Let's not think of Ostapchuk as an exception

08:41, Aug 18 2012
Nadzeya Ostapchuk
FAILED TEST: Belarusian Nadzeya Ostapchuk celebrates after her throw of 21.36m won her the shot put competition at the London Olympics, before a failed drug test saw her stripped of the title and gold medal.

So Nadzeya Ostapchuk was sitting on a cornflake all along. Yesterday morning, New Zealand woke up to the news that the Belarusian was a drugs cheat and "our Val" was now an Olympic gold medallist for the second time. The news will not come as a shock to anyone, but please spare me the moral outrage.

We live in a beautiful country with the lowest level of corruption in the world. But New Zealand has a drug problem. It pretty much tops the global statistics for use of cannabis, meth and ecstasy. New Zealand loves the "per capita" stat when it comes to Olympic gold medals, but the same measure makes pretty shocking reading when it comes to drug use.

So before we condemn Ostapchuk as an evil person, let's consider that over a tenth of this country is cheating its way through daily life by taking drugs. Goodness knows how many of us would fail if Wada [World Anti Doping Agency] came knocking on our door this afternoon.

The New Zealand Drug Foundation director, Ross Bell, said: “It's difficult to get drugs like heroin and cocaine in New Zealand. What we're quite good at is cooking up our own stuff.”

You have to smile at a comment that paraphrases into the headline: "Resourceful New Zealanders Beat Drugs Drought."

In such a culture it would be naive to think that every single Kiwi athlete who competed at the Games is clean. Hand on heart, can we all say with absolute certainty that Valerie Adams has never taken a performance-enhancing substance. The truth is, we don't know.


I was fortunate enough to watch Adams compete at the Beijing Olympics and I put her victory in my top 10 moments of the Games. My justification for including Adams - Vili as she was then - was: “Looking down on the pock-marked grotesques of Eastern Europe is the clear-eyed Valerie Vili. Born of an English father and a Tongan mother, Vili campaigns against drugs in her native New Zealand.

"It may make me a fool, but I really believe Vili is clean, and her gold in the shot putt may help to redefine field events.”

One of those pock-marked grotesques was Ostapchuk who finished third in China. Is she now to be stripped of that medal, too? If Wada, the IOC and the IAAF were really serious about going after drugs cheats, anyone who tested positive would be stripped of all previous medals.

There can be little doubt the Belarusian is a serial cheat. She said after testing positive in London: “You must be a complete idiot to take doping before the competition, especially such an outdated drug as a steroid, knowing you're going to be tested not once but probably several times.” Ostapchuk has almost as an impressive a grasp of drug protocols as she does the English language.

Her reaction was the statement of an athlete who is outraged at testing positive because she is too sophisticated a drugs cheat to fall for something as primitive as a steroid. The drug she tested positive for was metenolone, the same drug that baseball player Alex Rodriguez tested positive for in 2003.

Victor Conte, disgraced former head of Balco, reckoned that 60 per cent of athletes at the London Olympics were on drugs. Dick Pound, former head of Wada, admitted Conte's guess was likely to be more accurate than his.

So where does that leave the rest of us in our reaction to all the triumphs of the Games? Briton Brett Morse tweeted after going out of the discus: “I've had a bad day, but it could be worse. I could look like Ostapchuk.” At the time he was pilloried. Now he looks like a prophet.

Usain Bolt features in everyone's Top 10 Moments of the Games. Of course he does. Not only is Bolt a supreme runner, he is an entertainer. One moment Bolt is celebrating a gold medal with a string of press-ups, the next he is doing the Mobot in smiling homage to Britain's hero [Mo Farah] of the Games.Now Bolt is being lined up as a Twenty20 cricketer in the BigBash League.

But this is what Pound had to say when asked if he was happy about the drug testing of the Jamaican athletes: “No, they are one of the groups that are hard to test. It is hard to get in and find them and so forth. They can expect, with the extraordinary results that they have had, that they will be on everybody's radar.”

These were a wonderful Games, but let's not be naive enough to think that Ostapchuk is the exception to the rule. I just hope we don't have to listen to Murray McCully on the subject. He seems to regard Adams as his personal property for self-promotion, but when it comes to sorting out the appalling governance of much of New Zealand sport, our sports minister is nowhere to be seen.

I was not a huge fan of the opening ceremony, but the closing ceremony was a triumphant showcase of Britain's extraordinary creativity.

And there in the middle of it was Russell Brand - “I took drugs every single day” - sitting on the top of a psychedelic bus singing "I am the eggman, I am the walrus". He's not the only one.

Fairfax Media