Olympic Games : Moral champions of the drug Games

Simon Turnbull talks to Mike McLeod, a runner cheated of Olympic gold
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The Independent Online
Mike McLeod didn't bother staying up to watch Newsnight's reaction to "The Drugs Olympics" on Tuesday night. "There's no point," he said. "Nothing will be done about it. There'll be another documentary and another debate when the Sydney Olympics come round."

As it happened, the central question raised by the Panorama programme - why the cheats continue to slither through the Olympic drug net - got lost somewhere between Jeremy Paxman in the studio and Tony Ward, mouthpiece of the British Athletic Federation, at the British team's training camp in Tallahassee. It wasn't so much a debate as a verbal joust for the honour of British athletics, lest it be tainted by the estimation of the former Olympic team doctor Michael Turner that "75 per cent of athletes in Atlanta will have taken some form of performance-enhancing drugs".

McLeod could have told Mr Paxman down the phone-line from Tyneside that British athletics already has a generation of losers from the drug Games: the victims for whom Dr Robert Voy spoke on Panorama. "I'm sick of seeing good athletes who have devoted so much of their lives being cheated," the former chief medical officer of the United States Olympic Committee said. "They're losing by 0.01 of a second, knowing full well they were cheated by the gold medallist."

McLeod has pounded the roads and tracks of Tyneside as a member of Elswick Harriers for 32 of his 43 years. He should have an Olympic gold medal to show for his efforts. Instead, he has to make do with the clean conscience which gives a golden hue to the silver and bronze he keeps in a Marks & Spencer plastic bag.

McLeod, who spends more time these days running his printing business than running competitively, was quite content with the bronze he collected after finishing behind the Italian Alberto Cova and the Finnish runner Martti Vainio in the 10,000m final in Los Angeles 12 years ago. What he didn't know as he stood on the rostrum at the medal ceremony was that he was the only one who had made it there by natural means.

Two days later it was announced that Vainio had become the first track and field medallist to fail an Olympic drugs test. Traces of an anabolic steroid, Primobolin, were found in his urine sample. McLeod was promoted to second place but returned home with the bronze medal. He didn't get a silver until five months later. But within two years it became clear that, morally at least, the gold medal should have been his.

In the wake of revelations of organised drug distribution and blood doping by the Italian federation, Cova confessed he had used the process by which the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood is increased by the withdrawal and re-infusion of red blood cells. Blood doping, or blood boosting, can improve performances by 5 per cent.

Cova was never punished. He has a seat in the Italian parliament. He also has his tarnished gold medal, which is why McLeod settled for an early night on Tuesday. "These programmes never make any difference," he said. "People are still cheating and getting away with it. My personal opinion is that the problem is as bad as ever. I think it's just swept under the carpet.

"I think everyone should be tested when they come to the Games and that anyone caught should be kicked out of the sport for good. It's all so sad for the people who are not taking drugs. And it's sad for kids like my two lads [Ryan, 11, is a keen 800m runner with Elswick Harriers; Mark, 16, is the Northumberland schools 400m champion]. They're looking at their heroes when they watch athletics on television. But what if those heroes turn out to be drug takers?"

McLeod isn't the only cheated British Olympian. Tatyana Dorovskikh was banned for failing a drugs test three years ago but the Ukrainian still has the gold medal she won in the 3,000m final in the Seoul Olympics in 1988 and the bronze she won in the 1500m. Yvonne Murray will never be upgraded from third to second in the 3,000m result and Chris Boxer will never see the bronze from the 1500m.

"It must be worse for Chris than it is for me," McLeod said. "She finished fourth and she has nothing. At least I got on to the rostrum and ended up with two . . . I don't think I'll ever get the third one."