.

As exciting as it was to see Bolt and Gatlin square off at the sport’s highest level, the allure was tarnished by Gatlin’s past.

The 34-year old Brooklyn native had been previously banned twice from track and field for doping.

Frankly, Gatlin should not be able to take home the silver medal.

He shouldn’t have had the opportunity to compete in the Olympics to begin with.

The anti-doping conversation began earlier in the Olympics, when American Lilly King took down Russia’s Yulia Efimova in the swimming pool. King publicly disparaged Efimova after the semifinals and backed up her point by winning gold in the 100m breaststroke.

Efimova tested positive for DHEA, a performance enhancing drug, back in 2013. As a result, she served a 16-month suspension that was lifted in early 2015. Back in March 2016, she tested positive for meldonium, the same PED found in tennis star Maria Sharapova (currently serving a two-year ban).

Efimova was banned from swimming once again, but it was put on hold while the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) further investigates. She was quietly reinstated into the Olympics, but the boos that came her way for every race she competed in were far from reserved.

After defeating Efimova, King became a firm voice in the conversation regarding where athletes caught doping should stand in the Olympics. She believes that there is no room for them at all–a point that isn’t just for Efimova and Team Russia, as it is investigated for a state-wide doping scandal.

“Do I think people who have been caught doping should be on the team? They shouldn’t,” King said, when asked about if U.S. athletes who had been caught doping in the past. “It is unfortunate we have to see that.”

Unlike the overwhelmingly villainous role that Efimova has been given, the reception for Gatlin has been mixed. Spectators were quick to shoot down Efimova, and deservingly so. Meanwhile, Gatlin has received both boos and cheers, with some coming to his defense.

It’s easy for the United States’ supporters to criticize those who don’t suit up for the stars and stripes, especially when it comes to Russia and the long-standing Olympic and historical rivalry between the two countries.

However, in this case, Americans should not support their own who cheat. Lilly King is correct, there is no place for cheaters–past or present–in the Olympics.

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-Vaughn Medley/Getty Images

While some pundits have criticized King for being a poor sport by being harsh towards Efimova, I applaud her for being able to voice her opinion and stand up for what is right–calling out cheaters. That is the opposite of being a bad sport. She won the gold medal fair and square.

This the highest level of athletic competition in the world, allowing those who have used PEDs to compete is placing a giant blemish on the integrity of the Olympics and the value of medals.

Like Efimova, Gatlin had been caught twice. He has spent a combined five years away from track and field. While he may adamantly proclaim his innocence and insist that he has served his time, he should not be able to compete in the Olympics.

The International Olympics Committee (IOC) needs to place a harsh no-strikes rule for all cheaters who have used PEDs. One-and-done.

I do not buy an athlete’s excuse in claiming he or she did not know a banned substance was entering their bodies. An athlete claiming naivety is simply reckless. One needs to be far from reckless when it comes to training and preparation. In order to be in tip-top shape, especially at the rigorous level of the Olympics, you have to closely monitor what is going into your body. Aside from the athletes themselves, they have coaches and trainers who are also monitoring their activity. Someone has to know.

A one-and-done rule will bring athletes, coaches, and trainers to look even closer to see what substances are present in a supplement or diet. There should be no excuses to test positive for PEDs that bring a competitive edge.

Should an athlete appeal his or her ban, a further investigation should uncover the truth. If there is a mistake, he or she will be reinstated. A harsh, one chance policy will minimize on doping–especially when a life-long ban from the Olympics is at stake for those who cheat.

The IOC cannot be soft when it comes to dealing with PED users. We’ve already seen what happens when a league’s administration chooses to look the other way or fail to address its doping problem with Major League Baseball.

The MLB chose to look the other way when it came to steroids, as the sport needed to recover from low ratings around the time of the strike in 1994. There’s no coincidence that it was lax in testing its players–as the league saw excitement once again, with home runs flowing in the late 90s, and fans got to see the compelling home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa.

It wasn’t until the 2000s that baseball began to really crack down on steroid users, and it wasn’t just limited to star players.

The Mitchell Report in 2007 unveiled approximately 90 MLB players allegedly linked to steroids or other PEDs. The use of PEDs is an epidemic that the MLB is still trying to weed out and overcome today.

The Olympics doesn’t need to succumb to the same fate. The IOC needs to place a high standard for its athletes now. After all, this is a competition for the top athletes in the world–encompassing way less than one-percent of the human population. Allowing past or present PED users contaminates the field and harms the credibility of the competition.

