When Winston Churchill wrote “history is written by the victors“, he didn’t count on long term storage of anti-doping samples, judicial investigations and eventual confessions. These days were are seeing sports officials and fans alike question past results. Right now Tyler Hamilton has handed back his gold medal from the 2004 Olympic games time trial and that Michael Rogers could grab a bronze medal.
Only I find this reallocation of results a very fraught experience. For starters, being handed the medal years after the event just isn’t the same, it might be justice but the podium ceremony and national anthem are missed, collecting a medal years after the event might be satisfying but it’s never going to be a joyous moment. Plus the medal is little bit tarnished, any pride from the new recipient comes with a reminder of doping, the story isn’t of a superb ride on the day but on picking up the medal because someone else got caught.
Indeed it’s this selective catch that is the most frustrating element. You end up looking at results and making your own judgements. For example Tyler Hamilton only held on to his medal thanks to a laboratory bungle which froze his B-sample. And if some fans are wondering if Ekimov and Julich rode in purity, new bronze medal candidate Rogers was coached by Michele Ferrari at the time. It’s possible the Australian was just getting advice on nutrition or bike fit but if he wins a medal, he might not be awarded the benefit of doubt by many fans. It’s a mess.
It’s the same for the Tour de France. Look back at past results and Bjarne Riis is still listed as a winner despite confessing to doping. Some fans are playing the “who really won” game for more recent editions, examining the possibility of Lance Armstrong being stripped of his results. Only we look at the likes of Jan Ullrich, Ivan Basso or Marco Pantani and I’m not sure they’re moral victors. They might recover the win but “justice”, for want of a better word, feels incomplete.
The rules stipulate the top-20 in a race get revised. But maybe it’s time to see the winner’s name left blank instead? That way it sends an appropriate signal that the event simply had no winner. After all the presence of a cheat in a race often falsifies the whole classification since they are part of the race strategy. Pulling their name out ex post ignores the way their presence affected the racing.
I’m all in favour of going after riders if they’ve cheated. But it’s the unequal approach that’s awkward. If some riders get caught by subsequent investigations, it’s possible riders outside the scope of the same investigation evade justice. Look at Operation Puerto where several Italian riders got banned whilst some Spaniards weren’t pursued with the same energy.
Re-awarding results years after the event is a procedural matter but perhaps it’s just better to leave the winner’s name blank. No matter who won, the sport lost out.