London 2012 Olympics: Turkish delight or doubt?

A Turkish one-two in the women’s 1500m on Friday should have brought widespread joy, but instead it was met with cynical indifference

Asli Cakir (Mark Shearman)

Two hours after the women’s 1500m final at the London Olympics, Asli Cakir Alptekin and Gamze Bulut faced the world’s press to explain how they had managed to achieve a one-two. “We came here to take gold and silver,” said the gold medallist Cakir Alptekin. “This is Turkish power.”

With both women talking through an interpreter, the runner-up Bulut added: “It is like winning two golds and I would like to say again, this is Turkish power.”

With a time of only 4:10.23 in a slow tactical race, this was the slowest winning mark (by five seconds) since the event was introduced into the Olympics in 1972. Yet that did not prevent a wave of surprise on Friday night as Twitter, especially, raised a giant proverbial eyebrow in cyberspace as athletes and fans viewed the action with a dubious cynicism.

Paula Radcliffe, the world marathon record-holder who has led the way when it comes to spreading the anti-doping message, replied to one fan on Twitter who asked her what her face was like at the end of the race by saying: “It wasn’t a happy one! #lifetimebans.”

Anthony Whiteman, an Olympian and world record-breaker in the masters 800m, 1500m and mile in 2012, added: “The 1500m used to be the Blue Riband seen as one of the highlights of the OG now it’s an embarrassment to Middle Distance running! #sad.”

Some athletes were even fiercer with their views. Hatti Archer, the British steeplechaser, tweeted: “Hate hate hate drugs cheats, ruining races wherever they go,” before ending her message with an x-rated message for cheats.

Nick McCormick, the British Olympian at 5000m, put it more succinctly when he said: “1500m #restinpeace”.

Why such reaction? Well, for starters, Cakir Alptekin had served a two-year doping ban when she tested positive at the IAAF World Junior Championships in 2004 as a teenage steeplechaser. Later, she competed at the 2008 Olympics and 2009 World Championships over barriers but failed to break 10 minutes.

Bulut, meanwhile, has never failed a drugs test but she has made the giant leap this year from a 4:18 runner to 4:03.42 on the eve of the Games and then 4:01.18 in her London 2012 semi-final. The steeplechase has also seen her make massive improvements in 2012 – from 10:13 to 9:34.

It is important to stress that these athletes have not failed drug tests recently and their performances in London have to be considered clean until proved otherwise. This did not stop athletes venting negative feelings on the internet, though, and their suspicions were fuelled by terrible reputation that the 1500m has at present.

Cakir Alptekin and Bulut have their own countrywoman Süreyya Ayhan to partly blame for this. Ayhan broke through spectacularly in 2002 to win the European 1500m title but she missed the 2004 Olympics after drug testers were obstructed in their duties and then received a lifetime ban after testing positive for steroids in 2007.

Alarmingly, when Cakir Alptekin won the European title earlier this summer in Helsinki – with a 57.9 last lap in a 4:05 race – she told the IAAF: “The success of Turkish athletes in the middle distances began in 2002 when the first Turkish woman (Ayhan) got a gold medal. That inspired me back then. We’re happy that we got gold and silver today, the next time we want to get all three!”

Further soiling the reputation of the event, Mariem Alaoui Selsouli, one of the leading contenders for 1500m gold in London courtesy of a 3:56.15 clocking, failed a drugs test for a diuretic in July and has been suspended. Being her second offence, the Moroccan now faces a lifetime ban.

Selsouli was, thankfully, not in the Olympics. But Tatyana Tomashova toed the line in the 1500m final on Friday. The Russian placed runner-up to Kelly Holmes in the 2004 Olympic 1500m final and has won two world titles at 1500m, but she had all her results from 2007 and 2008 annulled for attempted tampering of a drugs sample and returned from a ban in April last year.

Hopefully the medallists from Friday’s final in London are clean, but if any positive tests emerge, then Tomashova will step on to the podium as she finished fourth in the race behind the Turkish runners and third-placed Maryam Yusuf Jamal of Bahrain.

British athletes Lisa Dobriskey and Laura Weightman brought up the back of the field in the final. Yet rather than maintain an honourable silence, Dobriskey spoke her mind on the matter.

She told BBC Radio 5 Live: “I’ll probably get into trouble for saying this but I don’t believe I’m competing on a level playing field.”

Dobriskey has experienced heartbreak in the past when she finished fourth in the 1500m at the 2010 European Championships behind French silver medallist Hind Dehiba, who was arrested in 2007 when vials of human growth hormone were found in her luggage at an airport.

Dehiba, who was subsequently banned for two years after testing positive for the banned blood-booster EPO, was just one of three runners in the 2010 European final who had served doping suspensions.

More recently it emerged that Ukraine’s Nataliya Tobias – who finished one place ahead of Dobriskey to take bronze at the 2008 Games – tested positive at last year’s World Championships.

