Relying on Tallent alone: Jared's long walk to justice

Jared Tallent competes in the 50km walk at the London Games in 2012. Photo: AAP Image.
Jared Tallent competes in the 50km walk at the London Games in 2012. Photo: AAP Image.

JARED Tallent is haunted by the past. By demons, if you will, wearing red and carrying the insignia 'RUS' on their chests.

The champion race walker has carved out one of the great track and field careers by an Australian athlete.

But, the fact it could have been far better if not for seemingly being cheated out of the ultimate success time and time again is not lost on the unassuming 31-year-old.

Tallent can make a decent argument that four of the silver medals and one bronze that have been draped around his neck at major events - two at the Olympics, two at World Cup meets and one at the world championships - should have been gold.

And if they had been he would most certainly be regarded as "one of the greats of the sport".

"It would be so different saying Olympic champion or world champion," Tallent tells APN. "But, I don't have any of those titles yet."

Tallent is no sore loser, but is dirty on how so many unclean walkers - proven drug-users - have been allowed to compete … and win.

It all started at the 2008 Beijing Games when beaten to the 50km gold by Italian Alex Schwazer, who was later banned due to an "adverse result" from a doping test.

Then came the Russians - under the 'tutelage' of infamous coach Viktor Chegin.

Chegin had the Midas touch. But with one hand dipping into banned substances, he has dragged athletics into a diabolical period.

And suffering as much as any has been Tallent.

 

Tallent cools off on his way to winning 50km silver at the 2015 world championships in Beijing. Photo: AAP Image.
Tallent cools off on his way to winning 50km silver at the 2015 world championships in Beijing. Photo: AAP Image.

 

At least 20 athletes from Chegin's stable have failed drug tests in recent years, several serving lifetime bans for using erythropoietin (EPO).

The list includes four walkers who have consigned Tallent to those minor podium finishes, each in the grueling 50km event. They are Sergey Bakulin at the 2011 world championships in South Korea, Mikhail Ryzhov and Ivan Noskov at the 2014 World Cup in China, and Sergey Kirdyapkin at both the 2012 World Cup in Russia, and the 2012 London Olympics.

"In the WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) report (from 2015), it pretty much demonstrated that not one athlete from that (Chegin) team is likely to be clean," Tallent says.

"I'm lucky enough to still be competing ... and able to win medals, but there are so many athletes out there who haven't got on the podium, haven't been upgraded medallists, because there just hasn't been enough evidence against these cheats."

While Tallent is preparing for another tilt at Olympic gold in Rio, having already secured his place in the 50km walk, he may yet be one of the fortunate few to have justice go their way - albeit belatedly.

Tallent's high-profile battle to get his hands on at least the 2012 50km Games gold has lasted decidedly longer than the three hours, 36 mins it took for him reach the finish line in London.

When a Court of Arbitration for Sport decision on whether Kirdyapkin should be allowed to keep his Olympic title is announced soon, it will be almost four years.

Currently banned, many of Kirdyapkin's results since 2009 have been annulled. But those during a short period in mid-2012 remain standing.

 

Tallent collects his now controversial silver medal at the London Games in 2012. Photo: AAP Image.
Tallent collects his now controversial silver medal at the London Games in 2012. Photo: AAP Image.

 

The International Association of Athletics Federations is seeking to change that, not satisfied with the "selective" suspensions handed down by the Russian Anti-Doping Agency to not only Kirdyapkin, but five other athletes.

A final hearing for 2012 Olympic steeplechase champion Yulia Zaripova will be held in Switzerland on February 26, with the CAS expected to release its findings in April.

"It's still a long way off, which is a bit frustrating," Tallent says.

Of course, it could be worth its wait … in gold. "I believe it should go my way," he says. "It looks pretty clear-cut that they cheated and they should've been banned from London, or at least their results be taken away. I think they (CAS) will make sense of it."

Having been the public face here in Australia of a messy saga, also involving bribery and cover-ups by officials - for now Russia itself has even been suspended from world athletics - Tallent admitted it has had an affect on his preparation for his third Games appearance in Rio this August.

"It has been a distraction at times," he says. "It'll be good when it's finally settled and I can just focus on training.

"It's a real negative thing you shouldn't have to worry about.

"You wish you didn't have these problems in sport and you could just go out there and compete fairly …and the winner on the day is who the winner actually should be."

And while he may get that gold from London, Tallent is certainly aiming to win on the day this time around in Rio.

"It would make up for a lot of what's happened," he says.

A fourth medal (of any colour) - after a silver (50km) and bronze (20km) in London and silver in Beijing (20km) - would make him the most successful Aussie male Olympic track and field athlete.

"That would be pretty cool to achieve," he says.

 

Tallent with wife and coach Claire after his silver medal win. Photo: AAP Image.
Tallent with wife and coach Claire after his silver medal win. Photo: AAP Image.

 

Tallent will now most likely get only one shot after straining a hamstring while training at the AIS in Canberra just two weeks out from the national 20km championships, which double as selection for Rio, on February 21 in Adelaide.

But the 50km has always been his preferred distance, and once recovered from injury, plans on "putting everything into it", with wife and coach Claire, herself a former race walker.

Training her husband is probably not what Claire would most like to be doing right now. She'd rather be raising children.

Now living in Adelaide, the couple is on the IVF program.

"We'd planned to have a family after London," Tallent explains. "It hasn't happened, but we're still trying."

Suffice to say, two Olympic gold medals - one from London and one from Rio - and a pregnant Claire would be a perfect 2016 for Tallent.

"That'd be ideal," he says.



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