SYDNEY (Reuters) - If you were ever looking for a victim of the scourge of blood doping in athletics, it would be hard to go past Australian race walker Jared Tallent.
The 30-year-old finished second in the 50 kilometer walking events at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics behind competitors who were subsequently found guilty of using performance enhancing drugs.
Track and field has been plunged into crisis this week following reports from Britain’s Sunday Times newspaper and Germany’s ARD/WDR broadcaster that they had obtained IAAF data that indicated suspected widespread blood doping in athletics between 2001 and 2012.
The scale of the accusations came as no surprise to Tallent, who feels let down by a system that he says needs changing.
“I’d have a lot more gold medals without blood doping, I don’t have any at the moment,” Tallent told Reuters by telephone from his home in Adelaide on Tuesday.
“It’s good that stuff like this is coming out, people need to know. Maybe now the sport will actually do something about it.”
At Beijing in 2008, Tallent finished second behind Italian Alex Schwazer. In 2012, just before the London Olympics, Schwazer tested positive for erythropoietin, more commonly referred to as EPO, a substance which can increase the blood’s oxygenation.
A tearful Schwazer admitted to using EPO just before London but said he been clean in Beijing so was allowed to keep the gold medal he won in China.
The 50km gold medal in London was won by Russia’s Sergei Kirdyapkin, who was found guilty of doping earlier this year.
Kirdyapkin was handed a three-year, two-month suspension by Russian anti-doping officials (RUSADA) that was backdated to October 2012, just after the London Olympics ended.
Most of his results from 2009 were annulled but RUSADA left open a window so he could keep his Olympic gold medal.
“It was absolutely ridiculous,” Tallent told Reuters.
“They proved that he was doping for four years up to London but they allowed him to keep the medal. It was the biggest joke in the world.”
The world governing body for athletics (IAAF) has since appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) over the selective disqualification periods the Russians used, but Tallent remains furious at the whole system.
The Australian has become so angry about being beaten by athletes he believes are doping, that he has stopped shaking hands with them at the end of races.
“It does make you happy when you beat these guys, who you know are cheats, you’re just bitterly disappointed when you finish second,” he said.
“At the start, I would shake their hands but now I try not to.”
A source of particular ire for Tallent is the Russian athletes under the tutelage of coach Viktor Chegin.
Chegin was suspended from his job last month after five of his walkers, including Kirdyapkin, were banned for doping offences.
What he sees as RUSADA’s cherry-picking with Kirdyapkin’s ban has convinced Tallent that the punishments for doping offences need to be taken out of the hands of national bodies.
“There needs to be an independent anti-doping authority that deals with athletics not related to the countries,” he said.
“That way you won’t have countries politically persuaded not to do the right thing.”
Tallent, who has been waging a campaign on social media with like-minded fellow athletes against the cheats in his sport, feels the IAAF needs to be more aggressive in pursuing offenders.
“I definitely feel let down by the IAAF,” he said. “I contacted them earlier this year about the case of some Russian walkers that were competing while they were banned.
“The IAAF said they were going to investigate it, and clearly they had enough evidence, but nothing was done.”
Tallent wants drug cheats named and shamed, worrying that if they go unpunished, clean competitors could unfairly be tarred with the same brush.
“You might get people thinking that everybody’s doing it but that’s not the case,” he said. “It’s just unfortunate that quite a few of the successful ones are cheating.”
Despite his anger, Tallent still enjoys his sport and is looking forward to taking part in his sixth world championships in Beijing later this month — particularly as Russia has said their race walkers will almost certainly not compete.
“Thankfully, this year we’ll get to the world championships and there’ll be no Russian walkers from Chegin’s stable. It will make it a lot more of a level playing field, that’s for sure,” he said.
“It will probably be the cleanest race at the world championships for more than 20 years so I’m looking forward to that.
Editing by Julian Linden