Facing the world for the first time since her numbing disappointment, angelic, 4-foot-10 Andreea Raducan smiled and spoke loud and clear. In her heart, she insisted, she knows she did nothing wrong.
But she won’t get her gold medal back. All for a dose of cold medicine.
“All I did was take an innocent pill,” Raducan said calmly after her fate was decided today. “I don’t understand why everything has turned out this way. But in my heart, I am at peace.”
After two days of arguments and deliberation, the Court of Arbitration for Sport upheld the International Olympic Committee’s decision to strip Raducan of the medal after she tested positive for the banned stimulant, pseudoephedrine.
The stimulant is found in the over-the-counter cold remedy the team doctor prescribed for Raducan, apparently unaware it could cost the 16-year-old gymnast her medal. The Romanians argued that Raducan shouldn’t be punished for the doctor’s mistake.
The three-person arbitration panel disagreed with that argument. It went along with the IOC’s wish to draw a clear line between what’s allowed and not allowed at these Olympics, even though its members conceded Raducan did nothing sinister by taking the pills.
Raducan was supposed to be the next Romanian hero, the first to win all-around gymnastic gold since Nadia Comaneci in a small country where great Olympic moments are few and far between.
“It’s difficult for me to explain to her in my own language that you’re innocent, but you’re still not going to get the medal,” Comaneci said today, facing hundreds of cameras alongside Raducan.
The presence of a banned substance constitutes an offense “irrespective of whether or not the competitor intended to ingest the prohibited substance,” the court ruled.
“A strict liability test must thus be applied, the consequence being automatic disqualification as a matter of law and in fairness to other athletes,” it said.
“The panel is aware of the impact of its decision on a fine, young, elite athlete,” the court said. “It finds, in balancing the interest of Miss Raducan with the commitment of the Olympic Movement to drug-free sport, the Anti-Doping Code must be enforced without compromise.”
The team doctor has already been expelled from the Sydney Games and suspended through the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake and 2004 Summer Games in Athens.
Tiriac: It Was a Mistake
Romanian Olympic Committee Ion Tiriac has gone along with the IOC’s discipline of Romanian athletes for drug-related issues in these games. Yet this decision confounded him.
“I’m bitter. I’m disappointed,” Tiriac said. “I believe the IOC fights like hell against drugs and so do I. But sooner or later, we’ve got to get our house in order. We have to be consistent and human enough to understand what is a mistake.”
IOC members seemed conflicted over the decision they had to render — one that will tarnish these games, further sully a gymnastics meet blasted for an improperly set vault during the all-around competition, and undoubtedly spark further protests in Romania.
Still, they were at the court to defend their decision Wednesday when arbitrators began hearing Raducan’s case. And while they expressed regret, they wouldn’t back down when the arbitration decision was rendered.
“It was a very difficult decision to take for the IOC executive board,” IOC director-general Francois Carrard said. “But this ruling demonstrates that it had no option. This has to be understood within the context of the new, very strict provisions which are in force within the fight against doping.”
With the decision made, Raducan’s Romanian teammate Simona Amanar will get the gold medal. Another Romanian, Maria Olaru, moves from bronze to silver. Fourth-place finisher Liu Xuan of China gets the bronze.
“For me, this medal doesn’t mean anything,” Amanar said. “I’ll accept it because it belongs to Romania. But I know it belongs to Andreea. She’s the Olympic champion.”
“I don’t understand why we didn’t win this case,” Olaru said. “I don’t understand why, always, the little people have to suffer for the mistakes of the big people.”
Hoping to soothe the Raducan’s disappointment, Romanian Prime Minister Mugur Isarescu promised Raducan the $30,000 prize money she would have received from the Romanian Olympic Committee for winning the gold.
Raducan will leave Sydney with a team gold, a silver medal for her performance on the vault and a lot of unanswered questions.
Her memories of a sparkling Olympics will always seem tainted - sort of like the result itself. But she’s not stopping here.
“I’m going to go ahead and prove to everyone that I can go higher than I was in Sydnay and prove to those who say I made the mistake that I’m the person I say I am,” she said.