SII Focus 7 March 2016

The dirtiest race in history?

The Men’s 100m at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea has frequently been dubbed ‘the dirtiest race in history’. The world-record winning time set by Ben Johnson was nullified two days after the race after a post-race drug test indicated steroid use. Suspicion of wider drug-use in the field was rife, as well as accusations that the eventual winner, Carl Lewis, ran illegally out of his lane.

Now however, as more and more comes to light of the use of performance-enhancing drugs at the London 2012 Olympics, that notorious race may have a challenger to this infamous title. The Women’s 1500m has come under renewed scrutiny following media reports in Turkey that Gamze Bulut, the race’s silver medalist, is being investigated for abnormalities in her Athlete Biological Passport (ABP).

Bulut came second in the race behind fellow Turkish athlete Asli Cakir Alptekin, who has since been stripped of her gold medal and banned from sport for eight years after she was found to have committed a second Anti-Doping Rule Violation (ADRV) following abnormal values found in her blood samples.

In the field of 12 athletes, as well as the two Turkish runners at the top, 7th placed Belarusian runner Natallia Kareiva and 9th placed Russian athlete Ekaterina Kostetskaya have also since been disqualified from the race – also due to abnormalities in their ABPs.


Straight after the race took place, British athlete Lisa Dobriskey, who finished 10th after a disappointing performance, was already casting doubt on the legitimacy of the result. ‘I don’t believe I’m competing on a level playing field,’ Dobriskey told BBC Radio 5 live. ‘I think the blood passport is catching people but I think these Games came too soon. People will be caught eventually, I think. Fingers crossed anyway.’

Dobriskey’s comments at the time were attributed to the controversy surrounding the participation of Russia’s Tatyana Tomasheva. The Russian athlete was able to compete in the race after having served a doping ban of two years and nine months, which ended in April 2011, therefore allowing her to compete at the London 2012 Olympics.

Of the 13 athletes which competed in that race, only seven have not been suspected of doping.


Even more remarkably, the reported investigation into Bulut’s blood samples places renewed scrutiny upon the Turkish Athletic Federation as now 12 of the 23 female Turkish athletes to compete at the London 2012 Olympics have since been suspended for ADRVs. This amounts to 52% of Turkish female athletes competing at these games.


As well as the Women’s 1500m at the London 2012 placing further pressure on the International Association of Athletics Federations’ (IAAF) drug-testing effectiveness, the results of the race in the same discipline at the 2012 European Athletics Championships in Helsinki, just a couple of weeks before the Olympics, have been thrown into further disarray.


In this race, both Alptekin and Bulut finished first and second respectively, while the Ukraine’s Anna Mischenko, who finished third, and Russia’s Ekaterina Ishova, who finished fourth, have both since been disqualified by the IAAF for an ADRV and abnormal ABP results respectively.

Should the reports around Bulut’s possible infringement prove correct, it would mean that Spain’s Nuria Fernández, who originally finished fifth, would be crowned champion.


UPDATE: This article was updated at 10:30AM on Monday 7th March to correct the previous statistic stating that ten of the 23 female Turkish athletes to compete at the London 2012 Olympics have since been suspended for ADRVs, amounting to 43%. The correct number is 12 of the 23, amounting to 52%. Thanks to Hilary Evans (@OlympicStatman) for alerting us of this error.

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