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First time IOC unable to give a gold away

Photo by Scott Chancey

Photo by Scott Chancey

It took decades in some cases and autopsies in others. Even so, you could always count on the International Olympic Committee getting Olympic medals into the hands of their rightful owners.

Most of the time, the swells who run the organization get lambasted for having too few medals on hand. If it isn't a figure-skating pair from Canada demanding the IOC mint an extra set of golds on the spot because of crooked judges, it's a gymnast from Korea demanding the same because of incompetent ones.

But the latest twist in the continuing Marion Jones saga marks the first time in the 113-year history of the modern Games that the IOC has found it impossible to give one away. The question is whether it also marks the last.

"It's a unique set of circumstances, but what this decision says is that when you're between a rock and a hard place, you do the right thing," U.S. Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart said Thursday. "It says you'd rather that no one have it than let the cheater keep it."

In the past, the gold medal that Jones won in the women's 100 meters at Sydney in 2000 automatically would have been turned over to the silver medalist.

In this case, that would be Greek sprinter Katerina Thanou, who finished second behind Jones in the women's 100 meters at the 2000 Sydney Games. The problem is she has a decidedly checkered past on doping matters, too.

Thanou developed a sort of allergic reaction to IOC drug testers. She would tell them she was training in Crete, but by the time they arrived, she'd moved on to Qatar. She'd promise to be in Chicago for a makeup, then phone them from Germany.

On the eve of the 2004 Athens Games, IOC drug testers dropped into the athletes village to try to test her. She missed that one, too, blaming her absence on being injured in a motorcycle accident.

Thanou pulled out of the Athens Olympics, accepted a two-year suspension from the international track federation, and was barred from competing in Beijing. On top of that, she and the driver of the motorcycle, fellow Greek sprinter and training partner Kostas Kenteris (nickname: "White Lightning"), are awaiting trial on misdemeanor charges of staging the crash.

For all that, Thanou never actually failed a test.

And it hasn't stopped her lawyers from talking about a lawsuit, or appealing to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. It also hasn't scared the IOC.

"The actual awarding of a gold medal is not a right," IOC spokesman Mark Adams said earlier this week. "Therefore, in this case it will not happen. It's felt that by her conduct she didn't deserve to be honored with this recognition."

The rules in place since 2004, when the Olympics adopted the World Anti-Doping Agency protocol, make it less likely the IOC will get stuck in this situation again. Put simply, those rules require the medals be handed over to the 'next clean athlete' in every event, even if it means going all the way back to the semifinal heats to come up with three clean ones.

The way things are going, someday it might. But at least credit the IOC for trying. If this were major league baseball a half-dozen years ago, you could have been halfway through Double-A ball before you found even one clean athlete. You still might.

If anybody has a gripe here, it's probably Tanya Lawrence, a Jamaican who finished third in the 100 in Sydney. Everyone else who got swept up in Jones' drug-fueled charge across the Australian landscape in 2000 moved up one spot, but that only got Lawrence a tie for second.

Unless she, too, plans to sue, Lawrence will have to settle for a silver medal. It will be exactly like the one Thanou had better have hidden somewhere.