There should be no sympathy for athletes who are known cheaters and PED users. They stole a spot on Olympic rosters from others who attempted to qualify cleanly, and some have even snatched a medal away from other competitors.

Gatlin, Efimova, and all others who tested positive for PEDs deserve their boos and criticism. It’s time for the IOC to set that clear, high standard moving forward so that there is no controversy and no questions to be asked.

PED users should not be allowed in the Olympic games and those caught with PEDs after the fact should have their results vacated and their medals stripped away.

Because, let’s face it–there is something off when an athlete with a tainted past represents a country or finishes ahead of the one who did things honestly and fairly.

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The Silver Lining in Michael Phelps’ Final Individual Race

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-Stefan Wermuth/TSRIO2016 REUTERS

Michael Phelps has certainly built quite the resume to be called the greatest of all time–he is the most decorated Olympic athlete with 27 medals and has the most gold medals with 22, shattering numerous Olympic and world records along the way.

Some would even say that Phelps is immortal in the swimming universe, especially after breaking a 2,168-year old record for most gold medals in individual events. It’s a feat that seemingly withstood the test of time, until he set a new mark earlier this week.

However, on Friday night, the world got a reminder that Phelps is not immortal. And frankly, it’s not a bad thing.

In fact, it’s actually beautiful poetry.

There was no Kodak moment, no splashing in celebration, and no opportunity for Phelps to raise four fingers into the air to signify a four-peat as a gold medalist in the 100m butterfly.

Instead, Phelps’ streak of gold medals was put to a shocking halt by Singapore’s Joseph Schooling. The 21-year old swimmer set an Olympic record en route to holding off Phelps and the rest of the pack to victory.

It might not have been the send off Phelps wanted in his final individual Olympic race but in some ways, it was.

Phelps’ mentality started to change since the London Olympics in 2012. Medals and accolades are certainly great for his legacy, but he also wanted to be an ambassador and a pioneer to bring more change and attention to the sport of swimming.

This change was realized on Friday night.

It was a coronation for the new generation of swimming. Not only did Schooling beat Phelps, the man he grew up idolizing as a young swimmer, but he also beat South Africa’s Chad Le Clos and Hungary’s Laszlo Cseh–two of Phelps’ rivals in the last couple Olympic games.

Going in, many thought that the 100m butterfly would be a three-man race between Le Clos, Cseh, and Phelps.

Le Clos and Cseh wanted to beat Phelps, just as he wanted to beat them–but it wasn’t their night. Neither one was able to achieve aquatic supremacy and instead tied one another in historic fashion, as they deferred to Schooling, who beat them by nearly a full second more.

In fact, he schooled them in the qualifying and semifinal heats, clocking in the top times in each round before going into the finals.

Schooling first met Phelps shortly before the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The United States Swimming Team was training in Singapore, when Schooling–as a 13-year old–got to meet his idol. He excitedly got a picture with Phelps and received his autograph too.

Surely, he couldn’t imagine what would transpire eight years later.

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-Reuters

Aside from besting the most dominant swimmer the world has seen for over a decade, Schooling began his own path as an Olympic trail blazer. After all, it runs in the first time Olympian’s family.

His granduncle, Lloyd Valberg, was Singapore’s first Olympian, competing in the 1948 London Olympics. He inspired Schooling to strive for the Olympics as a young boy. Now, his Olympic record finish brought home the first ever gold medal to Singapore.

It’s a feat that demonstrates the growth of swimming worldwide. The sport is starting to take shape and foundations are being created in other countries–some of which, you won’t expect or wouldn’t have been quick to name as a contender.

It’s a medal that Phelps won’t be able to challenge in the 2020 Tokyo Games, and an Olympic record he won’t get to race for.

It’s a changing of the guard, the post-Phelps era has already begun.

Phelps set out to change the swimming world and to inspire others, Schooling is that idea personified. He is the new champion of the 100m butterfly, dethroning Phelps and his rivals himself.

The swimming world doesn’t have to worry. While one of it’s most iconic faces will be stepping away from the pool at the conclusion of the Rio Games, there shouldn’t be any shortage of exciting competition in the years to come. Phelps’ defeat reaffirms that.

There will be more new faces and swimmers by the time the next Summer Olympics roll around and while it will be a strange sight not seeing Phelps don his black swimming cap with the United States’ flag emblazoned on it, he will get to marvel at the future of swimming and where the sport is headed.

For now, this is it for Phelps. If he doesn’t change his mind, the sport will be just fine in the hands of Schooling and every one who wants to be like Mike.