O is for Olga

I stayed up too late last night watching the women’s shot put finals. I was initially interested in it because Valerie Adams had made it through to the final and I wanted to see how she’d do, but after I started watching it for a while, I noticed an interesting thing: there were a lot of competitors from ex-communist countries.

Yes, how we laughed during the ’70s and ’80s when the Iron Curtain ladymans would show up and grunt and heave their way to gold at the Olympics. Oh how we snickered as we saw the sweat glistening on their moustaches.

But a few years ago I saw a documentary about some women who, as teenaged swimmers in East Germany, had been given steroids. They were told that it was vitamins, but were a little alarmed when the vitamins seemed to make their voices deepen and bodies bulk up. They went on to Olympic victory, which theoretically proved communism’s supremacy. But some of them were now infertile, one had had a sex change.

In the women’s shot put final, six of the 12 competitors were from Russia, Belarus, Poland and Germany, and indeed they took six of the places in the top seven (the silver medal went to a Cuban). Most of these women were born in the late ’60s or ’70s, making them the right age to have received some special vitamins, though it is worth noting that the two Belarus chicks were born in the early ’80s.

So are these top shot putting women remnants of communist-era steroid or hormone use? Or is it just that those countries have a really good history and tradition of shot putting? Perhaps it’s genetic. Or maybe a combination of all.

But it will be most interesting in, say, 10 years’ time when the old communist ladies have retired and the newer breed of non-vitamin-enhanced shot putters are in their place. They probably won’t get the same distances (the world record hasn’t changed since 1987, the Olympic record since 1980), but things will be a bit more exciting.