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U.S. runners Goucher, Flanagan may retroactively receive silver medals

Kara Goucher and Shalane Flanagan speak for the first time after Elvan Abeylegesse is found guilty of doping.

Kara Goucher almost gave away her bronze medal from the 2007 IAAF World Championships in Osaka when she moved from Portland to Boulder in 2013. Shalane Flanagan's 2008 Olympic bronze had stayed stashed away for years until she pulled it out recently while packing for a training camp in Japan ahead of this month’s world championships, which open Aug. 22 in Beijing.

Both women may soon have to return those medals to be forwarded to new owners, if the IAAF strips Turkish runner Elvan Abeylegesse of her silvers from both the 2007 world championships and the ’08 Olympics after samples that were re-tested indicated that the athlete was guilty of doping at the ’07 worlds in Osaka. Turkish Athletics confirmed the findings on Thursday morning.

Abeylegesse has reportedly denied the positive test and has asked for her B-sample to be tested. It could take at least four weeks to learn the results of that B-sample. The IAAF sends written correspondence so that the athlete can have a representative present during the re-test. It will take time for Abeylegesse's response to the IAAF, the scheduling of the re-test, the actual testing and then receiving the results from the lab.

In December 2012, U.S. shot putter Adam Nelson was awarded a gold medal from the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, after a re-examined urine sample from Yuriy Bilonog of Ukraine showed he was guilty of using performance-enhancing drugs. Nelson's gold medal finally arrived in the mail on July 31, 2013.

Kara Goucher—2007 World Championship silver medalist in the 10,000-meter run?

Goucher says that she cried upon first spotting the story on Twitter before speaking with as the likely new 2007 world championships silver medalist in the women’s 10,000-meter run.

“This is every clean athlete’s dream—that people get caught no matter how long after the fact,” Goucher said.

Goucher, 37, says that she proceeded to call her mother and sisters and continued crying and trembling with feelings that had been pent up for eight years. She also spoke to her coaches Mark Wetmore and Heather Burroughs, who, Goucher says, told her not to get too excited because she had a hard workout ahead of her.

Goucher's husband, Adam, was out competing in a 120-mile trail-running team race and did not receive the news until he crossed the finish line and saw a number of missed calls from his wife. Kara says that after she first read the initial report and checked Twitter, she went and looked for her bronze medal, which her four-year-old son, Colt, had never touched or seen before.The box containing the medal had only been opened a handful of times, according to Goucher.

Within the track and field community, there have long been rumors about Abeylegesse. Goucher remembers being told by fellow athletes and agents that they suspected she would be upgraded to a silver medal just moments after she underwent drug testing in Osaka and the bronze medal was put around her neck.

No one who ever trained with the Turkish runner or witnessed any wrongdoing has ever come forward with allegations. But in April the IAAF went back and re-tested samples from the 2005 and ’07 world championships and discovered 32 adverse findings from 28 athletes. Abeylegesse's name is the first to be leaked from the list, but the other names are expected to be revealed in the coming days.

“Twenty-eight people is so many and it’s so disheartening, but it gives me hope.” Goucher said. “It gives me hope that there are people who care about cleaning up the sport and care about what happened. It makes me so emotional because it gives me hope that justice will be served.”

Goucher remembers seeing Abeylegesse insert a surge into the pace of the race at the three-kilometer mark. Only eventual gold medalist Tirunesh Dibaba gave chase and quickened the pace. Goucher led the chase pack and was eventually passed by Pavey with 500 meters to go. Goucher recovered in the final 300 meters and crossed the finish line in third. Pavey walked off the track without a medal. 

“Those moments can never come back,” Goucher said. “Take the financials out of it. What you work for isn’t money, it’s those special moments when the stars align and where there’s an opportunity and you seize it. That happened that day and it happened for Shalane in ’08. Even though we both got to stand on the podium, we didn’t get to experience it to the fullest. Some people didn’t get to stand on the podium. That’s an experience that is robbed and that no apology can ever give you back.”

On Wednesday, Goucher tweeted a photo of her bronze medal to Pavey with the caption, “Lots of rumors floating around, but nothing would make me happier than to pass this to the rightful owner.” Pavey later tweeted, “If reports are officially confirmed then it's bitter sweet. Lovely if I get a medal but very upsetting & frustrating to miss the moment.”

The last few months have been tough for track and field and for Goucher amid allegations that Nike Oregon Project coach Alberto Salazar pushed the boundaries on doping rules to gain a competitive advantage by encouraging the use of prescription medication and therapeutic-use exemptions. Goucher, coached by Salazar from 2004 to 2011, was among the whistle-blowers in the initial BBC and ProPublica report, and she also defended her story at the 2015 U.S.A. Track and Field Championships in Eugene, Ore. 

Salazar has denied the claims and is under investigation by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. 

Goucher was coached by Salazar when she medaled in Osaka and asserts that she was 100% clean. 

