a guest post by John Nissen-Meyer of the University of Oslo
In June 2013, the New York Times reported on an alleged cover-up by anti-doping officials. The paper reported that prior to the 2012 London Olympics, Italian track and field officials and the IAAF had evidence that race walker Alex Schwazer, who won gold at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, used performance-enhancing drugs but that these organizations made no effort to prevent him from competing in the London games.
Schwazer was, however, ultimately caught by WADA shortly before the 2012 London Olympics. The NYT reported, “neither the Italian federation nor the IAAF moved to stop Schwazer from competing in the Olympics.” An Italian prosecutor explained, “this circumstance can only be explained by the desire to ‘preserve’ a national track and field star for the 2012 London Olympic Games, in the expectation that he would perform well for Italy both in the 20 and the 50 km walk race.”
Now back from his doping suspension, Schwazer is in the news again after winning gold in the 50 km race-walking championships in Rome earlier this month.
On May 8, the German TV channel ZDF had a report about Schwazer that adds further details to the possibility of a cover-up by sports officials. After about 4 minutes into the ZDF report they reveal a table showing Schwazer's blood values for the time period 2010-2012 (a screen grab is shown below). His blood values from May 21st are remarkable; they are in fact extreme and need an explanation, since they clearly suggest some type of blood manipulation or EPO doping.
Nevertheless, it seems that the values from 2012 were the ones that triggered WADA’s doping investigation against Schwazer (he was caught the last part of July 2012) and which motivated the charges against Italian and IAAF officials that they were aware that that Schwazer used EPO, but did not report it.
Schwazer states that he started using EPO winter/spring 2012 and that he informed at least one Italian doctor about it. But Schwazer claims that he never used blood doping before that, and based on this testimony, he obtained a reduced punishment, which ultimately led to his return to eligibility to race this spring.
The evidence from ZDF suggests however that Schwazer may have been doping as early as April-May 2010, which calls into question both his testimony and raises important questions for Italian and IAAF officials about the scope of a possible longer-term cover up.
In Rome earlier this month, Schwazer completely outclassed all his competitors in the 50 km World Cup in Rome and is now a favorite to win the 50 km in Rio this summer. Some of his (presumably) clean competitors are bitter about this and suspect that the whole story has not been told -- and they may be right.
There is no evidence to suggest that he is doping now, but based on the data provided by ZDF there are reasons to suspect that he may have done so before 2012.
Are anti-doping officials interested in knowing what happened? Or are they so overwhelmed by recent allegations that another possible cover-up is best left unexplored?