Liam Morgan

In a press release back in May, International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach insisted they were "showing once more our determination to protect the integrity of the Olympic competitions" by retesting samples from Beijing 2008 and London 2012.

But as more and more medals are stripped from convicted dopers, that integrity is tarnished ever further.

Yes, the IOC catching athletes who have failed retrospective tests should be seen as a positive - even if some competitors are only just finding out they are Olympic medallists eight years after they represented their country in the Chinese capital - as at least they are finally rooting out the cheats.

Some might say it is too little, too late, but the fact that athletes previously denied the chance of calling themselves an Olympic champion can now do exactly that is a step in the right direction.

On the other hand, doubts become increasingly prominent over the validity of each and every event at the two editions of the Games with every retest announcement the IOC make. "If it wasn't so serious you would want to laugh," as Olympic marketing guru Patrick Nally wrote on Twitter.

This, of course, is no laughing matter, but you cannot help but have a wry smile at the bizarre and frankly ridiculous scenarios which have occurred as a direct result of the IOC’s retrospective testing.

The obvious one which springs to mind is the now notorious men’s 94kg weightlifting competition at London 2012, described by one of my colleagues as “descending into complete disgrace”, as ninth-placed finisher Tomasz Zielinski of Poland is in line for bronze. Yes, you have read that correctly.

Yet even he has been entangled in the web of doping which has seemingly engulfed the sport as he was sent home from the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro after he failed a test for banned anabolic steroid nandrolone at the National Championships in July. If any story sums up the current state of weightlifting, it is that one.

"We have the potential that those who finished sixth/seventh/eighth who might be bumped up into a medal position weren’t tested," Michele Verroken, who has held various roles within anti-doping and served as director of ethics and anti-doping at UK Sport for 18 years between 1986 and 2004, told insidethegames.

"What do you do when the athlete has previously won a medal? It starts to undermine fair and clean sport because you do have previous dopers or you have doubts about the event or that individual.

"They are not keeping pace with perception and reality of retrospective testing."

IOC President Thomas Bach said they were “showing once more our determination to protect the integrity of the Olympic competitions” by retesting samples from Beijing 2008 and London 2012 ©Getty Images
IOC President Thomas Bach said they were “showing once more our determination to protect the integrity of the Olympic competitions” by retesting samples from Beijing 2008 and London 2012 ©Getty Images

The sheer number of athletes implicated in the spate of retrospective positives - 80 have now been officially sanctioned by the IOC, 42 of which are medallists - has raised questions, particularly among the anti-doping movement, as to who exactly was targeted by the IOC in their re-testing policy. As an example, the vast majority of those revealed to have failed are from the Soviet bloc of countries, save for two Cubans, three Chinese gold medallists, three from Turkey and one each from Greece, Spain and Qatar.

This information has not yet been made public by the powers-that-be and it is a point raised by former Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority head Richard Ings.

"Why won't the IOC release the retesting selection criteria?," he told insidethegames.

"Has every medallist from Beijing and London been retested? If not who hasn't and why? And if they haven't been retested, with the tsunami of retest positives, how can we believe the results of any medallist who has not been retested?

"Add to that where medals have been reallocated to lower place-getters, have those lower place-getters been retested?

"Did the IOC go all the way down to the athlete who finished ninth, some of whom are now medallists in some sports?"

Plenty of questions and, at the time of writing, very few answers.

One aspect which seems strange even to the untrained eye is the fact that a worrying number of samples provided at Beijing 2008 and London 2012 contained turinabol, a substance which is nothing new to the drug testers.

The anabolic steroid was, largely unknowingly, injected and ingested by East Germans during their infamous state-sponsored doping scheme, known as State Plan 14.25, which catapulted them from global sporting minnow to Olympic powerhouse in a matter of years in the 1970s and 1980s. Surely it should have been detected in samples much earlier by the testers? Surely it should not have taken eight or even four years to strip a medal from an athlete who was caught using the drug?

Both Ings and Verroken cite microdosing, an illicit tactic to skirt the anti-doping process reportedly used by the likes of Grigor Rodchenkov, the head of the now infamous Moscow Laboratory, as one of the main factors.

The ability to give an athlete enough of a banned substance to go under the radar but provide the required performance-enhancing element is an evil which is proving difficult to combat. It has also led the lab experts to rethink their own tactics, according to Verroken.

Ilya Ilyin of Kazakhstan has been stripped of two Olympic gold medals for doping ©Getty Images
Ilya Ilyin of Kazakhstan has been stripped of two Olympic gold medals for doping ©Getty Images

"Turinabol is really, really easy to detect but detection limits have been increased and are not at the same level as they were," Verroken, a vehement campaigner for clean sport, said.

"I think there’s an unwillingness to share too much laboratory analytical information as they don’t want those who are cheating to know how sophisticated they have become in their detection methods."

Regardless of the technicalities, what we are left with is a situation where the air of suspicion hangs over sport like never before, especially in weightlifting.

The amount of athletes in the sport named in the retests has led to various members of the Twittersphere suggesting its hallowed Olympic place could be in doubt, although the International Weightlifting Federation would argue they are outing the cheats rather than concealing them, as is allegedly the case among one high-profile counterpart on the programme.

But what it does do is ensure that, for the time being at least, every weightlifter who triumphs at a major international event will be met with more than a trace of scepticism. This is of no fault of their own – it is largely because of the likes of Kazakhstan’s Ilya Ilyin, who was yesterday officially stripped of the Olympic gold medals he undeservedly claimed at Beijing 2008 and London 2012.

"At the moment, it is hugely difficult because you have an environment that would perhaps encourage people to cheat because they know they might not get caught for up to 10 years and they can benefit from this for a long time," adds Verroken.

"You begin to understand why some athletes think why not, take the risk, because cheats are still prospering. It is the right principle that we pursue cheats but the practical reality is that we may not be creating the most effective deterrent to stop people actually cheating.

"They might feel they can get away with it and this and there’s no fairness in that.

"It might also lead to others using substances because they see others doing it and getting away with it."

Belarusian Aksana Miankova was among the athletes revealed to have failed retrospective tests by the IOC yesterday ©Getty Images
Belarusian Aksana Miankova was among the athletes revealed to have failed retrospective tests by the IOC yesterday ©Getty Images

The whole retesting saga, which undoubtedly has good intentions, is only adding to the confusion surrounding the fight against doping.

There is little doubt tougher sanctions need to be brought in. Both the World Anti-Doping Agency, whose proposed three-tier punishment system could eventually see entire countries barred from the Olympics, and the IOC, who have lobbied for a reintroduction of the Osaka Rule – which bans any athlete from taking part at the Games who have served serious doping suspensions – appear keen on this happening.

Until such changes are initiated however, Verroken believes the public will remain disillusioned with the Olympics and with sport in general.

"The public are becoming cynical and short-term because the winning of a Olympic medal is just for today and it might not be tomorrow or 10 years from now as it could be taken away," she said.

A personal view is that we should not rest until those who have been denied their shot at glory or their chance to sing their national anthem proudly as they stand atop an Olympic programme have their medals around their necks.

This will take some time - the reallocation of medals is an obvious challenge in the wake of the retests - but it simply has to happen. The IOC have begun to rid the Games of dopers but sooner rather than later, they must turn their focus to those who are the victims of the mess sport finds itself in.