In addition to shattering world records and breaking down barriers, the swimmers at theRio Olympics have managed another feat of sorts: reigniting international sport’s Cold War. On the self-proclaimed forces of good: swimmers from Western nations who broke unwritten Olympic etiquette by speaking out against competitors they deemed “drug cheats.” The villains were swimmers from Russia and China who had been reinstated after serving suspensions for performance-enhancing drugs.
The flames had been fanned before the Games, when an investigation found in July that Russia engaged in a wide-ranging state-sponsored conspiracy to deceive anti-doping officials during the Sochi Olympics. Many athletes and anti-doping officials called for all Russian athletes to be banned from Rio as punishment. Instead, the International Olympic Committee left it up to each global sports federation to make its own call. In all, 278 of the 389 Russian athletes set to compete in Rio were cleared.
One of them was Russian swimmer Yulia Efimova, who had served a 16-month ban for doping. After Efimova competed in the 100-m breaststroke semifinals, she waved a “No. 1” finger in the air––mimicking American Lilly King, who did it after an earlier swim in the event. King was not pleased. “You wave your finger No. 1, and you’ve been caught drug cheating?” King said on NBC after her semifinal. “I’m not a fan.” King then won gold over Efimova the next night, and barely concealed her disgust afterwards. “It just proves that you can compete clean and still come out on top with all the work you put in,” King said.
Her stand followed that of Australian swimmer Mack Horton, who beat China’s Sun Yang to win gold in the 400-m freestyle on Aug. 6 and called Sun, who served a three-month ban for testing positive for a banned stimulant in 2014, a “drug cheat.” After the race, Horton said his win was one “for the good guys.”