Boos echoed through the Olympic Aquatics Stadium Monday night as Russian swimmer, Yulia Efimova was announced. She entered and took her position on the blocks beside the next great American hero, Lilly King, as memories of the Cold War washed over us.
King has been outspoken about her distaste for Efimova, which took new heights when she was caught on camera wagging her finger at a TV monitor showing Efimova holding up a #1 after winning her semi-final heat last Sunday.
After edging out Efimova in the final of the 100m breaststroke the following day, King slapped the water in Efimova’s lane and elected to avoid congratulations, going on to say:
“If I was in Yulia’s position I would not want to be congratulated by someone who wasn’t speaking highly of me.”
She continued her crusade stating that her gold medal winning performance was “a victory for clean sports. It shows you can win if you compete cleanly all your life. That’s where I’m at.” And as the two shared the podium following the medal ceremony, King continued to speak strongly against doping while Efimova fought back tears sitting unusually far away from the winner when typically the gold and silver recipients would be side by side.
And the nation relished this stance. An overwhelming assertion that the great American has once again thwarted their dirty Russian counterpart.
Including this excerpt from Bill Platschke’s LA Times piece, which likens King to Captain America mixed with Jimmy Chitwood and leads to overzealous hyperbole:
“On a dramatic night at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium on Monday night, a 19-year-old kid from Indiana did what the world’s Olympic and swimming officials were too weak to do and what legions of athletes only dreamed of doing.”
But, when you look below the surface there’s a much greater storyline in play. King was the human embodiment of what many countries in the world dislike about the United States. She spoke with an air of superiority that stems from an unfortunate ignorance about the circumstances that exist outside of our extremely fortunate country.
When you look at the Wikipedia page of 19 year-old King’s hometown of Evansville, Indiana you see mentions of it having a “broad economic base” which “has helped to build an economy which is known for its stability, diversity, and vitality” as well as being home to “several well known educational institutions.”
Efimova lived in Grozny through the First Chechen War, which contained two of the three Battles of Grozny, before moving to the “more stable” Volgodonsk to train in the Russian swimming system.
And while the systematic doping in Russia has consumed the news leading up to 2016 Olympic Games, Efimova hasn’t lived there since 2011 when she moved to L.A. as her family was worried the strenuous training practices in her homeland would burn her out.
Since then she’d be training with USC coach, David Salo, and was with him leading up to these games. So, Efimova is not the stereotypical Russian super soldier training in Siberia, but instead she more closely resembles the typical American athlete in a way that mainstream media has failed to illuminate.
Now there definitely is a question of her two doping issues. Which, granted is a monster problem in sports as a whole, but it’s when you dive into the circumstances surrounding those positive tests that you gain the necessary perspective in order to form an opinion that carries weight.
The first one occurred in 2013 when she purchased a supplement from GNC that contained the banned hormone DHEA, something that happens to countless American athletes on a pretty regular basis. And then consider that this offense was even deemed unintentional by the drug testing body and her suspension was reduced from 24 to 16 months. Take a second to just Google banned substances in GNC products and you will get hit with a slew of results showing just how possible this is.
Here’s an article from the Inquisitr that lists just a handful of products containing banned substances.
The second offense was the big one, the positive test for meldonium, the same heart medication that has sidelined Maria Sharapova for two years. It was originally developed for Soviet soldiers and now is used for its benefits cardiovascular, neurological and metabolic diseases, as well as being a prevalent drug taken by Eastern European athletes.
Now, that last part sounds bad, I get it, but now take into account the lack of conclusive research done on the drug and the insufficient evidence that it contributes to any increase in athletic performance.
“Benefit of taking meldonium in view of performance enhancement in athletes is quite speculative and is discussed without sound scientific evidence.” – British Journal of Sports Medicine
“I’m not convinced at all that it enhances human performance.” – Don Caitlin, an emeritus professor at UCLA and former head of the university’s Olympic Analytical Laboratory
And if that’s not enough, let’s explore the surrounding circumstances to the banning of this drug in the first place. Meldonium was only banned on January 1st, 2016 and even though athletes we’re given a warning in October that it would be banned that may not have been enough time for the drug to clear their system since testing for it began in the Spring.
According to the Latvian manufacturers of the drug, Grindeks, meldonium has a half-life of between four and six hours, but “it’s terminal elimination from the body may last several months,” according to an article posted by Reuters.
Next Efimova’s aforementioned coach, Dave Salo, who has coached numerous American champions, stated that over 90% of international athletes consume some type of supplement or another. Your favorite athlete may not be doping today, but at any point WADA could add their supplement of choice to the list of banned substances.
I think Efimova said it best, “you can just try and understand me, like if you switch you and I,” which is clearly something King neglected to do and let a combination of her youthful naivety and sense American superiority dominate the conversation instead of trying to explore the alternative aspects of a very gray issue.
I encourage you all to check out these articles and form your own opinion, at least then we can have an informed discussion before deeming a 24 year-old as the present day embodiment of the Cold War era Soviet Union.