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  • Reallocation of Olympic Medals an Arduous Process


    (ATR) The wait for an Olympic medal begins for athletes around the world, years after they competed.
    Rob Heffernan after completing 50km walk at London 2012 (Getty Images)

    Next week Irish racewalker Rob Heffernan will be presented with his bronze medal for the 50km walk from the 2012 London Games at a city hall ceremony in his native Cork.

    Heffernan, who originally finished fourth in the event, learned in March that he was a medal winner. That’s when the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled that Sergey Kirdyapkin, who originally won the gold medal, should not have been allowed to compete. He is one of six Russian athletes in London that CAS retroactively disqualified over defective doping bans by the Russian Anti-doping Agency.

    While four years might seem like an eternity to get what’s rightfully yours, Heffernan’s wait is short compared to many.

    Since July 22, the IOC has announced it has taken away medals from 10 athletes from Beijing 2008 and four from London 2012 for doping after their original samples were retested. The rules allow for retesting of samples up to eight years after the fact.

    Appeals will be triggered and action will also be needed by international federations before any new medals are handed out.

    Adam Nelson originally won silver medal at Athens 2004 (Getty Images)
    Shotputter Adam Nelson of the U.S. won silver in Athens. But in 2012 testing of Ukraine gold medalist Yuriy Bilonoh returned positive results and he was stripped of the medal.

    But it took another year before Nelson could hold the medal in his hands.

    “I found out about the positive test from reporters in July of 2012. It was confirmed by reporters in August of 2012 that Yuriy was indeed one of the athletes who tested positive and the reporter also told me that the IOC was having a special hearing to determine whether or not (to) vacate the spot or reallocate the medals, “ Nelson tells Around the Rings.

    “I was, then, notified by a reporter about the IOC’s decision to reallocate the medals. At some point afterwards, I was sent a message from the USOC asking for me to send my silver medal to them in order to pass it on to its rightful owner. I told them I would not relinquish my silver medal until my gold medal was in my hand. In late July of 2013 I received an email from the USOC asking if I can meet a delegate at the Atlanta airport to exchange medals. I was told they had secured the actual gold medal awarded to Yuriy. I met with an official of the USOC in the food court at the Atlanta Airport for about 5 minutes to exchange the medals.”

    An IOC spokesperson tells Around the Rings “The reallocation of medals is not automatic and is done on a case by case basis. As a general rule however, it takes place when the athletes/teams sanctioned have exhausted all their remedies of appeal and when all procedures are closed.

    “The IOC is then following up with the relevant National Olympic Committee which then notifies the athlete(s) whom the medal has been reallocated to,” says the IOC official.

    “Prior to Olympic Agenda 2020 – the IOC’s strategic roadmap for the future of the Olympic Movement initiated by President Thomas Bach - ceremonies were organized by the relevant National Olympic Committees. With Olympic Agenda 2020 the emphasis is on making sure that the clean athletes are honoured properly for their accomplishments in a more systematic and formal manner. Each case is discussed with the relevant National Olympic Committee.”

    The Olympic Council of Ireland ceremony on Nov. 3 for Heffernan certainly fits in with the Agenda 2020 guidelines.

    Nelson at USATF Olympic Trials in July (Getty Images)
    But for Nelson, who finally got to show his gold medal to a crowd at a victory ceremony in July during the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials, there is no substitute for the real thing.

    “For an Olympic athlete, there is no moment more precious than the actual medal ceremony,” he says. “Olympic athletes spend hours every day for years to earn a spot on a podium. Gold medals are only handed out once every four years. That moment is rare by definition, but even rarer is the context of that moment. Nothing can ever replace that. It will always be a memory that I never had. “

    But though delayed, Heffernan says he is eager to experience a moment of acclaim in his hometown next week.

    “This is always what I dreamt about, being presented with an Olympic Medal. It would of course have been wonderful to have received it in London but now to receive it on Irish soil in my home City of Cork, with my own family, friends, supporters on the 100 year anniversary of 1916, is a fitting and very special way for Irish people to celebrate Irish Olympic Sporting success”.

    Written by Gerard Farek

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