Canadian Olympic history could be made if some results from Sochi 2014 are changed
What if Gagnon were to join Bilodeau and Kingsbury as an aerials medallist?
If you've read the news this week (or more accurately, this year), you know that Russia has been cheating in sport.
Since the release of the McLaren report exposing the extent of the state-sponsored doping in Russia (urine through mouse holes … really?!?) my social media feeds have been filled with highly opinionated dialect calling for Russia's immediate ban from the Rio Olympic Games.
Networks, sport media and radio shows that don't cover Olympic sport (and hardly give credence to the athletes that compete in them) are suddenly weighing in with heavy opinions on the matter. Everyone is asking the same question:
Should Russia be allowed to compete in Rio or should they be banned from the 2016 Olympics as punishment for their indiscretions?
Like the majority of Canadian Olympic athletes, I strongly support the future of clean sport and believe drug cheats should be punished. I'm also acutely aware a full Russian ban in Rio 2016 will be at the expense of many innocent, clean Russian athletes. The only thing that is clear about this whole mess is that the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Olympic movement are at a crossroads. The IOC's decision will lay the ground work for the future of the Olympic movement.
Yet as everyone keeps looking forward to the pending decision, I can't help but look back. Back to Sochi 2014 and the Canadian athletes who competed fairly and without performance-enhancing drugs. To those podium performances that included a Russian athlete, and the fourth-place finishers who might have been robbed of their Olympic moment.
On Feb. 10, 2014, Canada's Alexandre Bilodeau made history by becoming the first freestyle skier to successfully defend an Olympic gold medal. He was challenged by his Canadian teammate Mikael Kingsbury, who settled for silver. Breaking up a Canadian sweep was Russian skier Alexandr Smyshlyaev, who finished with the bronze medal ahead of Canadian Marc-Antoine Gagnon. Canada finished first, second and fourth on that day in Sochi.
I can't help but look back and wonder – what if Smyshlyaev is one of the 13 skiers identified in the McLaren report? What if that medal rightfully belongs to Gagnon?
Bilodeau, Kingsbury and Gagnon might have been part of the first-ever Olympic podium sweep by Canadian athletes and only the 40th sweep in Winter Olympic history. We'll have to wait to find out.
13 Canadians could see results upgraded
Gagnon likely isn't the only athlete paying attention. Canada won the silver medal behind Russia in the figure skating team event and finished fourth in the luge team relay (Russia was second). Assuming Russians from these team events are implicated in the doping scandal, 13 Canadian athletes could see their results from Sochi upgraded retroactively (nine figure skaters and four luge athletes).
Setting aside the unspeakable and obvious emotional injustice of being robbed of a once-in-a-lifetime moment, there are financial consequences to losing out on an Olympic medal.
Most obvious is the Canadian Olympic Committee Athlete Excellence Fund. Medallists receive financial rewards when they win Olympic medals: $20,000 for gold, $15,000 for silver and $10,000 for bronze. This money can be paid retroactively. But what about the lost opportunity for the sponsorship value of an Olympic medal (or upgraded medal)?
What's an Olympic medal worth?
An Olympic medal in Canada isn't worth millions like many believe, but it does have value. Would Bilodeau, Kingsbury and Gagnon have financially benefitted if they'd made history in Sochi? No doubt. They'd have been the story of the Games.Their combined value would have increased.
What sponsors would they have? Hard to ascertain. Each athlete markets themselves differently. For Kingsbury and Gagnon (Bilodeau retired after Sochi), they would be part of the athlete pool heavily considered by Olympic sponsors for endorsements and campaigns leading into the 2018 Games. Medals make a difference. Kingsbury is now supported by Olympic sponsor BMW, but Gagnon isn't supported by any of the major Olympic partners.
Also at play is Own the Podium funding. Medals matter to Olympic sports needing funding. An Olympic medal indicates a successful program. Successful programs are supported with more money. For a sport like luge, a medal would validate the premise that funding can lead to medals.
So as everyone looks ahead to what the IOC will do, I can't stop looking back at all the implications of this cheating scandal, and those Canadians caught in the cross-fire.