While many Russian Olympians dodged a bullet after the International Olympic Committee decided to not explicitly expel the entire country's team from Rio, one group, track and field, was not so lucky. A blanket ban for all but one athlete, first enacted in November 2015, has remained, and that should be the end of the story.
But it’s not. Russian President Vladimir Putin, while failing to acknowledge that the ban might have something to do with the fact that the state basically offered a gift basket of syringes to every athlete, claimed the ban was “a dangerous relapse of politics intruding into sports.” And so on Thursday, Russia held its own national track meet in which all her would-be Olympians competed against each other. I am beyond eager to see the results.
One can only assume that Thursday's all-Russian Olympics exhibited the peak of human performance. With the level of alleged obfuscation the country took to hide its PED usage—from glory holes used to swap samples to outright changing positive results to negative—Russian athletes have basically been able to take just about anything they can stuff into themselves. Results from this meet have not been published, so if you'll indulge me for a second, here's my pitch for how the event should have gone down.
I’d first want to see Yelena Isinbaeva, who currently holds the ten highest pole vaults in history. When she was informed that she would not be permitted to compete in Rio, she claimed she had been preparing to jump “not lower than 5.1 meters,” or just above her own world record of 5.06 meters (16.7 feet). In Thursday’s competition, when Isinbaeva vaulted, let's hope she did it over an upright semi truck, daylight between her and its nose.
Elsewhere in field events, instead of the standard nine-pound women’s shot put, athletes should have used the severed heads of World Anti-Doping Association inspectors. Since the average human head only weighs ten or eleven pounds, we would expect shorter distances from the ladies. But the men, who are used to a 16-pound shot, could be able to really put some air under there.
The javelin competition was surely electric to fans in those trackside seats opposite the launching pad. One good throw and you could have a conversation with a quivering shaft, a la 300. Even if under-thrown, there could still be some excitement, as the javelin is usually held concurrently with the distance races. I can think of no better example of the resilience of the human spirit—everything the Olympics are about—than a runner pulling a spear from his side and casting it aside like a spent Gu packet as he or she surges to catch the lead pack.
It’s true that Russia has never been strong at sprints, but now, with access to steroids so powerful that even horse trainers grow uneasy, that could change. I want to see athletes on such potent PED cocktails that they either run world-leading times or burst a blood vessel 50 meters in. Hamstrings will fly from the bone like a long balloon with the end untied. You say that you’d given your life to the sport? Now is the time to prove it.
Finally, track fans know firsthand that the 4x400-meter relay is one of the most exciting events, as it pairs teamwork with the athleticism of the long sprint. President Putin—who has not denied that he will not do this—could take the anchor leg (shirtless, of course), and, should he lose, annex the other team’s ancestral homeland. A victory lap would be taken atop a white tiger.
Just because Russia’s track and field athletes won’t be traveling to Rio doesn’t mean they can’t put on a show. I, for one, am eager to see the times, distances, and heights the athletes can achieve by any means necessary.