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Canadian shot putter Armstrong may yet earn Beijing bronze due to doping re-test

TORONTO – Dylan Armstrong says nothing can ever replace a moment lost.

The Canadian shot putter may yet get that bronze medal he narrowly missed at the 2008 Olympics, but part of him couldn’t help but think Friday about what might have been that night back at the Bird’s Nest Stadium in Beijing.

The 32-year-old from Kamloops, B.C., was responding to news Andrei Mikhnevich of Belarus was caught for doping in a re-test of a sample from the 2005 world track and field championships.

Mikhnevich edged Armstrong for bronze in Beijing, leaving the Canadian heartbroken over how close he’d come instead of standing on the podium watching the Maple Leaf rise with a medal around his neck.

“Obviously it would be great to get the medal. But in Beijing, I had family there, sponsors, my coach, Athletics Canada, the COC (Canadian Olympic Committee). List goes on. It’s a moment for everyone that would have been lost. The celebration of joy. . . obviously there would have been a lot lost.”

“But that said, a medal is a medal.”

Mikhnevich was one of six athletes whose re-tests from the 2005 world championships were positive, the IAAF announced. The world governing body for track and field said it would open disciplinary procedures against the six.

Mikhnevich, the 2003 world champion, had already received a two-year suspension for a doping offence so a positive test from 2005 should carry a lifetime ban, effectively wiping out all of his results past that time. The Belarusian also beat Armstrong at the 2010 world indoor championships, winning silver to Armstrong’s fourth-place finish, meaning the Canadian could receive a bronze for that event as well.

But it’s the Beijing bronze that really hurts. Mikhnevich threw 21.05 metres while Armstrong threw 21.04. He didn’t celebrate, but returned to the athletes village and was up early the next morning to train.

Missing a medal by so narrow a margin weighed on the Canadian thrower, and was a major motivator leading into the 2012 London Olympics.

“That’s not a bad thing. Definitely helped me in 2011 for sure,” Armstrong told The Canadian Press in a phone interview from his training base in Scottsdale, Ariz. “I had a great year, was healthy throughout the year.”

He was the world No. 1-ranked shot putter in 2011, and won the prestigious Diamond League title that year. But Armstrong fell short of his goal of the podium in London, finishing fifth.

Armstrong had heard the 2005 world championship samples were being re-tested and was curious to hear the results, knowing there was a good chance he’d competed against a dirty athlete.

“Oh yeah, absolutely,” Armstrong said. “I’m not shocked, put it that way. It’s not a surprise to me. Just being from the country that he’s from as well, it’s pretty rampant there.

“I’m happy to see the IAAF clamping down on cheaters, because I’ve always promoted a clean sport and fair play. It doesn’t pay to cheat. It will catch up to you.”

The other five athletes caught were Belarusian shot putter Nazdeya Ostapchuk, hammer throwers Ivan Tsikhan and Vadim Devyatovsky of Belarus, Russian hammer thrower Olga Kuzenkova, and Russian long jumper Tatyana Kotova.

Armstrong was fielding calls and texts all day Friday.

“It’s pretty crazy right now at this point, a lot of people saying ‘What’s going on?’ I guess we’ll just have to let the smoke clear and it will work itself out,” said.

If he is to receive a belated bronze, there’s no telling how long it might take.

“It depends,” said Mathieu Gentes, a spokesman for Athletics Canada. “Are there going to be hearings? Will there be appeal processes? Are they going to fight this, are they not going to fight this? That impacts the timelines. It could be six months, could be a year, could be two years.”

It took nearly two-and-a-half years before Canadian cross-country skier Beckie Scott received her 2002 Olympic gold medal following the disqualification for doping of the gold and silver medallists. American shot putter Adam Nelson however received the 2004 Olympic gold four months after the original Athens champion Yuriy Bilonog of Ukraine was caught in a re-test. Nelson was presented with the gold in a ceremony during last month’s Millrose Games in New York.

Gentes couldn’t help but think of the wide-reaching ramifications of Friday’s news.

Priscilla Lopes-Schliep of Whitby, Ont., won bronze in the 100-metre hurdles for Canada’s only track and field medal in Beijing. Had Canada won two medals, Gentes wondered, would track and field have seen more funding in the leadup to the London Games? Would Armstrong have received more lucrative sponsorship deals?

“Who knows what other athletes it impacts, what other programs that impacts? Those are the intangibles, you can’t measure the full ramifications, but that’s how far-reaching these things are,” Gentes said. “Obviously Dylan is the one who is most impacted, but this has repercussions on our whole program. It’s one of those: what could have been?”

James Steacy of Lethbridge, Alta., was 12th in the hammer throw in Beijing behind both Devyatovsky and Tsikhan.

The IAAF re-tested the frozen samples from Helsinki just within the eight-year statute of limitations for drug violations laid down by the World Anti-Doping Code. The IAAF said it re-tested samples using “the most up-to-date analytical techniques.”

“The IAAF’s message to cheaters is increasingly clear that, with constant advancements being made in doping detection, there is no place to hide,” IAAF president Lamine Diack said in a statement. “The IAAF will continue to do everything in its power to ensure the credibility of competition, and where the rules have been broken, will systematically uncover the cheats.”

The IAAF did not say for what substances the athletes tested positive.

Among the other five other athletes, Ostapchuk was already stripped of her London Olympic gold medal for doping, the announcement of her positive test coming hours after the Games’ closing ceremonies. She won the shot put at the 2005 worlds and finished second in 2003, 2007 and 2011.

Tsikhan and Kuzenkova were the men’s and women’s hammer throw champions, respectively, at the 2005 world championships. Tsikhan won the Olympic bronze medal in 2008 and originally finished second at the 2004 Athens Games before being stripped of his silver medal for doping. He also won gold at the 2003 and 2007 world championships. Kuzenkova won the Olympic gold medal in 2004.

Devyatovsky took second in the hammer at the 2005 worlds, while Kotova was second in the long jump.


With files from The Associated Press.