Sometimes, it’s refreshing to just strip away all the bullshit. The Rio 2016 Olympic will be forever remembered for the troubles beforehand. State-sponsored doping scandals, nationwide epidemics and a plain lack of infrastructure and, well, money were seemingly immovable obstacles on Rio’s troubled path into the history books.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t get lost in the magic of sport, even just for a fortnight. That’s what the Games are all about – years of dedication diluted down into a performance that can define a lifetime. And boy, does it make for a spectacle. From Kosovo’s golden entrance to the Olympic family to Michael Phelps’s historic nineteenth gold medal in the pool, we’ve already witnessed the full spectrum of human emotion during the first 72 hours in Rio.
For Great Britain, it was a slow start. After a mesmerising ride in the French Alps, Chris Froome failed to deliver the medal that an expectant Britain had assumed would be a formality. Instead the Kenyan born rider came unstuck, largely due to the same cunning tactics that had worked so well for him three weeks ago.
Adam Peaty’s performances in the pool more than made up for any errors on the treacherous Grumari Circuit. The 21 year old smashed his own world record to take Great Britain’s first gold of the Games in the 100m breaststroke. Not to be outdone, Jazz Carlin of Swindon followed Peaty’s triumph up with a commendable silver in the 400m freestyle. This evening, Ed Ling won an impressive bronze in the trap shooting.
Medals will surely continue to flow for Great Britain; the swimming finals continue this week whilst the rowing begins to wind up a gear as the week progresses. Track cycling and athletics are still to come as GB look to build upon the record-breaking success of London 2012.
So, it’s safe to assume the Games are running smoothly. So far, so good, I suppose. But the cracks are apparent. Boos in the carnal heat of the Aquatics Stadium upon the appearance of Russian athletes poolside. The second day of rowing called off and rescheduled due to conditions more suited to the North Atlantic than the Olympic water-sports venue. And Lizzie Armitstead.
Armitstead, a woman who inspired a nation upon winning a magnificent silver on the streets of London four years ago. Armitstead, a cyclist with a raw affinity with the two wheels and carbon chassis which promise to propel her onto glory. Armitstead, the cheat.
For that is what she is. Dress it up whichever way you like. If Armitstead’s first name was Anastasiya, you’d be calling for her head. In an impassioned defence of her innocence, the 27 year old released a 1250 word statement, carefully explaining the reasons behind three missed tests in the space of a year.
In it, Armitstead claims that, in Sweden, the ‘DCO didn’t do what was reasonable or necessary to find me’. The cyclist was staying in a hotel and was aware of the possibility of a drug test. She knew she was due to be tested. She did not inform the DCO of her room number beforehand. Keeping your phone on silent so as to not ‘disturb a roommate’ is not a valid excuse in the current climate. As an athlete, it is Armitstead’s responsibility to be available and proactive in providing UKAD with a sample.
Armitstead goes on to cite ‘an honest mistake’ as the second reason and ‘personal family circumstances’ as the cause behind the third strike. Ambiguous? Just a little. An honest mistake on one occasion is acceptable – off the back of others, in a climate when doping clings to the very essence of sport, it is not.
In fighting the good fight against drug cheats who threaten to rupture the very foundations that competitive sport is built on, UKAD is a woefully under-stocked machine. Technology has come a long way since the days of the East German doping systems and some drugs can even fade out of the system within 24 hours. This rules out Armitstead’s excuse that she was tested the following day after the hotel debacle.
She should have been more careful. She should have been aware, understood the innate risks of dicing with doping legislation and adhered in every circumstance. She did not.
In allowing Armitstead to compete in Rio, the Court of Arbitration for Sport have undermined the very fabric of the Games. The excuses the cyclist bases her whole argument on are weak, backhanded and flawed. As I watched her climb the steep hills overlooking the Copacabana, I wanted to root for her. The patriotic urge is sometimes hard to quell.
Some labelled Armitstead’s failure to medal as poetic justice. That’s not true. Justice would have been a ban. Her very presence on the roads of Rio is, in this defining period for world sport, unjust.