Austria and Slovakia set to swap athletics medals once more

After trading medals months after the 2015 European Games, Austria and Slovakia are set to do so once again nearly seven years later.

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Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Athletics - Men's 200m - Round 1 - Olympic Stadium, Tokyo, Japan - August 3, 2021. Jereem Richards of Trinidad & Tobag, Abdul Hakim Sani Brown of Japan, Phatutshedzo Maswanganyi of South Africa and Jan Volko of Slovakia in action in Heat 2 REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Athletics - Men's 200m - Round 1 - Olympic Stadium, Tokyo, Japan - August 3, 2021. Jereem Richards of Trinidad & Tobag, Abdul Hakim Sani Brown of Japan, Phatutshedzo Maswanganyi of South Africa and Jan Volko of Slovakia in action in Heat 2 REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

The 2015 European Games athletics competition featured many athletes who would never make it to the Olympic Games, yet it continues to make headlines years after the inaugural multi-sport event was brought to a close in Baku, Azerbaijan.

The competition, which served as the fourth tier of the European Team Athletics Championships 2015, was a sore point for local organizers who had hoped to attract much larger names to the event. Nonetheless, it saw one of the greatest battles of the Games between Austria and Slovakia.

The two nations went toe-to-toe over the two days of competition, leaving only five and half points between them heading into the final event. Austria needed only to defend their lead when disaster struck in the men’s 4x400m.

Adaptive athlete Gunther Matzinger was fending off a hard charging Jozef Repcik of Slovakia when the unthinkable happened; Matzinger dropped the baton. He was forced to retrace his steps and retrieve the baton.

Despite their best efforts, Matzinger’s teammates were not able to retrieve the time lost on the teams ahead. When the final points were tabulated, it was Slovakia who emerged victorious by half a point.

It would seem improbable to upstage the drama of the night in Baku, but the story was just beginning for Slovakia and Austria.

Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Athletics - Men's Discus Throw - Final - OLS - Olympic Stadium, Tokyo, Japan - July 31, 2021. Bronze medallist Lukas Weisshaidinger of Austria poses with a flag of Austria REUTERS/Dylan Martinez
Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Athletics - Men's Discus Throw - Final - OLS - Olympic Stadium, Tokyo, Japan - July 31, 2021. Bronze medallist Lukas Weisshaidinger of Austria poses with a flag of Austria REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

With the jubilations and consolations of that evening in the rearview mirror, and an eye set firmly on the upcoming Rio 2016 Summer Olympics, both teams were likely taken aback by some unexpected news.

Four months on from the conclusion of the Games, it was confirmed the medals be redistributed following the disqualification of Azerbaijani hammer thrower Dzmitry Marshin.

Marshin had registered a positive doping test at a competition held before the Games, meaning his results at the event would be annulled. This was welcome news for the Austrians, as it gave them an additional point in the men’s hammer throw.

The final tabulation now left the Austrians half a point ahead of the Slovaks. It seemed fate would bring the gold medal to Austria in the end. However, as the Austrian team would learn earlier this week, fate is a fickle force.

This week, over seven years on from the conclusion of the 2015 European Games, the Austrian and Slovakian athletics federations confirmed the medals would once again exchange owners.

This time it was Austria who found themselves a victim of a positive doping test, except this time it came from inside their own ranks.

Elisabeth Niedereder contested the 1500m for Austria at Baku 2015. Her results at the event were recently annulled by the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU). The disqualification cost Austria eleven points, returning the Slovaks to the top step of the podium.

In a letter to Petr Korčok, President of the Slovak Athletics Association, European Athletics Executive Director Christian Milz explained, “we ask you to hand over the second place trophy to the Secretariat of European Athletics as soon as possible and we will return the championship award to you as soon as we receive it from the Austrian federation.”

Austrian Athletics confirmed the reallocation of the medals, but it remains unclear when or how the Slovakian team will receive them. Slovakian head coach Martin Pupiš noted his amusement at the situation.

“We first won on the oval and in the sectors, then the Austrians beat us by half a point due to Azerbaijani doping and we exchanged medals,” commented Pupiš. “And now again...We are winners again.”

“The fight against doping sometimes brings such amusing, even comical situations,” stated the Slovakian coach.

Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva attends a meeting of President Vladimir Putin with the country's Olympians and Paralympians at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia April 26, 2022. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva attends a meeting of President Vladimir Putin with the country's Olympians and Paralympians at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia April 26, 2022. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

It’s certainly a situation with parallels to the present, where team figure skating medals are yet to be awarded for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games following the dramatic revelation that Russian skater Kamila Valieva had registered a positive test for trimetazidine prior to the competition.

Skaters and teams still await a final decision in that case, which is held up by legal proceedings.

As testing samples are re-examined and new methods of discerning cheats pioneered, the chances of further medal reallocations at major events seems well within the realm of possibility.

The third chapter of the Baku 2015 athletics saga has brought a belated joy to the Slovakian team.

Surely, they will be able to keep their medals in perpetuity, right?