The Cold War, 40 years laterAugust 12, 2016
Brazil was the unlikely place for another revival of the Cold War, but it happened in Rio. But let's take a walk down memory lane.
Spectators at the Games of the XXI Olympiad witnessed a remarkable feat at the Olympic Pool: the Americans almost swept the men's events. The East Germans also did the same thing in the women's races. Shirley Babashoff, who was touted to be the female counterpart of Mark Spitz, finished second in the 200 meter, 400 meter, and 800-meter freestyle races. Kornelia Ender and Petra ThÃ¼mer beat her on the wall, posting world-record times in the process. The Californian, who was 19 years of age back then, got her gold in the 400-meter freestyle relay. Not a few thought she performed below expectations. Babashoff suspected her East German rivals of cheating after noticing their masculine bodies and deep voices. She was dubbed "Surly Shirley". She turned out to be right after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The East German athletes have no idea that they were part of the state-wide doping system.
Babashoff could have been the Katie Ledecky of her time. It remained to be seen if the International Olympic Committee (OIC) would get past the variables and award the three individual gold medals to her. In a recent interview, the former swimmer couldn't believe that history repeated itself.
It might have been a case of hormones
The finals of the men's 400-meter freestyle saw Mack Horton of Australia edging Sun Yang of China near the touch pads. Horton's time was a second slower than the Olympic record set by Sun four years ago, but the events that followed would bring back memories of the 1976 Summer Olympics.
Sun had a run in with Horton prior to the race. The Aussie shrugged it off, as he doesn't have time for drug cheat. The Chinese Swimming Association banned Sun two years ago after he was tested positive for trimetazidine. The swimmer was suffering from heart palpitations, and the doctor prescribed it. In other words, he didn't intend to take it. He also had no idea that it was included in the banned list.
The video of Sun breaking down after the race prompted the Chinese Netizens to post negative remarks in Horton's Facebook page. The Chinese public demanded the new Olympic champion to apologize to Sun, only to see Horton getting a lot of support from the sport's biggest names. Michael Phelps would be one of them. Lilly King, the American teenager who won the 100-meter breaststroke race, said that Horton inspired her to call out Yuliya Yefimova. The Russian, the reigning world champion in the event, failed a drug test until the OIC overturned it before the start of the Games.
Yefimova was jeered when her name was called. She remarkably held her nerve until the race was over. She was the victim of politics, she said. She also accused King and her rivals of bringing back the Cold War. King pointed out that her remarks weren't directed at the Russian athletes. She also threw a shade to Justin Gatlin, who would race against Usain Bolt in the 100 and 200-meter dash.
The International Olympic Committee opened a Pandora's box
Horton could be faulted for sledging and poor sportsmanship. Then again, the Melburnian could cite his young age. (He's 20 years of age.) On the other hand, King didn't mince her words, and she may have lost some admirers. Phelps thought that more athletes must speak out against doping. He might have said it after Russian TV suggested that his cupping therapy could be considered as another form of doping. America's most decorated swimmer couldn't respond to it, as he was fixed on his grudge match with South Africa's Chad le Clos.
The members of the OIC tried their best to deal with the political aspect of the situation, but they faltered on this one. And banning the Russian athletes who would participate in the Paralympics did little to erase the suspicion that the OIC and the International Swimming Federation were sympathizing with China and Russia. Perhaps the issue would be forgotten before the year ends, but expect it to resurface during next year's World Aquatics Championships in Budapest. Australian Olympic boss Kitty Chiller said that Horton wasn't losing sleep from the angry comments. He would compete in the 1,500-meter freestyle event. Sun would defend his title, but Horton could upstage him again.
On the brighter side, Australia won the gold medal in rugby seven. The Aussies beat perennial rivals New Zealand, prompting the All Blacks to perform a tearful haka dance after the game. And it was a beautiful sight.
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