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Doping Test Results Reorder Olympic Medal Winners


It's been a long time since the Olympics back in 2008 and 2012, but in a way, the games are not over. Authorities have been checking for drug use in those games, retesting old, stored samples. And in the last week alone, they found violations in samples of 28 competitors, including 17 who won medals. This is causing upheaval in Olympic record books and in some lives. NPR's Tom Goldman reports.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: There's a joke among some U.S. Olympic athletes in this age of drug retesting - if you don't finish in the top three in your event and get on the victory stand the first time around, don't worry. Get within striking distance - fourth place, maybe fifth - and you've got a shot at a medal down the road. Sixth - that's a long, long shot, and it's where American high jumper Chaunte Lowe finished at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. But last Thursday, Lowe got a Facebook message from a former competitor - congrats on your 2008 bronze medal.

CHAUNTE LOWE: And now (laughter), my complete Olympic story has been rewritten.

GOLDMAN: It was a story of a four-time Olympian and American record holder who'd never won a medal. But then, over the past month and culminating Thursday, the third, fourth and fifth place finishers in Beijing were disqualified for doping. Thirty-two-year-old Chaunte Lowe went from sixth to bronze.

Are you happy about winning this medal?

LOWE: Oh, yes (laughter). I am elated.

GOLDMAN: Some athletes in her situation aren't happy. They resent missing a glorious moment, missing a big payday, a payday Lowe could have used. In 2008, she and her husband were hit hard by the recession. They had to foreclose on two properties, one their home. He got laid off. Lowe says a medal would have brought in much needed sponsorship dollars and bonus money. But as a glass-half-full person, she says she doesn't dwell.

LOWE: They've already stolen so much from me that I don't want to lose sight of the beauty that now I'm a medalist.

GOLDMAN: An International Olympic Committee member tells The New York Times all the medal exchanges hurt the credibility of Olympic sport. An official with the World Anti-Doping Agency says retesting indicates progress in the fight against doping. Chaunte Lowe finished fourth in the high jump at the recent Rio Olympics, but she doesn't envision winning any more delayed medals. She says she knows and trusts the women who finished ahead of her. Tom Goldman, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on