The plethora of comment, support, celebration and information marking yesterday’s International Women’s Day included, as one would expect, a huge amount of material in the sporting realm.
Among the eye-catching contributions was a brief video interview with Britain’s world 200m champion Dina Asher-Smith conducted by Telegraph Women’s Sport in which she lists her top five sporting moments.
The first memory she picked out was the last-gasp world 400m victory earned by former team-mate Christine Ohuruogu at the 2013 World Championships in Moscow – “the epitome of never giving up and digging deep”.
Next up was Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill’s concerted effort In delivering heptathlon gold at the home London Olympics of 2012, going away and having a baby, and returning to become world champion.
The respective victories of the Great Britain hockey team at the Rio 2016 Olympics – Asher-Smith used to play hockey centre-forward at school – and the England netball team at the 2018 Commonwealth Games were next in line before she came to her final choice.
Referring to the double gold medal performance of the then 34-year-old Dame Kelly Holmes at the 2004 Athens Olympics, Asher-Smith recalled: “It was the whole reason why I wanted to be an athlete.
“I remember watching her win both the 800 and the 1500. It was kind of like a last chance for her and it was probably the last Olympics that she was going to go to, and it was just so inspirational.
“I remember I was eight years old at the time and that really, really inspired me. It made me want to do my country proud at the highest level.”
Women's sport makes us happy everyday, but we are more excited on #InternationalWomensDay where we get to celebrate and share our best memories of women in sport! 👭♀️🥳— Telegraph Women’s Sport (@WomensSport) March 8, 2020
Starting today is none other than @dinaashersmith with her top 5 sporting moments.#HappyWomensDay pic.twitter.com/wC3brrJwrh
Meanwhile the International Modern Pentathlon Union (UIPM) was celebrating the achievement of another Briton, Steph Cook, in winning the event’s first women’s Olympic competition at the 2000 Sydney Games.
Then a junior doctor aged 28, Cook came from behind in the final 300 metres of the concluding cross-country race to pass her training partner Emily deRiel of the United States, having already overtaken her British team-mate Kate Allenby, who won bronze.
“I was more under the radar because Kate Allenby was the better-known British pentathlete who had been on the scene longer than I had, and I was quite happy to stay under the radar a little,” Cook told UIPM. “I knew that I was potentially in with a shout of winning a medal, but with a sport like Modern Pentathlon there are so many different factors that come into play.”
Cook, who retired from the sport in 2001, after winning the world title, added: “I’d told myself in advance of the competition that if I was within one minute of the leaders going into the running, I would stand a chance of reaching the podium.
“I never looked at the Olympics like I was going in to win it. I was going in to do the best that I could do on the day, and I concentrated on the process. If you take care of the process, the results take care of themselves."
She described the occasion as a “landmark point”, adding: “I knew that a lot of people had been campaigning long and hard to get Women’s Pentathlon into the Olympics, and I think we were all aware that we were making history by being there.
“It was a big moment. And in some ways, particularly because the sport of Modern Pentathlon had been created by Baron Pierre de Coubertin, it was even more poignant to have women competing on a level playing field with men at the Olympics.”
Elsewhere in the tide of items in the news and on social media there was a tweet – from Marcel Wave - that hashtagged Britain’s Olympic swimming silver medallist Sharron Davies and read: “For IWD my first sporting hero, Kathy Smallwood Cook. Robbed of so many medals like @sharond62 due to the doping of Soviet block athletes. Kathy was a world class athlete and never gets the recognition she deserves. True.”
Davies, who also won two Commonwealth titles and two European bronze medals, responded: “100% true, a brilliant athlete who was robbed by the IOC’s lack of proper governance of sport for 20 years.”
In 1998, in the wake of revelations over the systematic use of drugs by East German athletes before the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the British Olympic Association petitioned for Davies to be awarded the 400m medley gold from the 1980 Moscow Games.
Petra Schneider, who had taken gold ahead of Davies, admitted in April 1998 that she had taken steroids from an early age.
A similar petition was mounted by the United States on behalf of its women’s medley relay team.
Neither the USOC nor the British association was asking for medals to be stripped. Instead, they wanted "appropriate medal recognition" for their athletes in the form of duplicate gold medals, certificates or an asterisk in the record book.
But the IOC Executive Board announced it would not be going down the road of revising Olympic medal awards.
"The Executive Board considers that unfortunately there are too many variables involved to attempt to rewrite Olympic history," said Francois Carrard, the IOC's director general.
Australian board member Kevan Gosper told the New York Times: “It would be a bottomless pit.”
In January 1998, Davies had commented: “All my career I was swimming against Eastern bloc swimmers who were on a drug programme devised for them from above.
“How can the world records or medals that were set or won stay in place now the truth is known?’
It was also Cook’s misfortune that her prime should coincide with the main years of a regime which turned a small country of seventeen million people into the third strongest sporting nation on earth behind the United States and the Soviet Union.
If one subtracts the performances of retrospectively implicated East Germans in Cook’s races, it could be argued she would have been European 200m champion in 1982 instead of silver medallist, and that she would have had another two Olympic medals to go with the bronze she won in the 400m at the 1984 Los Angeles Games.
She would also have moved up the podium from third place at the inaugural World Championships of 1983, where the 200m title was taken by East Germany’s Marita Koch.
Cook was in sympathy with Davies’s position. ‘I can fully understand how Sharron feels,’ she told me in an interview for The Independent.
“‘Just like her, I have been thinking about the question recently. You do wonder if things in your life might have been different if all this had come to light nearer the time.”
There was no simple answer, however.
The other factor that militated against a sweeping annulment of East German success was the doubt that had been raised about performances of other nations, not all of them from within the Eastern bloc, over the same period of time.
Over time, Cook – who is married to another former British athlete, 400m runner Garry – has reached her own position on the question.
“Garry and I talk about it when evidence comes out, and we say, jokingly, I was robbed. But I had my fair share of standing on the rostrum, and I think there is too much water under the bridge to change things now.”
Cook, who retired from the track in 1987, got to know a number of East German athletes during her ten-year career. “Sometimes I would have to look at runners twice because their whole shape had completely changed,” she said.
"‘The most disturbing thing was the way some of the girls’ voices had lowered… The idea that the whole team was involved, lock, stock and barrel, is horrifying. Especially when you think that some of them were so young.”
Cook was not the only athlete cheated. A generation of East Germans, anecdotally given no choice but to take the little blue pills their coaches insisted upon, were also cheated of the right to discover what they were naturally capable of. And for the women, more dramatically altered than the men by the regular ingestion of testosterone, there were catastrophic physical and mental costs to be paid in later life.
A salutary tale for future International Women’s Day reflections…