MOSCOW >> A Russian senator who has been a vocal defender of the country’s embattled state sports system was caught up in her own doping scandal and stripped of two Olympic medals on Wednesday.
Tatyana Lebedeva won silver in both the long jump and triple jump at the 2008 Beijing Games. But the International Olympic Committee recalled those medals after Lebedeva tested positive for the steroid turinabol in a re-analysis of samples taken at the time.
Lebedeva, who also won the gold medal in the long jump at the 2004 Athens Games and still has two other Olympic medals from Sydney and Athens, retired from competition in 2013 and became a Russian senator a year later.
A maverick in her sports career, known for dying her hair bright red, the 40-year-old Lebedeva is a rising political star in Russia and has repeatedly accused the World Anti-Doping Agency of trying to manipulate the Olympics, calling it a tool of “the Anglo-Saxon lobby.”
In May, she warned in an interview on the Russian track and field federation’s website that WADA could “abuse” its collection of athletes’ doping samples to exploit the DNA, “right up to fantastic stories in which from the biological material of elite athletes they clone a superhuman.”
A WADA-commissioned report into Russian track in 2015 alleged widespread drug use and extortion, leading to the national team being banned from international competition. Since then, more WADA reports provided further details of drug use in more sports and the swapping of tainted samples for clean ones.
The IOC ruling to strip Lebedeva of the two silver medals from Beijing could prove politically embarrassing for defenders of the status quo in Russian sports, and may deepen the conflict between the Kremlin and the global anti-doping movement.
The IOC also stripped the Jamaican team of its gold medal from the 4×100-meter relay in 2008, taking away one of Usain Bolt’s nine gold medals. Bolt’s teammate, Nesta Carter, tested positive for the banned stimulant methylhexaneamine.
Lebedeva, a former vice president of the Russian track federation and a current member of the IAAF’s women’s committee, told state news agency Tass that she plans to appeal the decision and “will always fight to the end.”
In government, Lebedeva shot up the political ladder, going from a regional sports minister in the southern Volgograd region to a full-fledged senator who has been broadly supportive of the Kremlin.
In the Russian parliament, she is one of several sports stars. In longstanding strategies by various parties to use former athletes, the lower house includes former top-ranked tennis player Marat Safin and various other Olympic gold medalists.