“I trained very well under Alberto,” Goucher says. “I believe that he can train people to great races clean, but what I witnessed in 2011 was different.”

As for any expected congratulations from Alberto? Goucher does not believe that will happen any time soon.

“I think that I am essentially dead to Alberto,” Goucher said. “I feel sad because there’s a part of me that wants to call him, but that will not happen.”

Goucher has decided to privately continue her fight against Salazar with USADA. With an upcoming election for a new IAAF president, Goucher is an advocate for lifetime bans.

“I’d like to see more out-of-competition testing, especially in the countries that people fly to to do their off-season training,” she said. “One good thing that has come from this is that I’ve come to know the people at USADA. I believe in them and I believe they are fighting the fight. People just need to stay on it. Look at this 10 years later for some people and eight for some others. It’s never too late to change history.”

Goucher’s focus now shifts to next February’s U.S. marathon championships in Los Angeles, where she will attempt to make a third Olympic team, buoyed, she says, by news of the possible medal upgrades.

“This just gives me so much hope and I’ve needed that because I haven’t felt that for a while,” Goucher says. “I just felt so good on my run today. I felt so rejuvenated, happy and peaceful.” 

Shalane Flanagan—2008 Olympic silver medalist women’s 10,000-meter run?

Privately Flanagan would joke around to her family that she was actually a silver medalist. It never left the family. On Wednesday, Flanagan’s feelings were validated with news starting to trickle in of Abeylegesse’s positive test from Osaka, which would, retroactively, disqualify her from competition at the 2008 Summer Olympics.

The likelihood of a medal upgrade in Flanagan's case is not as solid as it is in Goucher's. But, if a ban of Abeylegesse by the IAAF is upheld, the Turkish athlete's race results could be annulled from 2007 to 2009 and possibly longer. Similar to Nelson's case, the IOC would act to upgrade medals when results are changed by the IAAF.

“I actually have a picture of the three of us on the awards stand and I always think ‘Gosh, I could’ve been just one step higher,’” Flanagan says. “I’ve genuinely felt in my heart of hearts that I was a silver medalist that night.” 

Flanagan raced against Abeylegesse over 5,000 meters several times in her career and was never able to come away with a victory. Flanagan says that several agents within the sport told her that they refused to work with the Turkish runner because of her rumored association to performance enhancing drugs.

“There was always an air around her that led people to believe that her performances were not authentic and that she was potentially cheating,” Flanagan says.

Flanagan echoes the assertion of New Zealand Olympian Nick Willis—who in 2011 was retroactively awarded a silver medal from the ’08 Olympics after a positive test by Bahrainian athlete Rashid Ramzi—that it is easy to spot the cheats within the sport and she says she was not surprised by recent doping revelations.

“The general consensus [among] several athletes was that her performances were not real,” Flanagan says. “Sometimes she would not compete all season and just really show up to the major championships and she would be on the podium almost every single was not a typical path to the podium.”

Flanagan’s run-in with Abeylegesse is not her first encounter with cheaters in competition. The 2013 and ’14 Boston Marathons were won by Kenya’s Rita Jeptoo, who was later convicted of doping and was stripped of her titles and a World Marathon Majors prize purse of $500,000.

Since news of Jeptoo’s positive test was revealed last fall, Flanagan has refused to acknowledge Jeptoo by her name on several occasions and calls her a “stealer of dreams.”

Flanagan says the title can also be applied to Abeylegesse, as she bumped Kenyans Sylvia Kibet and Linet Chepkwemoi Masai off the podium in the women’s 5,000-meter and 10,000-meter runs, respectively, at the Olympics.

“I’m a big advocate for the lifetime ban,” Flanagan says. “As we all know, evidence-wise, if you’ve been cheating and doping for a while, there are longer benefits than just the one or two years of doping. It really can change the projection and fitness of the athlete for the rest of their career.” 

Flanagan has long refused to pull out her Olympic medal to avoid becoming complacent with the résumé that she has built over the years. She has five U.S. outdoor titles, two U.S. marathon crowns, two NCAA cross-country championships and many more All-America honors.

On Wednesday night, Flanagan was packing before heading off for Japan and, she says, was tempted to take a peek at her old friend, hidden away in a box and last seen for a cookbook photo shoot in the winter. 

“It was nice to go down memory lane and look at it,” Flanagan says. “The fact that I pulled it out and this news comes out is serendipitous.”

Flanagan will run in the women’s 10,000 final on Aug. 24, where she may be introduced to thousands of fans as the 2008 Olympic 10,000-meter silver medalist in the same stadium in which that title was stolen just 2,565 days before.

“It gives hope to other athletes that are doing it the way I’ve been doing it,” Flanagan says. “It gives them that sense of hope that the real athletes will be standing atop the podium. I’m hoping it also scares some of the athletes that are not doing it the correct way [so that] they don’t show up to the meet or start worrying about the long-term effects and getting caught.”