LONDON — If just one athlete at the 2012 Olympics was going to draw the wrath of notorious hacking group Anonymous, what were the odds that it would be a race-walker? A thousand-to-one? Even higher? And yet that’s what happened on Aug. 8, after Italian Alex Schwazer, the defending Olympic 50k race-walk gold medalist, was banned from London because of a positive test for the performance-enhancing blood booster EPO. His official Web site was defaced with Anonymous’ signature Guy Fawkes mask and a message in Italian that included the line, “Doping kills sport, doping kills life.”
Doping has not killed race-walking — yet — but it’s pervasive in a sport that’s already defined by an accepted degree of cheating: While competitors are required to always have at least part of one foot on the ground, the best ones sneak in as much air as possible. (As one team manager told me, a racer’s biggest goal “is to not get spotted by the judges,” who stand on the course and hand out time penalties or full disqualifications for running.) In 2008, two Russian walkers, Valery Borchin and former world-record holder Vladimir Kanaikin, tested positive for EPO while under the training of coach Victor Chegin, who continues to head the Russian team.
After winning bronze in Beijing behind another one of Chegin’s pupils, Australian Jared Tallent teed off on Chegin, saying he was “like Trevor Graham,” the track coach (of Marion Jones and Tim Montgomery, among others) who received a lifetime doping ban for his role in the BALCO scandal. “[Chegin] had three athletes go positive and they all train together in the same squad, so it makes you think,” Talent said in 2008. “It is just suspicious.”