Lashinda Demus will get her Olympic gold medal … 12 years later

Russia's Natalya Antyukh (Top) wins the women's 400m hurdles final ahead of US' Lashinda Demus at the athletics event of the London 2012 Olympic Games on August 8, 2012 in London. AFP PHOTO / FRANCOIS XAVIER MARIT        (Photo credit should read FRANCOIS XAVIER MARIT/AFP/GettyImages)

Russia’s Natalya Antyukh finished first in the women’s 400m hurdles final at the 2012 Olympics, but the gold medal will now go to Lashinda Demus. (Francois Xavier Marit/AFP/GettyImages)

Lashinda Demus needed only 52.77 seconds to complete the 400-meter hurdles at the 2012 London Olympics.

The American hurdler’s wait to receive the gold medal she rightfully earned has lasted more than 4,300 days.

It took over a decade for Russian hurdler Natalya Antyukh’s Olympic victory to be disqualified due to evidence of doping. It took another four months for Demus to formally be upgraded to first place from second. And it has taken a year-long fight for Demus to secure the right to have her gold medal placed around her neck on the Olympic stage.

Demus announced Wednesday that the International Olympic Committee plans to award medals to her and the rightful silver and bronze medalists during an Aug. 9 ceremony in Paris’ Champions Park at the foot of the Eiffel Tower. It will be the first medal reallocation ceremony ever held at a Summer Olympic Games.

“I think they’re making it as close as possible to the real thing,” Demus said. “I don’t get to do a victory lap at the stadium, the podium, going to the ‘Today Show’ after you win the medal, all that stuff. But I think they did as good a job as they could and I’m appreciative of that. I can settle my feelings with that.”

Before fellow Americans Dalilah Muhammad and Sydney McLaughlin redefined what was possible in the 400 hurdles, Demus was once the standard bearer in the event. She smashed high school records and world junior records. She won a trophy case full of gold medals at the NCAA, U.S. and World Championships. By 2012, the only achievement that still eluded her was Olympic gold.

In 2004, she ran the fifth-fastest time in the Olympic semifinals but did not advance to the final. In 2008, she missed the Olympics altogether, finishing one spot shy of qualification at the U.S. Trials just over a year after giving birth to twin boys.

For Demus, then 29, the London Olympics represented her last realistic hope. She overcame lingering pain from a torn right hamstring to reach the Olympic final, setting up a showdown between her and Antyukh, a former Olympic bronze medalist in the open 400 and the fastest in the world in the 400 hurdles that year.

Antyukh opened a gap on Demus late in the race before stutter-stepping as she approached the final hurdle. That gave Demus the opening she needed to surge back into contention. The American nearly pulled even with Antyukh by the finish line but the Russian hung on to win by seven hundredths of a second.

US' Lashinda Demus reacts after competing in the women's 400m hurdles final at the athletics event of the London 2012 Olympic Games on August 8, 2012 in London.  AFP PHOTO / OLIVIER MORIN        (Photo credit should read OLIVIER MORIN/AFP/GettyImages)

Lashinda Demus reacts after finishing second in the women’s 400m hurdles final the 2012 Olympic Games. (Olivier Morin/AFP/GettyImages)

To Demus, finishing second was “devastating.” Her silver medal was little more than a consolation prize. She crouched on the track, shocked and distraught, while the Russian she had outrun in the past draped her country’s flag over her shoulders and celebrated her victory.

“I kind of knew that it could potentially be the last Olympic Games that I make,” Demus said. “That was in the back of my mind. And then I knew that I was the best in that race. I literally had no doubt in my mind. So I just felt like I should have been able to put it together for that one race even though I was injured coming in.”

In a post-race interview that night with NBC’s Lewis Johnson, Demus defiantly vowed, “I will not stop until I get the gold medal. You will see me in 2016.”

It was an admirable goal but too great a hurdle. By 2016, Demus was no longer watching track, let alone competing. Extracting herself from the sport was the only way she felt she could get over the pain of her 2012 loss and move forward raising her sons and embarking on a career in clinical research.

By October 2022, Demus had dipped her toe back in the sport as a part-time high school track coach in the Los Angeles area. She was running practice when a friend texted her that Antyukh had her results disqualified by the Athletics Integrity Unit and that Demus was in line to have her silver medal upgraded to gold.

For some athletes, that might have been a joyous moment. For Demus, it was like reopening a painful wound.

“That loss for me was incredibly hard,” she said. “It took a lot of coping and different strategies to get over it and move on from it. So I was a little indifferent when I heard the news.”

The one aspect that excited Demus was the possibility of receiving her medal in front of her friends and family on the Olympic stage. So she was not pleased in March 2023 when the Paris Olympics was not among the options that the IOC initially gave her for a medal ceremony.

“I’m like no, no, no,” Demus recalled. “I want media. I want coverage. I want all my supporters to be able to celebrate with me. I want this to be an international level thing.”

Rather than mail her silver medal to the IOC as requested, Demus hired an attorney and contacted the rightful 2012 silver and bronze medalists, Zuzana Henjnova of the Czech Republic and Kaliese Spencer of Jamaica. Together, they held firm until the IOC agreed to find a way to honor each of them with a medal ceremony during the Olympics in Paris.

Taking a stand was important to Demus because she has seen other athletes’ belated medals get delivered quietly and with insufficient pomp and circumstance. Great Britain’s Andrew Steele learned he had become an Olympic medalist in 2016 while browsing novelty T-shirts inside a New York Urban Outfitters. American thrower Adam Nelson received his 2004 shot put gold medal nine years later outside a Burger King in the Atlanta airport.

“I want to be a trailblazer for these athletes with this process,” Demus said. “I believe that [the IOC] knows that it’s important, but I don’t think they could grasp how important it is to each individual Olympian.”

Demus sheepishly admits that for 12 years she has kept her Olympic silver medal tucked in a basket inside a closet in her home. She has bigger plans for her gold medal once she finally receives it this August.

Said Demus with a laugh, “My mom’s going to have it at her house and it’s going to be on display.”

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