Cheated by dopers, Montano presses on for another Olympics
Alysia Montano doesn't worry much about all the medals that were essentially stolen from her by drug cheats over the years. Eventually, she hopes, she'll get them.
The 800-meter runner does worry about whether anything will really change when it comes to the corrupt, doping-infested sport in which she makes a living.
As she prepares for the U.S. Olympic trials, which begin next week, Montano sees small shifts and small victories for those who have vowed to clean up the sport, and yet, no true swell of outrage among the athletes she competes with, and against, for these precious spots in the world's biggest events.
''You sit in a room of largely bureaucratic older men, and their concern isn't really the future anymore,'' says the 30-year-old runner. ''They've lived their lives, they've done their time. But you need to worry about your future. You worry about yourself.''
It's why Montano has essentially made herself Exhibit A - a wronged, tell-it-like-it-is representative for all the athletes who have been cheated out of something because others took performance-enhancing drugs and got away with it.
''It's unfortunate,'' says U.S. marathoner Meb Keflezighi. ''Because there's a stigma in our sport.''
Last November, an independent commission appointed by the World Anti-Doping Agency released the first part of a report detailing widespread doping in Russia's track and field team, and suggesting it could be state sponsored. The track team has been suspended and only a handful of Russian athletes, who can prove they were subject to testing outside their own country, will be allowed to compete in track at the Rio Games.
When the report came out, Montano posted a heartfelt video to social media, explaining the hard work she put in to get ready for world championships in 2011 and 2013, and the London Olympics in 2012. She told how it felt to come up short, having finished fourth or fifth at all those events - just off the medals stand.
''It's not just the medal,'' she said in the video. ''It's about you putting out honest time, energy and emotion and being cheated out of it. You can't ever get back those moments. You can't replace those feelings that, maybe, I would've been able to experience at the time.''
Those Russian runners who cheated her won't be in Rio de Janeiro this summer. Montano hopes to be. Her qualifying race is next Saturday, with the 800-meter finals scheduled for July 4.
Eventually, she would like to assume, she'll get the medals, too. But she'll never get over that feeling of failure and can never recoup the endorsements, fame and fortune that would have come in the weeks and months directly after winning the medals. She was also struck by the unfairness of it all. There she was, gasping and wheezing and falling across the line after her two laps, only to finish fifth. Meanwhile, the Russians passing her were barely out of breath.
When she lines up in Eugene, Oregon, with her trademark flower in her hair, she knows she'll see friends who feel the same as she does.
And yet, a surprisingly small number of them speak out beyond the usual platitudes: Yes, we'd all like to see a clean sport, but we just control what we can.
''I think a lot of people are comfortable in their own shoes,'' Montano says. ''It takes a lot to take yourself out of your own situation and put yourself in someone else's.''
But Montano does it, not simply because she wants better things for her sport - namely, for athletes to compete on a level playing field.
She also does it to set an example for her daughter, Linnea, who will turn 2 while the Olympics are going on in August.
Montano made headlines in 2014 when she competed at U.S. nationals while 34 weeks pregnant. She had no chance to win that day but simply wanted to run because it's what she loves to do.
Most of the time, though, she is running to win. She should've won something in those meets from 2011-13.
''I think some people might expect for me to just get over it and they're saying, `Yeah, we get it, you lost out on your medal,''' Montano said. ''We're hoping and trusting that they'll do the right thing, but it's interesting that we're trusting them to do the right thing when we couldn't trust them to protect us in the first place.''