‘I Feel Sheer Disgust At What Had Been Allowed To Happen’ – Lisa Dobriskey

The latest drug scandal in athletics has broken.  A leak of data from the IAAF, the athletics world governing body, showed that one third of medals in endurance races at Olympic Games and World Championships over a ten-year period from 2001 to 2012 were won by athletes with suspicious blood readings or by athletes who were likely to have used doping.

There were many responses, from shock and horror to the weaselly hunt for a get-out clause. But what is it like for a clean athlete in the thick of the cheating? Lisa Dobriskey, former 1500m Commonwealth champion and 2009 World silver medallist, training in Arizona for the Rio Olympics, explains to The Mixed Zone exactly how it feels.


* Lisa Dobriskey finished fourth at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 – one place out of the medals. Ahead of her, in the bronze medal position, was Nataliya Tobias of Ukraine, who tested positive for testosterone in 2011 and was banned in 2012 for two years.

* In 2010 Dobriskey finished fourth in the European Games 1500m, behind the winner Nuria Fernandez of Spain and compatriot Natalia Rodriguez. Fernandez was questioned as a witness in a police investigation into a Spanish athletics doping ring later that year.

* At London 2012, Dobriskey finished tenth. The winner, Asli Cakir Alptekin of Turkey, was eventually awarded a lifetime ban for two drug offences, one of which took place in 2004. Her compatriot, Gamze Bulut, won the silver.

I’ve known there were athletes cheating in my races. I’ve known 100 per cent. I didn’t have the documents to prove it but as an athlete you just know. It completely belittles the clean athletes alongside them. It doesn’t matter how fit you are, how hard you’ve trained, the cheats always have an extra gear or that extra bit of endurance you just can’t get cleanly.

But I largely kept quiet. I wanted to protect the integrity of the sport I loved and it’s so difficult to just stand there alone accusing people. People don’t always support you if you say anything. After my race at the London Olympics I put my head above the parapet and said: “I’ll probably get in trouble for saying this but I don’t think I’m playing on a level playing field.” One of the headlines directed against me was: “Sour Grapes!” They added: “She’s trailed in at the back. It’s just bitterness.” That was quite hurtful. It wasn’t that at all. It was just sheer disgust at what had been allowed to happen.

If sport doesn’t have fairness at its heart what does it really mean? I’ve been competing in athletics since I was ten. It’s taught me so much about being a fair loser, respecting people and being a gracious winner. Athletes who cheat by taking drugs are destroying all of that.

It’s deception of the crowd as well. For all the people who have paid for their tickets to go and watch, it’s no less than fraud really. It goes against all the values they have come to see on display.

I was really gutted to finish fourth in Beijing. To miss out on an Olympic medal, something that changes an athlete’s life forever, was a disappointment it took me a very, very long time to get over it. But then to discover that one of the athletes who beat me that day, who had the honour of an Olympic medal hung round her neck, was subsequently banned as a drug cheat, that was a really bitter pill to swallow.

Photo credit: Athletics Images

Personally, it’s just a horrible feeling. It’s horrible any time you’ve been cheated, whether it’s just a board game or a hand of poker. But when it’s the Olympics or World Championships, when it’s your livelihood, your dream, when you go through so much, work so hard, endure so many injuries just to get on the track, you deserve to be in a fair fight.

The feelings of frustration and anger are profound. But you can’t let it eat you up and make you really bitter because then you’d abandon the sport altogether. You have to believe in the system and hope cheats will be caught. You have to hope justice will be done. But that hope has been severely damaged by these revelations.

On a couple of occasions in the past I’ve been so convinced that something suspect is going on I have contacted the IAAF myself. And they were very good. They asked me if I had any solid evidence and said: “We’ll follow it up.”

Well, we now know how. They haven’t done anything. I just can’t really believe it to be honest. It’s frightening. I desperately want to protect the sport I love. I’m an athlete, I love running, I want to compete in Rio. But the scale of these allegations is really damaging to it.

What I’d like to see happen is names named. If these allegations are converted into fact – and I was told that there is only a one-in-100,000 chance of these blood readings being “normal” – whoever was responsible for the cover-up should be exposed. People in authority, even governments, protect their own reputation but who’s protecting the clean athletes? Making sure than competition is fair?

Photo credit: Athletics Images

We’re trying to send out a positive image of our sport, persuade people to buy tickets to watch us, get sponsors investing in us, but if it’s partly based on a fraud, who wins? It’s certainly not those athletes training hard every single day to be a clean athlete. They are the ones losing out.

I know some people will say: well, just open the floodgates. Take whatever you like. But that’s incredibly dangerous for the health of athletes and terrible for the ethics of the sport. The experts who looked into the data said that some athletes should have been in hospital not running round a track, because the apparent blood-boosting they had undergone risked heart attack or a stroke. That’s scary. If an athlete suffers irreversible damage to their health, it’s a heavy, heavy price to pay.

My message to Seb Coe and Sergei Bubka, both in the running to lead the IAAF when the votes are cast this month, is simply this: transparency and honesty are vital. Protect the sport, not an organisation. Make it something we’d all be proud to have our children involved with.

As for me, I’m still intent on Rio. I had a hip operation in April and fingers crossed for a solid year’s build-up out in Arizona at the World Athletics Centre where my husband, Ricky, is now the endurance coach. As I lost my funding in Britain we had to sell our house to go and train there. That’s my base now and my goal is to make it to the start-line of the 2016 Olympic 1500m. I don’t know if it will be a clean race. I just really, really hope so.


This article was written by Lisa Dobriskey.


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5 thoughts on “‘I Feel Sheer Disgust At What Had Been Allowed To Happen’ – Lisa Dobriskey

  • 5th August 2015 at 8:29 am

    Some sport athletes are honest and train without substances like medicines pills injections ect. Some athletes want to become famous by cheating. Be honest and competing fair. I am also a runner. Dope test cant lie.

  • 5th August 2015 at 9:32 am

    There are certain nations which don’t exactly discourage underhand tactics amd cheating. The only thing they care about is heir athletes winning and making thw nation ‘look good’. They go very quiet when their athletes are later found to have been doping. There is no level playing field while the IAAF refuse to investigate cheats and encourage many clean athletes to go down the dope road because they feel it’s the only way that they can compete. The sport is being ruined to protect reputations. I love athletics and have done since the 1980s but I know that for as logn as I have been watching and competing, athletes have been cheating. I’m not sure if it is worse now than in the early days. I’ve been turned off many sports because of the way that cheating has infected them. I’m not sure how much longer I can stay involved with athletics as more and more woeful tales of doping emerge. It’s a sad time for the sport and it leaves a very bitter taste for those who have remained loyal to it for so long.

  • 5th August 2015 at 8:15 pm

    It’s refreshing to read this and pleasing to know that there are clean athletes out there. One has to ask where are the Values of the athletes and the administrators (the coaches and agents could be guilty too)? As you say it is fraud (Millions of Dollars are being earned illegitimately by the Drug Cheats). Let’s hope this is a wake up call to the powers that be, otherwise either the spectators and/or the youth will become disillusioned and that will be a sad day for the sport of athletics.

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