It is a depressing scenario to consider and it follows in the footsteps of a men’s 1500m final at the London Olympics that was diplomatically described by TV commentators and writers as “surprising”. Taoufik Makhloufi of Algeria has come from virtually nowhere in 2012 to win the men’s metric mile title, with considerable ease.

Like the Turkish athletes in the women’s 1500m, he has not failed a test, but when previously unknown athletes win with such ease it is only natural that ex-athletes and observers are left scratching their heads. And of course his victory follows that of Rashid Ramzi, the Moroccan-Bahraini athlete, who finished first in the 2008 Olympic 1500m final but was later banned for doping and had his result annulled.

There was a moment after the men’s 1500m final in London when the BBC cameras span around to show Seb Coe and Sir Roger Bannister – and one can only wonder what the two legends of the mile were thinking. This has been a magnificent Olympic Games, but it’s fair to say the 1500m races aren’t exactly the highlight for many.

» Jason Henderson is covering his fourth Olympics for AW and tweets at @Jason_AW

28 Responses to “London 2012 Olympics: Turkish delight or doubt?”

  1. unfair says:

    I agree that it wasn't a spectatular race but it's unfair to suggest that the winners cheated if they have tested negative…

  2. Kevin O'Neill says:

    Turkey, in particular, has a terrible drugs record amd it wouldn't surprise me at all if the winners of both 1,500metres fail tests, either now or later.

    • Rahim Huseyn says:

      Kevin O'Neill(Sikimin Bashi) there is a lot of drug cases with U.S.A sportmens either now or later, you think this country must never participate at the Olympics?

    • John Karacan says:

      I am not surprised at all at the crap thrown at the turkish atheletes. Europeans simply cannot accept that this country is slowly coming out of the woods with its dynamic youngsters who are now achieving success . The trend will continue.

      Kevin O'neill will have to keep is fingers crossed in hope that the turkish delights 1 & 2 fail the drug tests.
      I am sure that Oneill will be disappointed at the negative results.
      Gold & Silver is a tremendous result for any country. People should appreciate the immense hardwork any athelete of any country puts in. i SUGGEST THAT PEOPLE ENJOY watching these world champions and try to enjoy the spirit of olympics AND RELISH THE OLYMPIC MOMENTS, NOT PONDER IN A GREY CLOUD OF WHAT AND IF TO TAINT THESE GIRLS OR ANY OTHER ATHELETE OF ANY RACE OR ORIGIN. REMEMBER THIS IS NOT POLITICS, THIS IS SPORTS.

  3. Adam says:

    Everyone on the start line is equal, regardless of their past, as long as they are clean now, congratulations to Turkey

  4. FAIR says:

    It was a spectacular race for millions of Turks around the world. Who cares if you didn't enjoy it. Relax and enjoy defeat.

  5. Joe says:

    I read Aslı's interview on her 2006 doping test, she had said that before she went to testing she received a shot for her illness upon her pharmacist's recommendation. She said that "Why would I dope prior to testing? If I had known that it contained banned substances, I wouldn't have received the shot." I think that was an innocent mistake on both her and her neighbourhood-pharmacist's behalf. She is innocent unless proven otherwise. I think she is being criticised because of the notorious Sureyya Ayhan. Let's wait and see….

    • Why would she dope before testing?

      Because she didn't know she was going to be tested!!

      Some of the Turkish nationalism here, completely refusing to see reality, is quite depressing….

  6. Tammo Lotz says:

    The upcoming eight years are going to be exciting and unpredictable…;-)

  7. Realistic says:

    all things being equal do you still seriously think our athletes in these events would have influenced the outcome….

  8. Stelios says:

    Do you remember Mrs. Thanou (Silver medal in 2000 Olympics)? I do remember her, probably because I am Greek. If you look a picture of her and of a picture of Mrs. Cakir, the resemblance (the cheekbones, the “texture” of skin) is really striking. I am wondering why…

    • turk says:

      Hey Stelios, could it be that we had been living together for like last 500 years now? you know we have borders between greeks and turks only since 1923, right?

  9. ali samanci says:

    neither Turkish delight nor doubt.It is a Turkish double

  10. jakke says:

    Anyone who really believes that Asli Cakir Alptekin is now a clean athlete is living in cloud cuckoo land! There is no point trying to persuade you otherwise. This lady is now quicker than when she was exposed as a cheat in 2009. She hasn't altered her moral centre, she is now better at avoiding detection.

  11. jakke says:

    @Joe – Liars can be really convincing! Kelly White was prescribed modafinil as a treatment for narcolepsy. I thought, "Poor girl, leave her alone. My goodness she struggles with narcolepsy and needs this treatment." It was all a lie!!! Marion Jones was intelligent, articulate and also a blatant liar! Asli Cakir Alptekin is a proven drug cheat. I have also read her interview as well and I work as a doctor – the illness story + needing an injection + pharmacist advice is a lie. There is no illness that is treated with performance enhancing drugs!!

