Monday, Apr. 15, 2024

Let’s Hope Our Gold Medalists Remain Golden After Hong Kong

Do you remember who won the gold medals in equestrian sports at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games? If not, you’re certainly not alone.

You might recall that a positive drug test for a therapeutic ointment eliminated show jumping team gold medalist Goldfever, ridden by Ludger Beerbaum, and dropped the Germans from gold to bronze. Therefore, the United States moved up and earned their first team gold medal since the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games.
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Do you remember who won the gold medals in equestrian sports at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games? If not, you’re certainly not alone.

You might recall that a positive drug test for a therapeutic ointment eliminated show jumping team gold medalist Goldfever, ridden by Ludger Beerbaum, and dropped the Germans from gold to bronze. Therefore, the United States moved up and earned their first team gold medal since the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games.

Likewise, Cian O’Connor appeared to have earned Ireland’s first and only Olympic medal at the Athens Games before his horse, Waterford Crystal, tested positive for a banned substance. The subsequent appeals took months to resolve, but, eventually, he was stripped of his gold medal and Rodrigo Pessoa of Brazil became the Olympic champion with Baloubet du Rouet.

Actually, the International Olympic Committee reported a record number of doping cases at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, and, unfortunately, they dramatically affected track and field, weightlifting and, sadly, equestrian. According to the Fédération Equestre Internationale, 40 horses, or 20 percent of those participating in equestrian events in Athens, were tested with four positive results.

In Hong Kong there will be 229 horses in the Olympics and 75 in the Paralympics. During the Games at least 50 horses, 10 more than at Athens, are expected to undergo drug testing.

In an effort to prevent a repeat of the Athens debacle, testing procedures in Hong Kong will, for the first time, include a voluntary pre-event procedure. Unlike human doping cases, most positive equine drug tests are caused by therapeutic treatments given too close to competition and not performance-enhancing substances. Now, competitors can voluntarily test their horses for residues of 66 legitimate therapeutic medications before the Games begin to prevent inadvertent infringements.

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No sanctions will be imposed for medications found in the pre-Games samples, and riders can submit
another elective sample for testing closer to the start of competition to ensure that any medication residue has cleared the horse’s system. Under FEI rules, there’s zero tolerance for therapeutic and non-therapeutic substances.

At a time when IOC President Jacques Rogge expects up to 40 doping cases to occur at this Olympic Games—up from 26 in Athens—having a preventative measure in place for our equine athletes is a major step forward. Rogge reported that 3.9 billion people around the world watched the Athens Olympics on television, and even more are expected to tune in this year. It’s the perfect time to restore our sport’s integrity on the world stage.

We’ll never completely escape from doping scandals in our sport, though, because a few will always try and break the rules. It’s truly unfortunate, however, when an innocent person is stripped of his title for an honest mistake.

It’s every Olympian’s dream to stand on the podium and hear his or her national anthem played. Let’s hope the best horses and riders in Hong Kong test clean so that those who win may savor those memories forever instead of providing a less meaningful victory for someone else days or months later.

Tricia Booker, Editor

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