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Time to send a proper message to Russian cheats: life bans and medal ceremonies for wronged in Moscow

WHEN hammer-thrower Tatyana Lysenko broke the world record in 2006, Scottish rival Shirley Webb presented her with a specially commissioned necklace.

Shaped like a hammer, it was identical to one the Scottish record-holder's parents had given her.

The Russian kept in touch by email, addressing Webb as "my Scottish friend". Having served two years as a drug cheat, Lysenko is back competing and won the World title in 2011. Webb, who modelled her technique on such rivals, says she feels "a mug".

In total, 33 Russians are serving doping bans, and another former rival, 2004 Olympic champion Olga Kuzenkova, was among those unmasked this week thanks to testing of old urine samples.

The head coach of UK Athletics, Peter Eriksson, believes such numbers warrant "investigation", and some have suggested that Moscow is an inappropriate venue for the World Championships this year. But there's no prospect of the IAAF denying Russia.

Forget the scandal surrounding Lance Armstrong. Drugs have engulfed Russian athletics in an epidemic unmatched since the infamous East German regime. I am compelled to wonder whether the scale of cheating suggests a similar culture of state complicity.

Some 9000 East German sportsmen and women were drugged in a government-controlled programme (often unwittingly) but fewer than 0.5% actually tested positive. The number of Russians sanctioned is more than 10 times the number of former East German competitors ever caught. Less efficient cheats, or more of them?

It was confirmed this week that Kuzenkova will forfeit the world title she won in Helsinki in 2005. But not her Olympic gold from 2004. An eight-year statute of limitations is observed by the Olympic movement and IAAF. To me that seems the sporting equivalent of an eight-year limit on charging someone with murder. There is little logic to it, save that the IAAF waits as long as possible for testing to improve before time runs out. They are cutting it too fine.

The shot putter Svetlana Krivelyova, whose sample dated from the 2004 Olympics, will lose her Athens bronze, but will keep her 1992 gold as she was not found positive in Barcelona. The system is a mess; the sooner life bans are imposed for a first offence, the better.

Kuzenkova cannot be made to return her World gold. She has retired, and will largely go unpunished. "It makes me sick," said Webb. She represented GB when Kuzenkova won in Athens and Helsinki.

"My coach and I spent endless hours studying video of Kuzenkova and Lysenko. They were tall and lean, and we thought there must be something special in their technique. I tried to model myself on them. It's totally sickening.

"They didn't deprive me of a medal, but you put in all those hours of work; it's sad. The necklace was to say well done. I gave it to her at the Birmingham grand prix. When I trained in Germany, people made sweeping statements about the Russians. I said I thought Lysenko was really nice, that I thought she was clean. Now I feel a mug."

UKA commissioned its own doping inqury under Dame Tanni Grey-Thomson, and endorsed her recommendations which include Britain staying ahead of doping developments and remaining an influential anti-doping voice. It is full of good practice, but given Eriksson's comments, one hopes UKA will raise that voice.

Jenny Meadows, runner-up for the European Indoor 800m title in 2009, was upgraded to gold following the disqualification of Russian Yevgeniya Zinurova for doping. She was honoured at the Birmingham Grand Prix in February, but her gold medal did not arrive in time, and was presented at Britain's European Indoor trials by BBC interviewer Phil Jones. That was Meadows' choice, and she was delighted. It beats having it arriving by courier in a Jiffybag, but hardly matches that moment on the podium. Meadows had just a couple of weeks to enjoy her reign.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) is proposing an increase in the limitation, or none. This would have to be endorsed and enforced by signatories to its code: namely the IAAF and IOC. They should also propose all prize money be held in fund as a guarantee of good behaviour, thus ensuring financial penalties for offenders. Banning all international competition for a country found guilty of serial doping (as weightlifting does) would also focus minds.

The Jiffybag scenario was dismissed as "urban myth" by an IAAF spokesman yesterday: "Nowadays we send medals to federations and propose they reissue them in a dignified and proper manner – ideally during a competition. Sadly though, there is no way to re-do these ceremonies which makes up for the loss to the athlete of the real thing. The only solution is to increase our anti-doping efforts so we can catch more cheats, quicker –stop them getting up on the podium in the first place – that's the IAAF mission."

Their council is currently meeting in Moscow. I believe they should take steps to end the statute of limitations. I also think upgraded medals which are unaffected by statute of limitation should be presented to the athletes cheated of their rightful place at this year's World event in Moscow.

That would surely make a point.

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