LOS ANGELES — Alysia Montano wants to be hopeful, an appeal from the better side of human nature that expects competition to be fair. But after months of news uncovering doping issues — most notably in Russia but also from Kenya and Ethiopia — the confidence she has in the response from track’s international governing body is strained.
The Olympic runner isn’t alone. Even as the World Anti-Doping Agency addressed the latest report about Russia’s response to cleaning up its state-sponsored doping program in track and field, athletes here at the U.S. Olympic Committee media summit continued to be concerned about the response.
“I’m not completely confident,” Montano said Monday. “I just hope — and that’s the biggest thing that I can do. I want to see more. I want for the federation to really prove that they care more about the clean athletes than they do their own backside.”
Montano certainly has a stake in this. An independent commission that released its report to WADA in November found state-sponsored doping by Russia’s track federation with the corruption extending to the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), where top officials concealed positive tests.
Montano finished fifth in the 800 meters in London. Russians Mariya Savinova and Ekaterina Poistogova took gold and bronze, respectively, but the report found they had been doping and recommended a lifetime ban.
“Just to think that that right that we have as clean athletes really isn’t a right at all, it’s one that feels like we’re not only being cheated by the people that are cheating, we’re being cheated by the people that are supposed to be protecting us,” Montano said.
Russia’s anti-doping agency was declared non-compliant by WADA once the report came out, and the IAAF provisionally banned the country from international competition. Whether that will last through the Rio Olympics remains to be decided, but the most recent documentary from German broadcaster ARD on Sunday raised more questions even as Russia is working with WADA and the IAAF to clean up its program.
According to Reuters, the documentary alleged that coaches the WADA commission report implicated in doping are still working with athletes as others are still providing banned substances.
“At a time when trust in sport is wafer thin, these troubling assertions will do little to reinforce confidence in the Russian anti-doping system when clean athletes need it most,” WADA President Craig Reedie said in a statement. “The allegations suggest that there is still much, much work to be done in Russia; and, that we will need the full and unwavering cooperation of the Russian authorities to reverse the damage. Until this happens, clean athletes won’t be able to trust that there is a level playing field.”
Russia’s problems do not stand alone. Kenya has not had a national anti-doping agency and faces an April 5 deadline to comply with the WADA code. Ethiopia and Sweden have announced in recent weeks that runners have been caught doping.
And that’s just in track and field. On Monday, Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova announced that she had failed a drug test at the Australian Open. The drug Meldonium, which Sharapova said was prescribed by her doctor, was added to the banned substances list this year.
“It’s unfortunate that there’s a stigma going around. Us up here, including myself, try to do everything I can,” said American marathoner Meb Keflezighi. “In this short time period, think it’s hard to say it’s going to be all cleaned out and smoothed out.”
USOC CEO Scott Blackmun said he’s grateful the latest scandals have brought attention to a global issue that requires global solutions. While acknowledging that American athletes probably aren’t 100% clean, he said he’d like for the United States to continue to be a leader in anti-doping.
“I yearn for the day when we can be at the start line and know that all athletes are competing cleanly,” Blackmun said.
For athletes here preparing for the Rio Games, which begin in 150 days, they can only hope for the same.