Cal at the Olympics: Alysia Johnson Montaño Believed She Deserved Better at London

Doping issues involving Russian runners impacted her finish in the 800-meter final.
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No Cal woman has come closer to earning an Olympic medal in track and field than Alysia Johnson Montaño, who led the 800-meter final at the 2012 London Games for more than half the race before being overtaken.

An NCAA champion in the event five years earlier, Montaño finished fifth in London, was later moved up to fourth and probably deserved better still. 

She is among nine Cal women's - including hammer thrower Camryn Rogers this year at Tokyo - who are track and field Olympians. None of them has won a medal so far.

Russia’s Mariya Savinova, who crossed first in 1 minutes, 56.19 seconds, subsequently had her gold medal stripped because of a doping violation that resulted in a lifetime ban.

A second Russian, Elena Arzhakova, also was later DQ’d for doping.

Alysia Johnson Montaño sprints to victory in the 800 meters at the 2007 NCAA Championships.

Alysia Johnson Montaño closes out her victory at the 2007 NCAA meet.

As a result, South Africa’s Caster Semenya was elevated to the gold medal position after crossing second in 1:57.23, her personal best at the time.

Kenya’s Pamela Jelimo, the 2008 gold medalist in Beijing, was bumped up from fourth to the bronze-medal position at Rio.

Montaño was moved up one spot to fourth after running fifth in 1:57.93.

The curious entry was a third Russian, Ekaterina Poistogova, who was elevated from the bronze to the silver medal when teammate Savinova was stripped of her medal.

Poistogova subsequently tested positive and received a two-year ban beginning in 2017 based on a doping violation from 2015. Her results dating back to 2014 were stricken, but her Olympic standing was unaffected.

The decision to allow Poistogova to retain her standing left Montaño one step from the medal stand and feeling a bit cheated.

“Absolutely I deserve that bronze medal,” Montaño told the New York Times in 2015 after the World Anti-Doping Agency released results into a massive investigation into doping and corruption in Russian track and field. “Even if I don’t get my podium moment, it’s still a symbol of my work and also this time in history.”

Montaño, now 35 and retired, said she had serious suspicions about the Russians during the London Games, but did not have the proof that WADA finally unearthed.

“When you go back and watch the race,” Montaño said, “and you see someone literally watching the race behind you, kind of jogging, and you are putting out max effort, and they kind of just walk past you, put their hands in the air and are like ‘Yay!’ and you are on the ground, huffing and puffing and about to throw up, you are like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ But you can’t speak up until you have evidence. You just come off as a sour apple.”

CAL TRACK & FIELD WOMEN OLYMPIANS

1976 (Montreal)

Marilyn Neufville (Jamaica; 400 meters, 52.93 in heats)

1996 (Atlanta)

Sheila Hudson (Triple jump, 11th, 46-0)

2004 (Athens)

Kristin Heaston (Shot put, DNQ for final, 56-4)

Grace Upshaw (Long jump, 10th, 21-9.5)

2008 (Beijing)

Magdalena Lewy (Marathon, DNF)

Kristin Heaston (Shot put, DNQ for final, 56-10)

Grace Upshaw (Long jump, 8th, 21-7)

2012 (London)

Alysia Montano (800 meters, 5th, 1:57.93 - later changed to 4th place)

2016 (Rio)

Inika McPherson (USA, High jump, tied 10th, 6-4)

2020 (Tokyo)

Camryn Rogers (Canada, Hammer throw)

Cover photo of Alysia Johnson Montaño courtesy of Cal Athletics

Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo