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Russian runner who admitted on video to doping is stripped of Olympic gold

Russian middle distance runner Mariya Savinova has been banned for four years for doping. (Anja Niedringhaus/Associated Press)
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It’s official: Mariya Savinova, the Russian athlete who shot to worldwide fame after her picture accompanied nearly every article about her country’s alleged state-sanctioned doping scandal, has been stripped of her Olympic gold. The middle distance runner, who was implicated in the scandal after being caught on tape admitting to using a performance-enhancing drug, had held the 800-meter gold from the 2012 London Olympics.

The final decision came down Friday via the Court of Arbitration of Sport, which imposed a four-year ban on the athlete and nullified Savinova’s race results from July 2010 to August 2013 for having doped during that time period.

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The CAS cited “clear evidence,” including her biological passport, to support the allegations. The court also likely took into account Savinova’s own admissions of taking the anabolic steroid oxandrolone that Russian doping whistleblower and Savinova’s former teammate Yulia Stepanova caught on video. The undercover footage originally aired in 2014 on German television.

“Oxandrolone is very quickly out of my body again,” Savinova said while describing the sophisticated system her coach and others set up to cover up her doping. “It takes less than 20 days. We have tested that. My husband has very good contacts at the doping control laboratory.”

As a result of Savinova’s forfeiture of her prize, South Africa’s Caster Semenya, who was originally awarded the silver, is in line for the gold should the IOC decide to reallocate the medals. That would make Semenya, who took home the Olympic gold in Rio de Janeiro last summer, the two-time reigning champion in the event.

The bronze-medal winner from London, fellow Russia Ekaterina Poistogova, is also under investigation for doping. Should Poistogova be banned, Kenya’s Pamela Jelimo could be in line for the silver and U.S. runner Alysia Montano the bronze.

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Savinova joins an ever-growing list of at least 19 Russian Olympians who have been stripped of their medals from either the 2008 or 2012 Games for retroactively having been caught doping. According to the Associated Press, another 10 Russians have also had to forfeit their relay medals for having competed on a team with someone dinged for doping.

Just because the athletes have been ordered to forfeit their medals, however, doesn’t mean they’re sending them back to International Olympic Committee headquarters. In fact, none of the athletes stripped of medals have returned their awards, according to Russia’s Olympic Committee president.

“So far, we don’t have any reports” of medals being returned, Alexander Zhukov told the AP earlier this month.

One Russian athlete even said that the government told him to keep his medal, despite having been disqualified.

“Our ministry didn’t agree with the decision and told us to keep the medals. I’ve got the medal at home,” said Maxim Dyldin, who won bronze as part of Russia’s 4×100-meter relay team in Beijing in 2008. “Let them try to take it.”

Russia’s entire track and field team was banned from competing in the Games in Rio de Janeiro because of the scandal that continues to rock the Russian program’s core. On Monday, the sport’s international governing body upheld the competition ban imposed in November 2015, citing more “negative developments” within the country’s program, including “unhelpful public comments” made by some Russian sporting officials. This effectively means Russia will be banned from fielding a team for the World Championships, slated to be held in London this summer.