Michelle Ford, the only non Eastern-bloc female swimmer to win individual Olympic gold against East Germans during their state-doping years, has called upon the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to do more to acknowledge athletes who have been cheated out of medals in what she calls the “forgotten era.”
As an 18-year-old, Ford won gold in the 800 metres freestyle for Australia at the 1980 Moscow Olympics, beating two East German swimmers.
Recently the three surviving members of the American women’s 4x100m freestyle relay team, which won gold ahead of East Germany at the 1976 Montreal Games, said they felt they deserved duplicate medals following the subsequent discovery of the doping regime which had been followed by the women who dominated competition in the Olympic pool during the late 70s and early 80s.
Ford told insidethegames: “It has taken me over 30 years to appreciate what I have done as this era has been ‘pushed under the mat’, and is known by most as the ‘forgotten era’- the one that didn’t count nor like talking about.
“I now feel it is time to recognise all those who participated in unfair conditions.
“There are many athletes who have held their head high but have suffered nonetheless.
"Maybe there is hope that one day these will be recognised.”
Ford, who also won Commonwealth gold at 200m butterfly in 1978 and 1982, added: “At 13 I arrived in Montreal to swim the 200 freestyle and 200 fly.
“In both races I was placed next to the GDR record holders.
“This was my first international competition and I was not fully aware of everything that was going on but we all had heard rumours.
“There were obvious signs, but no proof.
“Four years later, in 1980, their programme was more developed.
“But, when I touched the wall in first place, I felt a mix of strong emotions of amazement, joy but also relief.
“That proved that through hard work and talent you can succeed and be better than doped athletes.
“Coaches called me tough.
“I had just turned 18-years-old two days before my swim.
“After the race, I was on a cloud, but the true understanding of what I had accomplished came many years later and I just recently realised that I was the only individual female swimmer to win Olympic Gold in competition with the Eastern Bloc.”
Ford also offered her congratulations to fellow Australian Jared Tallent, who was presented last month with Olympic 50 kilometre walking gold from the London 2012 Games after the original winner, Russia’s Sergey Kirdyapkin, was disqualified for doping.
Tallent has withdrawn from the 20km race walk here as a precaution because of a muscle problem, but will defend his 50km title.
“I would like to congratulate Jared Tallent on his gold medal,” she said.
“It was a great outcome which shows the important changes being made at all levels within the Olympic movement.
“It has been a 40 year journey and this ceremony is an historic milestone that sends a really important message to our youth as well as to the millions of supporters.
“It is also a significant step in restoring confidence for the clean athlete.
“There is triumph and honour to be achieved through the purity of the athlete and the competition.
“It is important that these athletes are recognised.”
The full Big Read on the East Germany doping regime is here.