In 10 races over five years, U.S. Olympian Alysia Montaño has never been able to beat Russian middle distance runner Mariya Savinova. There was a reason why.
The World Anti-Doping Agency released the findings of an Independent Committee’s review into performance enhancing doping in Russian sports and recommended that the IOC ban the country from international competition while also banning five coaches and five athletes. Savinova, winner of the gold medal in the 800-meter run at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, and Ekaterina Poistogova, the bronze medalist in that event, were among the athletes recommended for lifetime bans.
Upon revision of results by the International Olympics Committee and the IAAF, Montaño could receive a silver medal from the 2010 world indoor championships and bronze medals from the 2011 world championships, 2012 Olympics and 2013 world championships. One of America's strongest middle distance runners may finally receive her prize.
“I never lost hope that I'd one day get these medals. I definitely tried not to hang onto it because it would make it impossible for me to move forward,” Montano says. “When you're cheated out of a medal and you know it, it eats at you internally and you're going after it again. It's hard. The Olympics are huge and you think that's your shot and then you miss. You blame yourself and think, ‘What can I do differently.’”
In a documentary aired on German television in Dec. 2014, Savinova is seen admitting to the use of the banned steroid oxandrolone in a secret video recording.
“My coach fortunately works with [Vitaly] Melnikov and he helps to cover up the tests. They allow him to change the dates for the controls,” Savinova says in the transcription in the WADA report. “Oxandrolone is very quickly out of my body again. It takes less than 20 days. We have tested that – my husband has very good contacts to the doping control laboratory.”
The documentary was troubling but led to immediate action by the IAAF. Monday's report by WADA was the confirmation that Montaño needed.
"It's been a long time coming. It's a lot of meditation, prayer, good vibes, willful and hopeful thinking knowing that something is wrong,” Montaño says. “I was just hoping that justice prevails and the truth comes out. I'm just thankful that it is here and finally.”
Savinova refused to communicate with the independent committee investigators.
Montaño and Savinova have raced against each other 10 times with the Russian coming out victorious in each respective contest. At the 2011 world championships in Daegu, South Korea, Savinova took gold as Montaño finished fourth. At the Olympic Games, Savinova crossed the finish line in first with Poistogova just a few seconds behind for bronze and Montaño in fourth place. Montaño refused to congratulate the Russians and walked away as they began their victory lap.
“I couldn't even look,” Montaño says. “My parents always taught me to congratulate my competitors but there's no way I could even look at them. It wasn't because of the medals, it was because I knew it wasn't right.”
Montaño would face Savinova in her own backyard at worlds in Moscow. The year before, she recalled feeling good with 300 meters to go and finished fifth. maybe if she kicked a little sooner, she could take the kick out of the Russians' legs. She couldn't and faded to fourth place.
“You realize in those moments how human you are. I can't get out hard and then press the pace with 300 meters to go. I thought, ‘Oh my god. Don't walk. This is going to be the first time I walk. My body is stopping. My body is falling.’ You realize how human you are and that these others don't feel those effects because they're cheating.”
Montaño holds the upperhand with a 4–2 record over Poistogova. They most recently met at the 2015 Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Ore. where Poistogova finished less than a second ahead of Montaño in her first outdoor race of the year against international competition.
“I definitely side-eyed,” Montaño says. “I try not to give them my energy.”
Montaño joins Shalane Flanagan and Kara Goucher as Americans with potential global championship medal upgrades due to doping offenses by foreign athletes. Flanagan has called dopers "stealers of dreams" and Montaño agrees with that description.
“It is a criminal offense. I think Shalane said it best,” Montaño says. “You put so much time and energy into these life decisions and goals that you know that you can totally achieve with just hard work. Then there's people that believe that's not all it should be. They choose to use outside sources that are wrong and cheating. I think about those people sometimes and say ‘How could they feel good right now? They just stole from so many people. They don't just steal money or medals. They steal emotions and moments that someone could never get back.”
After the 2013 world championship, the six-time U.S. outdoor 800-meter champion made headlines as she competed at the 2014 nationals while pregnant and later gave birth to a daughter named Linnea, in August before returning to competition for the indoor season. She has made every U.S. national team since 2011 and looks to make her second Olympic team in 2016.
The IAAF and president Sebastian Coe have given until the end of the week for Russia to respond to WADA's findings. Montaño will be eagerly awaiting any action.
“I want retribution and justice,” Montaño says. “I want those two with lifetime bans. Anyone within that scope and in that report should get lifetime bans. I want to see my hardware – all of them.”
Montaño has a long-standing tradition of giving her medals to her mother to keep in a trophy box and may soon have some major additions to add to the collection.
”These would be such a huge piece of history,” Montaño says. “It's almost like an ancient artifact.”
Medals I could be upgraded to: 2010 Silver— Alysia Montaño (@AlysiaMontano) November 9, 2015
2012 Olympic Bronze