Hannah Cockroft and David Weir joined their team-mate in condemning the situation in Russia
British Paralympic sprinter Richard Whitehead has blasted doped athletes as mentally “weak” after the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) yesterday announced it had opened proceedings to ban Russia from Rio.
The World Anti-Doping Agency urged the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the IPC to look into enforcing a blanket ban of all Russian sports from the Rio Games after a commissioned report led by lawyer Richard McLaren investigating widespread doping in Russian sport identified 35 separate positive samples of Russian Paralympic athletes which had ‘disappeared’ as part of a state-led cover-up of performance-enhancing substance use.
Whitehead, who ran a T42 200m world record time of 23.03 at the Müller Anniversary Games, rounded on the Russian system, and challenged athletes to walk a mile in his shoes before feeling the urge to resort to illegal substances.
“If you do take the easy way out you’re quite weak up here. Those guys need help,” Whitehead said, pointing to his head. “I still beat these guys. Why do it man? Just train harder. Come and spend a year with me and I’ll show you how to train properly. You don’t need steroids or drugs. You need what’s up here.”
Whitehead, whose competitor Earle Connor of Canada was in April issued a four-year ban for steroid use, offered his support to the bold decision taken by the IPC, but stopped short of showing any sympathy to those clean Russians who are set to miss out on competing in the Paralympics, instead calling for the country’s athletes to speak out against their organisation’s misdeeds.
“The Russian clean athletes need to stand to fight against their organisation so that they can have a clean national governing body,” the 40-year-old said. “That’s what I would do if it was a case with British Athletics, which it definitely isn’t. I’d want to be fighting against it.”
Whitehead’s fellow Briton Hannah Cockroft, reigning T34 100m and 200m Paralympic champion, echoed her team-mates sentiments saying that she pitied athletes who feel the need to better themselves with such methods, though expressed more sympathy to those who will miss out through no fault of their own.
“You can only as an athlete put yourself in their shoes. I know if it was Great Britain in that position and they were saying you’re going to get banned because everyone else is cheating and you might not be, I would be heartbroken. This is four years, maybe longer of dreams being thrown away,” Cockroft said.
“I’m really proud of the IPC. It is a tough decision. When it came out it was tough, it’s breaking dreams and breaking hearts but it needed doing and the IPC have done a fantastic job at stepping forward and making a decision and putting their foot down to say this can’t happen anymore in our sport.”
Six-time Paralympic gold medallist David Weir believes the action taken by the IPC can’t come soon enough, and called for them to do what’s necessary to track down cheats from both the Beijing and London Games.
“It’s about time to be honest. They should have just followed suit with the IOC and IAAF. I hope they go back and do the same and test London and Beijing samples as well because they need to follow suit,” he said.
“It’s getting ridiculous to be honest. We just want clean sport and want everyone to be on a fair, level playing field. When you get on that line you don’t want to think ‘is he doping?’ You don’t want to think like that. I never thought like that years ago. When you see people doing amazing things you start questioning and you don’t want to.”