MELBOURNE (Reuters) - For an athlete accustomed to pounding 50 kilometer routes, Australian race walker Jarred Tallent has traveled a longer than necessary road to secure the London Olympics gold medal that was denied him for nearly four years by a drugs cheat.
On Friday, the journey ended on the steps of Melbourne’s Old Treasury Building, where the 31-year-old mounted a makeshift podium and bowed his head to accept the 50km gold at an emotional ceremony attended by Olympic dignitaries and a modest crowd of cheering well-wishers.
Although 1,405 days have passed since he finished second behind Russian Sergey Kirdyapkin at The Mall in London, Tallent beamed with joy on a drizzly winter’s day as he savored the feeling of finally being recognized as Olympic champion.
“I can’t believe this day has finally happened,” he told a throng of media, office workers and school-children huddling under umbrellas.
“Unfortunately, I didn’t get to stand on the podium in London all those days ago but coming here to Melbourne, so close to home, only 100 kilometers from where I grew up on a potato farm, this has just made it absolutely special.”
Tallent’s moment, however delayed, was a ray of light in the all-pervading gloom that has enveloped world athletics since a string of doping and corruption scandals erupted last year.
Less than seven weeks before the opening ceremony at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, the International Association of Athetics Federations (IAAF) is poised to decide on whether to lift its ban on Russian athletes competing at international competition.
Russian athletics was banned in November after an investigation by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) found evidence of widespread state-sponsored doping.
The decision, to be voted upon by the IAAF’s Council in Vienna later on Friday, could see all of the country’s track and field athletes barred from competing at Rio, whether clean or tainted.
Tallent, who suspected Russia’s race walking team was doping well before London, was strident that the ban needed to remain lest the presence of the country’s athletes taint the Games, track and field’s biggest stage.
Since the ban was announced, Russia has been hit by further allegations of cheating, including at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, on home soil.
“The evidence is quite clear,” Tallent said. “Russia hasn’t made the changes to be there. I hope (the IAAF) make the right decision.
“I will be very, very angry (if Russian athletes compete at Rio)... It’ll hurt the credibility of the Games.”
Tallent campaigned relentlessly for years to have Russia’s race walking team investigated and the medals won by their athletes re-assigned to clean competitors.
However, it was not until Kirdyapkin and five other Russian athletes were found to have returned abnormal results from blood sample collections for years leading up to the London Olympics that a door opened for the Australian.
Kirdyapkin was banned by Russia’s now scandal-hit anti-doping authority for three years and two months but the period excluded his London campaign, allowing him to keep the gold.
Then, in March, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) canceled Kirdyapkin’s London result, paving the way for Tallent’s golden moment.
Tallent said he was just one “lucky” athlete to have justice served.
“I know there are other athletes who have missed out on gold medals because of unfortunately, Russian cheating,” he added.
“I feel really sad and sorry for those athletes.
“This is a clear message. This day is amazing but it shouldn’t have happened. We don’t want drug cheats at the Olympic Games.”
Editing by John O'Brien