There will be a new Olympic champion 50-kilometer race walker. That much is certain a full four days before the event takes place, even though the defending champ, Italian race walking superstar Alex Schwazer, qualified to defend his title.
Instead of lining up along the starting line for the 50K race on Saturday, Schwazer will be back in Italy after he failed a doping test for using the blood-boosting agent erythropoietin, more commonly called EPO. According to Reuters and the Associated Press, Schwazer's positive test was confirmed by CONI, the Italian National Olympic Committee.
"[Schwazer] wanted the gold again at all costs," he told Italian TV, according to the AP.
EPO scandals have hit other endurance events hard, most notably racking the Tour de France in recent years. Still, the concept of a race walker doping strikes many as patently ridiculous. After all, this is race walking, not running.
As it turns out, blood doping scandals are nothing new in the wild world of race walking. Most notably, in September of 2008, not long after the conclusion of the Beijing Games, five leading Russian race walkers all tested positive for EPO, with the then-world-record holder for the 20k race walk, Vladimir Kanaikin, among the guilty racers.
Those past scandals have left Schwazer in the unenviable position of having to ensure fans across the world that his 2008 gold medal was rightfully earned in clean competition. The Italian also set a world record in that same race, leaving both his gold medal and still-standing record in peril.
On Tuesday, Schwazer took to the Italian airwaves to plead his case, admitting that he used the banned substance as a desperate attempt to defend his Olympic crown. Now he'll remain silent for the next two years, the penalty for a positive test that may taint his legacy forever, whether he used it before his most famous race or not.
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