Just over a week ago, I was seething at a Stuff.co.nz headline reading “Valerie loses the Olympic Shotput Final”. It was a disgraceful and totally inaccurate title for an article about how our much admired Olympic champion from 2008 won the silver medal in London.
That Val’s longest throw was 5cms longer than what won in Beijing, or that she was let down by administrators who forgot to register her, or that she just didn’t look her usual focused self was all forgotten in the public’s reaction: Val ‘lost’ because the winner looked like a man.
Im as horrified as the rest of the country to find out that the testing set in place at the Olympics found drugs in 2 of the Gold medalist’s samples. A drug cheat, at this moment, feels like the worst kind of cheat… She deprived our country of the celebration we were planning for, she tarnished the Olympics brand, she undermined everything about competing at the top of your game, and most importantly, she stole the moment from someone who has focused virtually her entire life around winning that medal.
But there is something sick and twisted about our attitude towards not winning Gold. This Olympics had the most rigorous testing programme in place that we have ever seen, it seems this particular case was fast tracked and yes, there were definite signs that pointed towards drug abuse (Increasing your best distance by over a meter all of a sudden, after years and year seems, even to an outside observer, more than a touch odd)… But our quick and hugely personal attacks on someone who has not been proven guilty are just yuck.
Val, even in what must have been an awful moment, probably well aware that the woman who stole Gold from her was a drugs cheat, was an unbelievable example of all that is good with the Olympics. She took her Silver with as much dignity as she could muster, she didn’t say a word about the drugs cheat and she shone as an example to all of us of how to behave.
While the rest of us went wild creating memes about the man/woman, how ugly she was, how we all (totally without expertise) ‘knew’ she cheated. Some even felt entitled to rip into Val herself for not being quite up to it any more, for losing the plot, bombing out and any number of other insults that make me wonder why on earth anyone would bother to wear the Silver Fern for us at all.
So the drugs cheat has now been exposed, and people are scrambling to be the first to congratulate our second-time Olympic champion, while justifying the insults we threw at the perceived winner.
There are very few events in modern life that being together the world in the spirit of fair play and giving it all. Every single one of our athletes did us proud, its the rest of us that left a lot to be desired.