After winning gold and silver in the women’s 1,500m in the London Olympics, Turkey’s Asli Cakir Alptekin and Gamze Bulut arrogantly proclaimed that their feat was fuelled by “Turkish power.”
But as word spread through the athletics community last week that Alptekin’s biological passport had set off alarm bells, it appears now that the Turkish runner may have been powered by something else other than national pride.
Canadian Hilary Stellingwerff was in the same semifinal as Alptekin in London. Stellingwerff was boxed in for much of the slow, tactical heat, where the top five move on to the final. Alptekin would control the last lap of the race and cruise through for the victory. Meanwhile, Stellingwerff put on a late charge, but just missed moving on, placing sixth.
Stellingwerff, and no doubt everyone else on the line that day in Olympic Stadium, knew that something wasn’t right. This is because Alptekin had cheated before, and received a two-year ban in 2004 while she was still a junior. That, coupled with a pair of questionably impressive races leading up to the Games led to a quiet cynical pall in response to Alptekin’s Olympic gold.
Canadian Running contacted Stellingwerff, who is preparing for the 2013 track season. The native of Bright’s Cove, Ont., was candid about how she feels about having run an Olympic race — what was no doubt the race of her life — against a someone on performance enhancing drugs.
Canadian Running: Having run in the semifinal with Alptekin and just missing the final by one spot, how does this revelation that she cheated sit with you now?
Hilary Stellingwerff: It hasn’t yet been verified or confirmed, but the IAAF has confirmed an abnormal athlete blood passport (ABP), which is a good indication that something isn’t right and that she wasn’t doing things naturally. But again, it has yet to be confirmed.
An ABP is different to a positive, in that an ABP indicates blood manipulation, but we don’t know from what. Either way, the allegations don’t come as a surprise to me, especially knowing she’s been banned before and then watching her run a huge personal best of 3:56 in Paris this year, stride for stride with another doper from Morocco, Mariem Selsouli.
It was extremely frustrating to step on the line with her at the Olympics when I, and others, already had suspicions. Every athlete who cheats takes something away from clean athletes. But I try to take the approach of how this is going to help me moving forward on the international running scene — the testing is getting better, more people are getting caught and hopefully this will act as a deterrent for others, which will only help us clean athletes.
CR: Was there any indication or talk of her PED use at the Games?
HS: I tried not to get too caught up with it at the Games because I wanted to focus on the positives and my own performance, dwelling on it in competition can really put a damper on your goals and focus, so I try to stay positive when “in the moment.” I’ve had this approach my entire career.
But I do remember after Paris Diamond League and European Championships (the only other races she ran this year) there was a lot of talk and speculation about the level of her dominance and the fact that she was on par with Mariem Selsouli, who tested positive right after Paris. But to be honest, her teammate Gamze Bulut, who took silver, was the bigger surprise at the Games, having run 4:18 in 2011 and then running 4:01 in London. That’s a pretty incredible jump, so it definitely raises some eyebrows.
CR: Do you think she deserves to be banned for life if she is found to have cheated?
HS: I definitely think she deserves to be banned for life if she’s found to have cheated given this isn’t her first offence.
CR: Some have said that there should be a zero-tolerance policy for PED use in athletics. How do you feel about this?
HS: I feel certain PEDs should have zero tolerance policy or lifetime ban upon first infraction, such as with EPO, Testosterone, HGH — PEDs that show serious intent to performance enhance and give a huge boost. However, I don’t think the same bans should be put on people who take the wrong cold medicine, for example. I’m not saying I don’t think people who test positive for lesser PEDs shouldn’t be punished, I just think there should be stricter rules for major doping offences — no different from the legal system every citizen has to deal with.