What Happens to Usain Bolt's Stripped Olympic Medal?

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Storing someone’s urine for up to 10 years would normally be considered unusual behavior. If you’re the International Olympic Committee (IOC), though, it’s just business. The organization maintains a library of liquid waste so they can re-test athlete samples for prohibited substances.

That’s exactly what the IOC just did with Nesta Carter’s pee. The Jamaican runner won a gold medal for the 4x100 meter relay in 2008, along with teammates that included the decorated Usain Bolt. Unfortunately, Carter’s urine tested positive for a stimulant called methylhexanamine. As per IOC policy, the entire team’s medals for that competition will be officially considered stripped.

But what happens to the actual medal? Is it shipped back? Does the Olympic Committee hire a repo man?

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The fate of Bolt’s hardware can be predicted based on a past case history. In 2007, five-time Olympic medalist Marion Jones came under fire for using performance-enhancing substances during the 2000 Games in Sydney, Australia. After her admission, the IOC stripped her of the medals and asked that they be returned.

Why not demand? Because the organization has no actual legal recourse to seize or repossess them. Athletes return them voluntarily, based on the spirit of fair play.

Jones’s attorneys met with the IOC and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency at a conference in Austin, Texas, where their client’s medals were turned over. The prizes were then forwarded back to IOC headquarters. Other athletes who have faced similar circumstances were free to simply mail their medals back.

Once the medals are back in the IOC’s possession, they’re free to either keep them in a vault—as in the case of the 1972 U.S. Olympic basketball team that refused to accept a controversial decision that left them with silver—or reallocate them to the athlete who would have placed if not for the stripped athlete’s cheating ways. That’s what happened in 1988 when Carl Lewis was awarded the gold medal that originally went to Ben Johnson, who failed a drug test.

As for Bolt: When he learned last year that giving back his medal might be a possibility owing to Carter’s failed test, he appeared to have accepted it. “If I need to give back my gold medal I’d have to give it back,” he told The Guardian. “It’s not a problem for me.” Then again, that might be easier to do when you’ve got eight more at home.

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