My worst moment

Harsh judgment takes away glory of winning medal

Russia's Yulia Efimova in tears after she finished second in the 100m breaststroke final at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium, where she was jeered throughout the race.
Russia's Yulia Efimova in tears after she finished second in the 100m breaststroke final at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium, where she was jeered throughout the race.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

It was meant to be a press conference for the medallists of the women's 100m breaststroke, but it resembled a court trial, with Russian swimmer Yulia Efimova facing a firing squad of interrogators.

The 24-year-old had served two separate bans for failed drug tests and was able to compete in Rio after successfully appealing against a doping suspension.

Her inclusion was questioned by many, including American Lilly King. She defeated Efimova to clinch gold in the 100m event, while the Russian was booed throughout the night and later wept.

The gathered press were equally relentless on Efimova, who had, unfairly, become the face of Russia's doping scandal.

Journalists have a right, and duty, to ask tough questions and get answers. But this felt almost like collective bullying and made for very uncomfortable viewing.

Efimova, whatever her presumed faults, deserved to be treated with some dignity and respect.

Sadly, there was none from her fellow competitors - King and her bronze medallist compatriot Katie Meili did not bother to congratulate Efimova after the race and avoided any eye contact with her during the press conference - and little from the English-speaking media who were quick to paint her as the villainess of the story.

Here was a young lady with feelings, not an automaton programmed to only swim, thrust into a difficult and complex situation with plenty of grey areas.

A little empathy did not seem like an excessive request. Instead, she was judged and sentenced by almost everyone even before she took her seat.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 23, 2016, with the headline 'Harsh judgment takes away glory of winning medal'. Print Edition | Subscribe