NZ sports story of the year: Val-Gate

Last updated 05:00 23/12/2012
Valerie Adams and Nadzeya Ostapchuk
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VAL-GATE: The saga that surrounded Valerie Adams' 2012 Olympic campaign was New Zealand's sports story of the year.

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Drugs, the Olympic Games and amazing blunders on sport's biggest stage. Simon Plumb takes you inside our golden girl's nightmare.

Part I: Val-Gate...Sunday August 5, London

"Valerie is not an automatic qualifier for the Olympic shot put final. She should be on the list. She's not on the list. Management are aware of it and are attempting to rectify the situation. That's all I'm prepared to comment on."

That short phone call to Valerie Adams' manager, Nick Cowan, confirmed breaking news so dumbfounding it was barely believable. The story was urgently emailed back to New Zealand: "Kiwi officials fail to register Valerie Adams for London 2012."

It was hours before Adams was due to defend Olympic gold, the start of incredible controversy and a series of screw-ups so unacceptable that Minister of Sport Murray McCully would call for a formal investigation.

Attempting to hush global embarrassment, the New Zealand Olympic Committee issued a statement citing "an administrative error" but that Adams had been added to the start list. Apparently the matter had been "fully resolved".

But that was only the start of it.

After an out-of-sorts Adams won silver, beaten by Belarusian rival Nadzeya Ostapchuk, it would later emerge she had to beg officials just to print her name bib and be granted access to athlete rooms inside the Olympic stadium. Before Adams could approach media in the tunnel, an NZOC official intercepted - seemingly giving instructions while Adams was looking at the floor nodding.

Interviewing Adams the following morning was delicate, she hadn't slept and was clearly distraught. But she agreed it was time for answers. How could she have been so badly let down?

In a private room in the back of Kiwi House, Adams detailed events through tears and demanded accountability. There was to be a press conference that afternoon fronted by NZOC secretary-general Kereyn Smith, chef de mission Dave Currie and Cowan.

Currie fumbled for answers to simple questions and at one point Smith grabbed the microphone off him. Major inconsistencies were emerging in Currie's story over what had happened with the start list, with Adams' shared accommodation and then, despite agreeing with Adams not to, he proceeded to blame official Raylene Bates for the start-list error.

Part II: The Belarusian...Monday August 13, London

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The Games are over, hotel check-out and a two-week holiday are an hour away, and an email from the International Olympic Committee lands: "Ostapchuk disqualified, Adams awarded gold".

The drug story so widely suspected in the run-up to the Games had finally been confirmed by the most solid source possible, and a whole new twist emerged in an already bizarre tale.

While Adams cleaned up on the world track and field circuit in the months before London, Ostapchuk disappeared, traceable only by reports of monstrous throws out of her native Belarus. Ostapchuk had not beaten Adams head-to-head in more than two years and then, all of a sudden, she's booming past her - but behind closed doors.

Many observers sensed exactly what was going on in Minsk.

Questioning of Ostapchuk's results in a July 19 column and pointing to "magical measuring tapes" the day before the Olympic showdown prompted one reader to reply: "Are you suggesting she somehow cheated? Either come out and say it and explain yourself or zip it with the insinuation! How much experience have you got in reporting on shot put anyway, Simon? Rubbish journalism in my opinion."

Cheating was precisely the insinuation. Doping, to be exact.

It was off to Switzerland that night to catch up with newly crowned Adams and coach Jean-Pierre Egger and, for the first time, their doubts over Ostapchuk went on record.

Egger, a highly respected veteran of four decades in elite sport, said he'd long harboured drug suspicions over Ostapchuk. He even asserted Belarus was actively helping its athletes skirt anti-doping rules.

"I am an old fox. I know when people are cheating," he said.

The interview with Adams was understandably much happier than seven days before. There was a party at the Swiss Olympic HQ that afternoon.

But still the saga rolls on, even now Adams has her second gold medal. Four months after Ostapchuk was given a one-year ban for steroid abuse, the IAAF are yet to challenge the light sentence handed down by Belarusian officials - meaning Ostapchuk could be back for the 2013 world championships.

- Sunday Star Times


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