Pops and Shots
by Jon Gugala
LONDON - "In sport, you can't predict anything," Nadzeya Ostapchuk said to the IAAF after her 2012 Olympic gold in the women's shot put. "You have to have the right conditions and to take the right decisions."
On Monday, the first day after the closing of the 2012 Olympic Games, the International Olympic Committee announced that Ostapchuk, of Belarus, had tested positive for a steroid the day before her gold medal throw (August 5), and also directly after (August 6). "B" samples had been tested; they were also positive; there was no appeal. She was disqualified, and New Zealand's Valerie Adams, the 2011 world champ and Olympic runner-up behind Ostapchuk, was upgraded to gold, followed by Evgeniia Kolodko of Russia in silver, and Lijiao Gong of China in the surprise bronze.
In light of this development, you just have to love Ostapchuk's statement because of how truer-than-true it is: Speaking into that reporter's microphone after what she must have thought was the crowing achievement of her life, the Belarusian national anthem ringing in her ears and plans for the remainder of the Diamond League season being calculated, she could not have predicted the last few days. You have to take the right decisions, as she said, and somewhere in there she took a wrong one.
Ostapchuk will be 32 years old in October, and she's had a long, accomplished career. Fourth in the 2004 Olympics and the bronze medalist in 2008, she was second at last year's world champs behind Adams, and second behind her at the 2012 World Indoor Championships. Ostapchuk went over 21 meters for the first time in 2005, but her year bests recede in a bell curve with a low point in 2009, when she could only manage 19.88m.
But then Ostapchuk's fortunes improve dramatically in 2010. At an indoor meet in Mogilev she threw 21.70, the fourth-farthest ever indoors, and in 2012 she threw 21.58 for an outdoor PR, the farthest for any woman since 1998, and the second farthest since 1990. In the 2012 Olympics, she was the only woman to throw over 21 meters. She did it four times (a smoking gun right here).
But the one thing doping can't improve is nerves, and for that, Ostapchuk gave credit to her coach, Alexander Yefimov: "[He] said I must commit all because my opponents were very strong," she said.
So let's give credit to Yefimov. Does his name sound familiar? Yanina Korolchik, the Belarusian gold medalist from 2000, popped on a drug test for clenbuterol in 2003, and coach Yefimov was by her side to defend her, saying to CBC that someone must have, you know, maybe, er, I guess "poured something into her glass" while her back was turned. "No one is safe from that," he added, and I imagine him nodding vigorously. He's been quiet on Ostapchuk thus-far, and I don't blame him: two of his athletes have now popped on drug tests, and that's quite a coincidence.
Ostapchuk tested positive for methenolone, an injectable form of primobolan. All the scuttlebutt I've heard paints Ostapchuk as a impoverished dingbat messing with skunk-quality drugs, but that's simply not true. While methenolone is the preferred steroid for women and beginners because of its low propensity for aromatizing (i.e. spiking your estrogen so you grow bitch tits), it's not cheap. One website, steroid.com, says that a 12-week cycle--the minimum duration for efficacy--can cost $500, maybe more. And while yes, it has a vintage-y cult following among the bodybuilding elite because of its preservation of lean mass while cutting fat for a show, it remains effective in building size and strength. Ostapchuk's results are proof of that.
There are several tragedies in all this, and I'm not cold-hearted enough to not acknowledge Ostapchuk's plight. It's hard to think that she'll ever compete again because of her age; indeed, compatriot Korolchik was 26 when she popped, and though she said she would not leave her sport, she has never regained her dominance.
But the bigger tragedy, and one that demands the vilification of Ostapchuk and Korolchik and every other doper, is that because of doping, Adams receives her medal via a phone call on a Monday and not in the Olympic stadium. Adams does not hear her national anthem played before 80,000 people; she does not get the opportunity to sing and cry and wave to her family back home. She does not even get to thank all the little people until she first talks about the protracted nature of her win.
Ostapchuk may have her memories, but we have her words, and so for the last of mine that I will waste, I will quote them back: "I wanted to try something different, something new, and to avoid what we had done in the past," you said. Man, I hope you enjoy the next two years thinking about that gold medal you almost had, and how the decision you took works out.