The year 2000—many things awaited us in that lofty year, but one of the most memorable events was the Summer Olympics held in Sydney, Australia. You may remember some controversies during this Olympics, most notably in the gymnastics competition. From allegations against Chinese gymnast Dong Fangxiao of falsifying her age, to the vault table being set five centimeters below the normal height, causing multiple medal worthy contenders to stumble, the competition was rife with scandal. However, the most outrageous moment was when the 2000 women’s all-around gymnastics champion, Andreea Răducan of Romania, was stripped of her gold medal for testing positive for a banned substance.
The Romanian women’s team has dominated the sport of gymnastics ever since the legendary Nadia Comăneci made it onto the scene and earned the first ever perfect ten in the sport. There was no surprise when Romanian gymnasts dominated the podium in Sydney, taking first, second and third in the individual all-around, as well as gold in the team competition. Yet just a few days later, news broke that Andreea Răducan, the Romanian gold-medalist, tested positive for a banned substance found in cold medicine: pseudoephedrine. The cold medicine was given to her and another teammate, silver medalist Simona Amânar, by a doctor for the Romanian team. However, Amânar did not test positive for this substance. Simona Amânar, a specialist on vault and floor, had more body mass than the 82-pound Răducan, which is thought to be why her tests were clean. Because this cold medicine was given to both girls by a Romanian team doctor, it does not seem fair to blame Răducan and take away her well-deserved medal.
After Răducan’s medal was taken away, second place finisher Simona Amânar and third place finisher Maria Olaru were awarded gold and silver medals respectively. Out of solidarity for their teammate, both Amânar and Olaru initially declined their new medals. They eventually conceded, but only so the medals would be brought back to the Romanian Olympic Committee. Amânar even said that the gold medal belonged to Răducan and not her. Even prior fourth place finisher Liu Xuan of China declined her new bronze medal in an expression of support for Răducan.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) tried the case after the games. The committee exonerated Răducan of any personal wrongdoing and did not subject her to any disciplinary action. However, her medal was not reinstated. This is due to the CAS’s “zero-tolerance code” in drug cases, a code which seems unreasonably harsh in the case of Andreea Răducan. Adding even more salt to the wound, the substance Răducan tested positive for is no longer on the International Gymnastics Federation’s (FIG) banned substances list.
Despite major outcry from the sports community and gymnastics fans, Răducan still has not been re-awarded the medal. This blatant display of disrespect for an athlete’s fortitude and prowess is unacceptable. It is absurd to believe it was a 16-year-old’s intent to disrupt law and order to win the gold medal. Though Răducan was ultimately exonerated by the CAS, the FIG still perpetuates humiliation and disrespect onto Răducan every day by not restoring her title. The FIG even unanimously decided not to punish Răducan, and stated that losing her medal “was punishment enough for an athlete who was innocent in this situation.” It does not make sense for Răducan to be punished at all because not only did she not do anything wrong, she was not found guilty by any governing body in gymnastics.
Răducan’s case remains relevant today and will continue to remain relevant until the gold medal has been rightfully restored. When unfair cases such as Andreea’s are swept under the rug, it invalidates any faith in the fundamental basis of competitive gymnastics.
As we approach the World Gymnastics Championships in Montreal this October, fans of gymnastics should care about Răducan now more than ever and demand justice. In the end, that is what it is all about: respect for the athlete and her unbelievable skill.