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Sports Commentary: Russia Clinches Gold Medal For Cheating

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The Olympics are coming up. And if there were a gold medal for the country that has the most performance-enhanced athletes, commentator Christine Brennan knows which one she'd present it to.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN, BYLINE: The facts and allegations have taken on the rhythm of an almost daily drumbeat marching towards this summer's Rio Olympic Games. Have Russia's Olympic sports already clinched the gold medal for cheating? The world track and field association thinks so. They banned Russia's track and field athletes last November over widespread use of performance-enhancing drugs. There's one last meeting in June to decide whether they stay suspended or are allowed back in time for Rio.

Detailed allegations of massive state-sponsored cheating during the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi led many of us to wonder - if the Russian's rigged winter sports, why would they stop there? Why not the summer sports too? If news reports are true, at Sochi, tamper-proof containers were opened in the middle of the night to switch urine samples for Russian athletes, allowing cheaters who should have been caught to instead win medals and allowing Russia to win the overall medal count at those Winter Olympics. An intense investigation is underway to find out if Vladimir Putin's big Russian coming-out party was simply one massive charade.

Meanwhile, perhaps you've heard of meldonium. That's the heart medication tennis star Maria Sharapova and so many other young, healthy Russian athletes were taking for years, a medication with the wonderful side effect of increasing one's endurance. It wasn't banned before January 1, but it is now, meaning that until this year, Russian athletes have been using a performance-enhancing drug for years with no punishment. Russian officials have apologized and say they have cleaned up their act. One actually said a mouse would not be able to slip past us now. We're not so sure about a mouse on steroids, though.

The natural reaction of any fan is to notice a pattern here and want to kick the bums out as a kind of lifetime achievement award. Problem is - time is running out to investigate the Russians. It took the doping police several years to catch Lance Armstrong, and he was just one person. How do you investigate an entire nation of athletes in a couple of months? And does the International Olympic Committee really want to kick out its pal Putin after he dropped $51 billion to put on the Winter Games two years ago? And what about the sponsors - or the TV networks? USA-Russian Olympic showdowns still draw big ratings.

That said, it will be an outrage if cheating athletes are allowed to compete in Rio. It will also be historic, as in history repeating itself. Back in the 1970s and '80s, the Russians were called the Soviet Union. They ran an extensive doping program. And they had accomplices, the East Germans. Neither of those countries survived the end of the Cold War, but the cheating apparently did. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.