    • Ersa says:

      Well as you are a doctor, you should know that many chemicals have unproven effects on the body where this one might be a chemical when reacted in blood creates a banned substance and not detected by WADA or listed by WADA. I am not justifying that she is innocent to take that shot and get banned; initially she should not have received any treatment before her doping test if she knew it was soon, but you cannot conclude this as "Liars can be really convincing!" Especially as a doctor, you should not carry any strict judgements.

  12. A. Bostick says:

    We love you ASLI CAKIR …You are classy, well spoken, hard working athlete… stayed humble, and determined
    congratuations! You deserve the GOLD !!!…:)))) Next…2016!!!
    Go TURKIYE!

  13. Jim says:

    To pretend that any criticism is because the athlete won represents Turkey is patently false.
    The criticism stems solely from the athlete testing positive in the past. Paula Radcliff only repeated her widely reported view that all athletes who test positive should receive lifetime bans from the Olympics. Britain used to be alone in enforcing such a rule on its athletes but that rule was deemed illegal by the World Anti Doping Authority because it was inconsistent with the rest of the world.
    Paula Radcliff and many other British athletes have been widely reported as being critical of the WADA decision to force Britain to allow athletes who have previously tested positive to compete.
    Most people in the UK were very pleased that neither David Miller or Dwayne Chambers (the two athletes whose ban was lifted by the WADA ruling) won any medals at the games. Had they done so there would have been equal disappointment that they won from the people disappointed that Cakir Alptekin won the 1500m To pretend that race has anything to do with it is just shoddy journalism.

  14. Metin Gok says:

    I always support the clean and ethical games. Despite I'm Turk, for me Aslı Cakir is apparently drug cheater. Why? 'Cause, I know this athlete, her background, her past times, her achievments, her doping fault, and so on. She's an ex-steeplechaser and wasn't successful at all, but this year she has such an amazing time like 3:56 in 1500m. How could it be possible on earth except miracle? You all heard her malelike voice and her moustaches and acnes on her face. Is it normal to have those abnormalities for any drugfree athlete. And I am also so close to the Turkish federation and ı admit that they protect their athletes from controls like in Yanit and Ayhan. So why do they so? That's clear. They want simple and quick success that no matter how it is done.
    That's why they bought 3 kenyan athlete and gave their athletes anabolics. I guess everyone understood what I'm tellin.

    • birchley says:

      Thanks for your honest and heartfelt comment. I know how I would feel if British runners won medals that way. I

  15. Drew says:

    Sure, let convicted dopers run again in major championships after they've served their suspension. Just make them wear a big, red 'D' on front and back of their singlet, just above the name of the country they represent. Maybe that would make the federations think again about whether they really want their dirt to appear on the international stage.

    One caveat, though: WADA had better be damned sure that the tests they use have been thoroughly validated and that those validation studies have been published in peer-reviewed, international scientific journals.

    • James Dunaway says:

      Don't try to find out by asking WADA. They won't tell you anything about their tests, their validations, nor about publication in peer-reviewed, international scientific journals — you, or any coach, athlete, journalist, or
      anyone who isn't a "stakeholder, " which they define as a national government or a world governing body.

      They seem to have made a successful end run around the scientific method.

      Unless WADA makes its tests and testing methods available to anyone who has a legitimate reason for inquiring, one is justified in suspecting that some of those tests and methods wouldn't stand close scrutiiny, and thus that quite probably some "guilty" athletes are innocent.

      James Dunaway

  16. loosetree says:

    What soiled the 1500 were the consensus tactics of jogging the first half of the race and then staging a 400m competition. The men's 5000 was even worse.

  17. birchley says:

    I completely agree with theviews expressed by enthusiasts and former full time athletes alike. When I saw the result of the W1500, I didn't know whether to be sick or cry. As Tammo rermarks, the next 8 years ….

  18. Ed Towle says:

    The blood work is now kept for 8 years to allow the detection technology to keep up with the cheat technology. We should know whether they were cheats or not within the next 8 years…

  19. Hazel Rider. says:

    Paula Radcliffe in my opinion is right. The only way drug cheats can be stopped is by a lifetime ban, which should also be applied to the coaches who manifestly must be the ones who supply the drugs to the athletes.
    There have always been cheats in Sport who deprive genuine Sportsmen and Sportswomen of the credit they deserve and there have always been corrupt officials at International and National level who conspire with those cheats. Money has just upped the stakes and worsened the position. Unfortunately if you are honest and wish to be a champion in your Sport this is the reality you have to face. Your reward is that you have justly earned your achievements. I wish you every success!

  20. Proud dz says:

    Taoufik Makhloufi didn't came from anywhere. He was africain gold medalist on 2011 on the 800m at the Africain games at Maputo and 2 month before London OG won the 800m africain championships. If no one didn,t heard about him before the london OG, it's not his fault.

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