TORONTO — It was almost 30 years ago to the day that Canada’s Dave Steen climbed the Olympic medal podium in 1988 in Seoul, winning bronze in the decathlon.
Steen shared the podium with gold medallist Christian Schenk and his East German teammate Torsten Voss. And while rumblings about rampant steroid use cast a black cloud over the sport in the ’80s, with plenty of eyes trained on East Germany, Steen dipped his head to accept his bronze medal and says he walked away satisfied.
He was certain he’d been beaten by a drug cheat. Still, Steen, now a 58-year-old father of four and a firefighter in Windsor, Ont., said it was “something I put away a long time ago.”
Three decades later, Schenk recently admitted to doping in his upcoming biography. The news was an emotional blow.
“I dealt with it, I’m good with it and moved on in life, and then it comes back up again and I go ‘Aw man, do I really even want to bother going through this?’” Steen, a native of New Westminster, B.C., told The Canadian Press in a phone interview.
“To hope it would come out (eventually)? You don’t even do that. I know what the truth is for me. But one of the things that has bothered me about this, probably the only thing that’s really kind of got to me a little bit, was the IOC stance on this, the statue of limitations. I thought that’s an extremely poor message.”
Schenk’s admission to taking the banned steroid turinabol won’t cost him his gold medal. The International Olympic Committee said in a statement to German media that because of its statute of limitations, it ”will not follow up.”
“We welcome the admission and hope it will help clarify the situation and strengthen the fight against doping.”
“At the same time, we hope that Schenk’s findings contribute to his own well-being and wish him all the best to cope with his health problems.”
Article 17 in the World Anti-Doping Agency code states, “No anti-doping rule violation proceeding may be commenced against an Athlete or other Person unless he or she has been notified of the anti-doping rule violation as provided in Article 7, or notification has been reasonably attempted, within ten years from the date the violation is asserted to have occurred.”
Schenk, in the biography, also opens up about battling severe depression.
His admission of doping isn’t all that surprising. In 1990, German magazine Stern reported that documents it had obtained after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 listed numerous East German athletes who had used anabolic steroids for years. It included both Schenk and Voss.
However, Steen said he doesn’t lament any stolen moment.
“I don’t feel as if anything was taken from me, I really don’t,” he said. “You need to internalize your results and try to figure out how to feel good about doing the best that you can, but still coming up short compared to other people who are cheating. That’s a tough thing to do, and it’s learned and it takes a little while to get in that head space.”
Steen found satisfaction in bronze. To him it meant he wasn’t willing to do ”absolutely anything for gold.
“For me to compete against guys who I know were doing performance-enhancing drugs, a bronze medal sort of seemed appropriate. Yeah, it was a great end to a career, and I was really happy to put it away right there.”
Steen is concerned about his son Jordie however, and the message the IOC is sending other young athletes with big dreams. Jordie, a bronze medallist in wrestling at the Commonwealth Games last March, was beaten out for a spot on the Canada’s 2012 London Olympic team by Khetag Pliev, a wrestler who tested positive for steroids in 2015 and received a four-year ban for doping and quit the sport.
“Jordie’s now the national champion, he’s starting to get there, and he’s in the same sort of boat,” Steen said. “He believes in the way that I had competed, and he’s trying to fight the good fight, and trying to do it without any drugs. It’s hard for me to look at the way the IOC has handled this … that’s not the lesson I want my son to learn: ‘Lie like crazy, hold on as long as you can, there’s a statute of limitations on cheating and lying, and then you’ll be OK.’ That’s just ridiculous.”
The Canadian Olympic Committee wasn’t available for comment.
The Seoul Olympics, of course, was where Ben Johnson went from hero to zero, stripped of his 100-metre gold medal after a positive doping test.
The Dubin Inquiry that followed blasted open Canada’s own doping can of worms. When Steen took the stand, he testified that the stench of steroids was so prevalent both home and abroad during that time that he’d asked Canadian track officials in January of ‘88 to test him for banned drugs “anywhere and at any time starting as soon as possible” until the end of his career.
He made the request in writing to avoid “guilt by association.” Athletics Canada — then the Canadian Track and Field Association — replied saying Steen’s name would be put into a draw for an out-of-competition testing program that was subject to budgetary approvals. It wouldn’t be until 1990, however, that Canada’s national sport organizations approved anti-doping policies that included unannounced doping control.
As positive doping tests over the past dozen or so years have forced officials to rewrite the record books, Steen’s wife Andrea (Page), an Olympian in the 400-metre hurdles, reached out to the COC several years ago, hoping someone would take a closer look at the decathlon results.
“Trying to get something, she would call it justice, for the situation I was in,” he said. “Nothing but crickets back from them.”
Now Steen wonders if there will even be so much as “an asterisk” beside Schenk’s name.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press