View attachment 45780 When Usain Bolt battled to victory in the 100-meter final on the second day of the Track and Field World Championships in Beijing, he struck a blow not only for his competitive reputation but also for the image of his besieged sport.
Like track and field, Bolt, a six-time Olympic gold medallist, has been struggling this season. He had been significantly slower than the American Justin Gatlin. Gatlin is a two-time doper. Stocky and heavily muscled, he is the embodiment of the problems that beset the sport. In the three months before the championships, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) has faced an overdose of stories alleging that doping is systematic in its sport, that it has helped cover up positive test results, and has suppressed a report that suggests the problem is widespread.
“The problem at the moment is, for most people, our sport actually seems to be a discussion about blood and urine,” Sebastian Coe, the double Olympic champion and former British MP who was elected president of the IAAF on the eve of the Championships, told the BBC in an interview on Monday.
Gatlin is far from the only doper in Beijing. The Sunday Times of London, which has had its teeth into the IAAF in recent weeks, calculated that 66 athletes competing in Beijing had served doping bans. World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) statistics suggest that other sports have an even worse record. Even so, Gatlin is the cuckoo in the Bird’s Nest, an overgrown interloper who is pushing other athletes out of the medals they deserve.
In 2001, Gatlin tested positive for amphetamines. He argued that he took the drug because he suffers from Attention Deficit Disorder. His ban was reduced. In 2006, Gatlin tested positive for testosterone. Theoretically a second doping offense should lead to a lifetime ban. Instead, Gatlin struck a deal. He agreed to cooperate with the authorities and received an eight-year ban, though the world record he set in May 2006 was erased. He then appealed and had his ban reduced to four years.
Gatlin insists his first ban was unfair and argues that he has served his time for the second offense. The problem is that steroids help build muscles. One look at Gatlin makes clear that his have not gone away.
When he faced the media in Beijing before the race, Gatlin refused to accept the widespread view that his races with Bolt would be a battle of good and evil.
“I really don’t care what they think,” he said. “I am just a runner like he is a runner. There is no good runner or bad runner. We are just runners. No one is trying to take over the world. No one is trying to blow up the world.”
Nevertheless, Ed Warner, the chairman of U.K. Athletics made clear where he stood.
“One can overdramatize these things,” he told the Guardian after the 100-meter final. “But if you felt the impact in the stadium, you’ll understand just how much every athletics fan really wanted Bolt to win.”
Media reports over the last few months have suggested track and field has a serious drug problem.
In June, the BBC reported that Alberto Salazar, an American distance coach, had helped dope one of his athletes. Salazar, a former Boston and New York marathon winner, runs an elite program sponsored by Nike. He denies the charges.
The sport’s troubles inevitably rub off on sponsors. Nike also had ties with Trevor Graham, who was Gatlin’s coach when the runner failed his second drug test. In all, 11 of Graham’s sprinters, including Marion Jones and Tim Montgomery, failed drugs tests. Nike remains Gatlin’s sponsor. Lord Coe, who ran in Nikes, said he would feel “queasy” if Gatlin won but, British media has reported, does not plan to give up his highly-paid position as global “ambassador” for Nike.
In early August, ARD, a German television network, and The Sunday Times reported that they had received a database of more than 12,000 blood tests from 5,000 athletes from 2001 to 2012. They recruited experts who said the data showed that in distance running and walking events at the Olympics and World Championships, 146 medallists, including 55 gold winners, had suspicious test results. Of those medals, Russians won 80 and Kenyans 18.
ARD and The Sunday Times followed up by reporting that the IAAF had suppressed a report by a team of academics centered at the University of Tübingen, in Germany, which found that between 29 and 34 percent of track and field athletes might be doping. The same story had run in the New York Times two years ago without attracting much attention. This time it only contributed to the intoxicated frenzy.
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The report on the level of doping by Russian athletes has led to calls for “nation bans.” In an interview with CNN, Craig Reedie, a British IOC member who is president of WADA, said the demands were “not entirely unhelpful.”
In an email conversation, Ben Nichols, a WADA spokesman, said of the quote: “This was an hour-long interview edited down to 2.5 minutes.”
Nichols added that WADA “has no jurisdiction over potential ‘nation bans.’”
“It should be noted that, at present, there are no signatories that are formally deemed non-compliant with the World Anti-Doping Code,” Nichols said.
“If WADA declares a country non-compliant, this information is reported to the sports movement and UNESCO; and, it is for them to decide on the consequences.”
Lord Coe, who won gold in the 1,500-meter event in Moscow in 1980, which the United States boycotted, and gold in the same event in Los Angeles four years later, when most of the Eastern Bloc retaliated, referred to the politicization of doping when he spoke to the BBC.
“What I do not want to do is to start going back into history here, to start pointing fingers in the way we were in the 70s or 80s, East or West,” Lord Coe said. “Those days are over.”
The non-publication of the Tübingen report, which is based on research conducted at a previous World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, and a Pan-Arab Games in Qatar, both in 2011, has provoked a certain amount of finger-pointing. The work was funded by WADA but conducted with the co-operation of the IAAF.
Dr. Rolf Ulrich of Tübingen, the leader of the research team, was asked by The Sunday Times why the report had not appeared. He replied: “It’s because the IAAF is blocking it. I think they are stakeholders with WADA and they just blocked the whole thing.” He said he had been barred from discussing the work. He did not respond to emails from POLITICO.
By Peter Berlin - Politico/Aug. 27, 2015
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