Kamran Madani looks on after competing at the Pan American Games Lima 2019.
One year ago, three U.S. athletes left the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru, with medals around their neck. Only, it turned out, they were the wrong medals.
Doping violations discovered after the competition resulted in disqualifications that affected the final placements for those three Americans, and on Wednesday those athletes received upgraded medals as part of a virtual ceremony held over Zoom with family, friends, coaches and U.S. Olympic & Paralympic leaders.
Boxing’s Naomi Graham and karate’s Kamran Madani are now gold medalists, while swimmer Taylor Abbott moved up to silver medalist.
“Each of you fought hard for this, you dedicated the hours and though you deserved this moment last year, we are thrilled to celebrate here with you today,” United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee CEO Sarah Hirshland said in the ceremony attended by around 80 people.
As part of the virtual ceremony, a personalized highlight video was shown for each athlete before they placed their new medal around their neck.
“Is it too cliche if I bite it now?” joked Madani.
Madanai, Graham and Abbott each had an opportunity to talk about their accomplishment and thank those who helped them achieve it, and each athlete’s coach followed with a short tribute. The ceremony ended with a rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” sung by Olympic bronze medalist wrestler J’den Cox, recorded at the new United States Olympic & Paralympic Museum in Colorado.
Though the ceremony mostly had a celebratory tone, the circumstances for why these medals were awarded over Zoom instead of in Lima were acknowledged throughout.
“While we’re celebrating this medal ceremony, it’s truly unfortunate that this moment was delayed for you,” USOPC President Susanne Lyons said. “And it’s happening because doping still exists in our world, and it undermines the fairness on the field of play. And it kind of breaks my heart that your correct and fairly owned earned places on the medal stand were taken from you last year. But I want you to know that the USOPC is committed to fighting until each and every competitor is on an equal and fair playing field.”
To celebrate each athlete’s upgrade, TeamUSA.org caught up with all three. Here are their stories.
Kamran Madani, Karate
The gold-medal match for the men’s -84 kg. kumite competition came down to a point awarded on a coach’s challenge. American Kamran Madani lost the challenge, and eventual match, to Colombia’s Carlos Sinisterra.
Madani, a Broomfield, Colorado, native, remembers the match as if it happened yesterday. The two athletes had faced each other once before, with Sinisterra winning the previous fight.
“I fought him once before in the previous year. The result was very close, but I lost,” Madani said. “I knew what to expect going in, and I wanted to be careful and come out with a win. I wanted to create a mistake on his end and take advantage of it.”
Madani said he hadn’t surrendered a point all day. Then, in the championship, he said he and Sinisterra both punched at the same time, and each karateka’s coach called a challenge saying their athlete earned a point for landing a punch.
Judges awarded a point to Sinisterra, and none for Madani.
“We have to do it with precision,” Madani said. “I’m not saying my punch was good, but it was definitely better than his. They accepted his and not mine.”
Sinisterra took a 1-0 lead and then managed the fight so that Madani could not get any punches or points. In the end, Sinisterra took the gold medal, and Madani went home with silver.
“I appreciated the moment, but I hate losing. It was a bummer,” said Madani, who grew up in a dojo as a toddler and began taking official classes when he was 6. “At that time, I felt like that was supposed to happen, and I accepted it and just enjoyed being in the moment. I wanted to bring the gold back home, but for more than just myself. It was a little disappointment.”
Madani, now 24, was back in the U.S. when he received a phone call with a message that Sinisterra had been stripped of his gold for doping violations. Madani felt both excitement and redemption.
“I was stoked. I was pumped,” Madani said. “In my opinion, anybody who tries to take advantage of a situation to try to get an edge, athletes should pay the price. There are a huge amount of athletes who try to be good, clean athletes.
“Having that phone call to get the gold medal, I was extremely happy. I was surprised. I had already decompressed and processed everything from that event and accepted the silver. It hurt by not winning gold, but now I know everything I did was worth it.”