One of the great folkloric tragedies of Australian sport is the story of Raelene Boyle. By far one of this country’s most talented sprinters, Boyle won the silver medal as a 17 year old over 200m at the 1968 Olympics to Polish legend Irena Szewinska, and then was famously beaten in both the 100m and 200m at the 1972 Munich Olympics by East Germany’s Renate Stecher. Once the Germans’ secret files were released, it was revealed that Stecher had been part of their infamous systematic doping programme. Boyle twice had to stand on the podium a step below her rightful place, listen to someone else’s anthem, and graciously congratulate the woman who she would later learn had cheated her out of a dual gold medal and a place in Olympic history.
Fast forward to Beijing in 2008, and young Ballarat boy Jared Tallent burst onto the international race walking scene with a bronze medal in the 20km walk, and a silver in the 50km. These (alongside Steve Hooker’s pole vault gold) were the first individual male track and field medals since Tim Forsyth won the bronze in the high jump in 1992, and Jared effected the first multiple medal haul for an Australian man since Stan Rowley in 1900.
Tallent’s performances were superb, and on their own are enough to mark him as one of Australia’s best ever track and field athletes, but he was by no means done. The following four years saw Jared confirm his status as one of the best athletes in the world with bronze medals at the 2010 & 2012 World Racewalking Cup 50km, and the 2011 World Championships.
The London Olympics in 2012 were a significantly different experience for Tallent. This time around he was one of the favourites for the 50km race, but his form wasn’t as good – he “only” came 7th in the 20km the week earlier, and he hadn’t had the perfectly uninterrupted preparation he enjoyed prior to his breakout championship in Beijing 2008. However great sportsmen have a knack of lifting, and in this case, Jared did so magnificently. He again walked to the silver medal, this time in a personal best time – a great performance. No Australian male has ever won track and field medals at consecutive Olympic games. Ever.
This of course, has sealed Tallent’s place in Australian Olympic history.
Sadly, the story parallels that of Boyle from here. The man who beat Tallent in the 2008 50km is Italian Alex Schwazer, who was exposed as a drug cheat in 2012. He worked with Lance Armstrong’s notorious doctor, Michele Ferrari, but claims that he only did so for technical advice, and only cheated from 2011 (after he stopped winning races). The man who won the 20km in 2008 was Valery Borchin from Russia. Borchin’s coach Viktor Chegin announced that Borchin had tested positive to EPO some months prior to the games being run, but for unknown reasons, this was not investigated and he was allowed to compete. He had already been sanctioned in 2005 for having Ephedrine in his system. A case can be made for Jared truly being the gold medallist in the 50km, and the silver medallist for the 20km (behind the legendary Ecuadorian Jefferson Perez).
In 2012, Jared’s 50km world walking cup bronze was behind two Russians – Sergey Kirdyapkin and Igor Erokhin, both of whom have dubious records to say the least. Erokhin had served a doping ban for using EPO in 2008, and both are – as of this week – rumoured to be not competing at the 2013 World Championships because they have been caught cheating in the last few months.
It gets worse.
Jared’s 2012 Olympics silver medal was also behind Kirdyapkin.
It gets worse.
Kirdyapkin’s coach is a man named Viktor Chegin. You might recognise the name: he coached Valery Borchin who beat Jared in the 20km walk in Beijing. Chegin and his training squad are based in Saransk, a small town a couple of hundred km to the east of Moscow. Chegin’s training squad also includes such luminaries as Vladimir Kanaykin (world record holder over 20km walk, and banned for EPO use in 2008), Sergey Morozov (world junior champion, banned for EPO use in 2008 and then again in 2011), Tatyana Mineyeva (world youth champion, banned in 2008), Olga Kaniskina (Olympic champion 2008, World champion 2007, ‘09 & ‘11, withdrawn from World Champs 2013 under very suspicious circumstances)… Are we seeing a pattern forming here?
It would seem that Jared Tallent has twice been beaten at the Olympic games over 50km by a drug cheat. It could be argued that he is in the dubious position of being the Raelene Boyle of modern athletics.
One can only hope that he continues on to Rio and wins the damn thing on the day!