Dylan Armstrong agonized over the bronze medal lost in Beijing — not only because he missed it by so little, but because he knew in his heart it was rightfully his.
The Canadian thrower is one step closer to getting that shot put bronze medal from the 2008 Beijing Games after Belarusian Andrei Mikhnevich received a lifetime ban for a doping violation.
“I worked hard for it, and I want it back,” Armstrong told The Canadian Press in a phone interview.
The 32-year-old from Kamloops, B.C., missed a medal by less than a centimetre — about the width of a dime — at the 2008 Games.
And while nothing will replace that moment lost, Armstrong said “I just have to turn this whole thing around and turn it into a positive thing. Yes, it’s unfortunate it happened that way. But it’s still a medal coming my way so that’s the most important thing.
“It’s my country’s medal too, we deserve it.”
There have been times a frustrated Armstrong has wanted to scream out to the world about the drug cheats in his sport, he admitted — that night at Beijing’s Bird’s Nest Stadium notwithstanding.
“Especially when you know it’s going on, and there’s nothing you can do,” the thrower said from Szcsecin, Poland, where he’ll compete in a meet Saturday. “A lot of the general public doesn’t really know what’s going on in the whole game.
“Doping, it’s in sport. There’s obviously going to be those people willing to cheat for financial success, and financial rewards in those countries are quite big, you can pretty well be taken care of for life.”
Armstrong first heard bronze was within his grasp in March when Mikhnevich was suspended after renewed tests from the 2005 world championships in Helsinki. It was the Belarusian’s second doping offence, which comes with an automatic lifetime ban, effectively wiping out all his results past that time.
Still, Armstrong was thrilled when he was in the Amsterdam airport Thursday morning and read on Twitter that the Belarusian Athletics Federation had suspended the drug cheat.
“The wheels have started turning,” said Armstrong, whose bronze would be Canada’s first-ever Olympic medal in shot put.
“I’m extremely happy, it’s been a little bit of a roller-coaster since March, just waiting and seeing what’s going to develop. But I’m pretty delighted to see the IAAF (the world governing body for track and field) has really stepped up their testing and taken greater responsibility with this in trying to catch athletes. And not even the athletes, but federations that are involved in some of this.
“I’m just happy the IAAF and WADA is finally really starting to nail down these guys.”
Armstrong is also in position for a 2010 world indoor championship bronze, since Mikhnevich took silver at that event while Armstrong finished fourth.
He’ll likely get the world indoor medal first as it only needs rubber stamping from the IAAF. The Olympic bronze needs to go through both the IAAF and the International Olympic Committee.
Armstrong, who was ranked No. 1 in the world in 2011, said he’s proud of the fact he can be a positive role model for other athletes — proof that competing clean can eventually pay off.
“You’re going to get caught, and we’re really seeing that in the world today,” he said. “Some of these athletes who have taken that route, it’s all coming back to haunt them now. It would not be a fun experience. It doesn’t pay to cheat. Just train hard and be dedicated and really want it, and big things can come.”
Charmaine Crooks, a five-time Olympian in track and field and member of the IOC’s athletes commission, said the Belarusian’s lifetime suspension renews the message about the need to remain strong against doping in sport.
“This is a clear message that the system is working,” Crooks said. “This is a great day not only for Dylan Armstrong, but also for all of Canada to be able to celebrate in this upgrade in this medal.”
Athletics Canada chairman Gordon Orlikow added: “We feel this is a vindication of everything we’re supposed to be doing together.”
Athletics Canada officials are unclear how soon Armstrong might receive his medal. It took nearly two-and-a-half years before Canadian cross-country skier Beckie Scott received her 2002 Olympic gold medal following the disqualification for doping of the gold and silver medallists.
American shot putter Adam Nelson however received the 2004 Olympic gold four months after the original Athens champion Yuriy Bilonog of Ukraine was caught in a re-test.
Armstrong, meanwhile, said he’s finally at full health after he was plagued by an elbow injury last season, finishing a disappointing fifth at last summer’s London Olympics.
“My mind is fresh and I feel really great,” he said. “I took a lot of time off, probably the most time I’ve taken off in 15 years. Just went on a few vacations, relaxed and let my elbow heal. Things are starting to come around.”
The six-foot-four thrower will compete next Wednesday at a meet outside Warsaw, then fly home for the Canadian championships in just over a week in Moncton.
Mikhnevich was one of six athletes caught in the re-test from 2005, and the IAAF and WADA have vowed to continue investigating past results. The other five athletes caught were Belarusian shot putter Nazdeya Ostapchuk, hammer throwers Ivan Tsikhan and Vadim Devyatovsky of Belarus, Russian hammer thrower Olga Kuzenkova, and Russian long jumper Tatyana Kotova.
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