Athletes with a voice are using them to criticise dopers in Rio. Will the trend continue in track and field?

Track and field competitions are about to start at the Olympic Games and as with so many sports that we have seen in Rio, there is no small amount of controversy surrounding athletes who have failed drug tests or been accused of cheating.

One of the notable differences between this Games and others before it, is the apparent willingness of athletes to openly criticise those who are competing – and in some cases winning medals – after serving suspensions for doping. Notably in the pool US swimmer Lilly King and Team GB’s Chloe Tutton have called-out Russian Yulia Efimova, who has twice been caught for banned substances and won silver in 200m breaststroke. For Tutton, Efimova’s inclusion meant she came fourth, just missing out on a medal.

In track and field, one of the most hotly contended events – and one where good and evil will clash – is the 100m. For many, the race will come down to a long-standing rivalry: that of Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin.

It is well known that Gatlin is a convicted doper. In 2001, he faced a two-year ban for testing positive for a banned substance; the ban was later reduced to one year on appeal. Then again in 2006, Gatlin was handed a four-year ban from track and field for testing positive for doping. This ban effectively erased his world record time of 9.77s for the 100m.

There are, of course, other athletes competing after serving suspensions for doping. Half of the Russian team are missing. A Kenyan coach has just been sent home for trying to pass himself off as one of the athletes he coaches so he could provide an anti-doping sample in his place. Tyson Gay from the US has been banned in the past. Ukranian sprinter Yelyzaveta Bryzgina has served a two-year suspension. Even Bolt’s fellow countryman Yohan Blake has served a three month suspension. All will compete in Rio.

What we will be looking out for is whether the athletes themselves use their reach to crticise these cheats and indeed the people in charge of the Games who have allowed them to compete? Many of the athletes at the worlds biggest athletics event have huge audiences hanging on their every word and a few are inclined to use that reach to express their frustration at what they see as unfair advantages.

Back in the real world, there is a lesson here for all of us. Athletes, like brand ambassadors, influencers and content creators, are real people, not automatons. They get frustrated, excited, elated and depressed. The big difference now is that they have the means to express these very human emotions directly to the people that care about what they have to say. No filter.

In most cases, this is a good thing. Authenticity is what everyone is looking for and there is nothing more authentic than what comes straight out of someone’s mind and onto their social outlets. Of course it is not always scripted and happy. But then that is the point, isn’t it?


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