The Week In Sports: Olympic Athletes And Doping

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And it's time now for sports but no band this weekend. We're going to pass over the NBA playoffs and baseball to talk about a couple of urgent issues and to mark a young life lost too soon. NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman joins us. Tom, thanks for being with us.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi, Scott, how are you?

SIMON: Fine, thanks. Let's - let's begin with doping. Reports this weekend of widespread doping by Russian athletes at the Olympics a couple of years ago in Sochi. What do we know?

GOLDMAN: We know that doping is the gift that keeps giving (laughter). We know that Russian athletes and officials are angrily denying these allegations that were laid out in a New York Times article this week. The Russian doctor, now living in the U.S. who ran the Olympic lab in Sochi, he detailed elaborate doping schemes, including mixing banned drugs with alcohol to help athletes absorb steriods faster. The men got whiskey; the women, vermouth. Urine sample bottles are supposed to be tamperproof, but allegedly they were opened. And urine with drugs was replaced with urine without. Allegedly dozens of athletes were involved, including at least 15 Olympic medal winners.

SIMON: You know - and what do you say to people who say it's the Russian - it's the Russian Olympic team? Of course they're doping. This is a long tradition.

GOLDMAN: Yeah. It is a long tradition, a long history of sport in doping and even recent history. The Russian track and field athletes that are currently banned from international competition because of alleged state-sponsored doping - we're going to find out soon whether that ban will extend to the Rio Olympics. And certainly the Sochi story doesn't help their case.

SIMON: What about the Kenyan - the team of Kenyan runners? 'Cause this was - this was a team - has been team with a lot of charisma and international appeal.

GOLDMAN: Yeah. Kenya's been a dominant power in distance running for so many years but also it's estimated about 40 Kenyan athletes have failed drug tests in the last five years. This week, the World Anti-Doping Agency declared Kenya is out of compliance with its anti-doping efforts. Still, yesterday, track and field's international governing body announced it will not ban Kenya from the Rio Olympics. The IOC has a final say on Kenya's participation.

SIMON: And, Tom, let me ask you about a young athlete, Donovan Hill, who died in Los Angeles this week at the age of 18 - an important story.

GOLDMAN: Yeah. A young man from southern California, paralyzed from the neck down playing football when he was 13, died this week after he went in for what was supposed to be minor surgery related to his condition. His story was important, Scott, because after his injury, caused by a headfirst tackle, he and his mom sued the youth football organization, Pop Warner, and Donovan's coaches because the coaches allegedly didn't teach proper tackling.

And when Donovan and his teammates said they were worried about tackling leading with the head, which is prohibited at all levels of football, the coaches allegedly told the players to stop complaining. The lawsuit was recently settled. Terms weren't disclosed, but apparently an award was in the millions of dollars. And in fact, Donovan and his mom were going to start getting money just this week, the week he died. And they needed it. They didn't have an accessible apartment, even an accessible bathroom. His mom would have to carry him.

SIMON: Tom, do you see for parents of youngsters who want to join a team or play a sport a lesson here that we ought to abstract?

GOLDMAN: I think so. Not all coaches, youth coaches, are certified or trained properly. Donovan's coaches admitted they weren't. Pop Warner offers training for coaches. But according to ESPN's "Outside The Lines," which ran a number of stories about Donovan, the national Pop Warner offices didn't check whether or not coaches complete any training. Part of this young man's legacy is for parents and players. Make sure an organization or a team or coaches who promise safety actually deliver on that promise.

SIMON: NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman, thanks so much.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.