The dark side of the Olympic Glory

Cases of abuse, dismissal, exploitation and unfair treatment are hidden back the Olympic Glory. Sports managers must think about that and watch towards humanization of elite sport. This is the story of Maria Luisa Calle, Colombian cyclist.

Picture from bluradio.com

Maria Luisa Calle reached the glory in the 2004 Athens Olympics, when she arrived in 3rd in the Women’s points race, being the first Colombian athlete winning an Olympic medal in cycling. Something unique in the history of sport in Colombia. By that time, she was 36 and this was the most important achievement in her career.

Glory and happiness escaped very soon because she was positive in doping test within heptaminol, a stimulant used to increase the coronary blood flow. She argued her innocence and with experts in sports medicine and sports law, the state and the NOC (National Olympic Committee) appealed and after one year, they got returning the bronze medal and the athlete’s honor.

Image from Getty Images. Maria Luisa in the Presidential House receiving her Olympic Medal after appeal.

Being 46 years old, the same story repeated in 2015, at the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games, with some differences. She competed again but she did not win any medal, she got positive again, this time for GHRP-2, a substance used to increase the levels of growth hormone in plasma. She said this substance could have appeared in her blood because she was treating cancer or because fasting before competition and doping test. She never could show her innocence… She knew how to prove it, but this time, she did not have support from the state, even from the NOC. She had to accept the four-year sanction imposed by the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) because she had not the resources to pay the costs of legal defense in Switzerland. This was the sad end of her career in elite sport.

Image from eltiempo.com. Maria Luisa at press conference accepting the decision of the UCI but denying her doping.

Elite sports systems are machines oiled by public money, they put as much as they can expecting success in the Olympics, despite the unfair and discriminatory treatment that some athletes may suffer, it seems that everybody is agree with the targeting-investment-model. It means, we invest on you, as long as you produce medals. ‘The model of smart investment is as effective as brutal’ says Borja Garcia, writing a similar story in the UK in cycling with the case of Jessica Varnish.

Governments and NOC’s use athletes for their own propaganda. Athletes are valuable when they get incredible performance levels, after that, they are dismissed and forgotten. People only watch and remember athletes who are on the podium, but behind them are thousands trying to reach his/her position to any cost. Cases of abuse, dismissal, exploitation and unfair treatment are hidden back the Olympic Glory. Sports managers must think about that and watch towards humanization of elite sport.