The IAAF Athlete of the Year List and Robert Harting, some thoughts from Cathal Dennehy

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Robert Harting, photo by PhotoRun.net

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Justin Gatlin, photo by PhotoRun.net

The IAAF Athlete of the Year list is a time to celebrate the great performances of athletes in the past year. This year has stirred great controversy as Justin Gatlin and LaShawn Merritt, who served a four year ban and twenty-one month bans respectively, were on the list. 

Again, not sure what the IAAF was supposed to do here, as their rules curiously do not mention not including athletes with previous drug positives. The European Athletics Association took the step and have noted that they will NOT include any athlete with a two year drug positive on their cv. 

Robert Harting, the German discus star, has requested that his name be removed from the list, citing that Mr. Gatlin and Mr. Merritt should, in his opinion, not be included on the list, due to their pasts. 

Cathal Dennehy, one of our frequent contributors, wrote this piece on his concerns about how doping continues to hinder our sport. Cathal salutes Robert Harting's stance and does not believe that we should forget or forgive athletes with drug positives. 

What do you think? 

Send us your comments to [email protected] 

By Cathal Dennehy


Last week, Justin Gatlin and Lashawn Merritt -who have both served bans for positive drug tests - were shortlisted for the IAAF men's Athlete of the Year Award. That decision saw champion discus thrower Robert Harting take a stand, dig his heels in, and refuse to let them forget their past. 

"I ask the IAAF to remove me from the list," Harting told Der Spiegel magazine. "I find the nomination great, yet I stand for nomination with a former doping offender. It's insulting to me and my fans."

What a statement. Not since Paula Radcliffe stood in the stands at the IAAF World Championships in Edmonton in 2001 holding an 'EPO cheats out' placard - to protest the participation of Russia's Olga Yegorova after her positive test - has an A-list athlete made such a targeted statement against one of their peers. 

The IAAF moved swiftly in their response, asking Harting to remain on the list, but the German was equally swift in his retort, telling German news agency DPA: "I am ready to stand for election again. But only if athletes who have misbehaved are scrapped from this year's list and are subject to a nomination ban in the future."

Basically, it now comes down to Harting challenging both Gatlin and Merritt to do what they feel is the decent thing and remove themselves from the list. It's highly unlikely either will be tempted to do so, which leaves the IAAF as the only other option to satisfy Harting. 

Let's be fair here. It seems that, when they went about compiling their top-10 list, the IAAF had little choice in nominating both Gatlin and Merritt for the award. The pair served their time, passed every test on their respective comebacks and, like it or not, were unquestionably two of the standout performers on the track this season. 

Justin Gatlin was unbeaten all year and finished the season as the world's fastest man over both 100m and 200m. His 9.77-second performance in Brussels was the same time he ran when equalling the world record in 2006 - though that performance that was later annulled due to Gatlin testing positive for a banned substance.

According to the rules which govern the sport of athletics, though, Justin Gatlin is now considered clean. Lashawn Merritt, too, must now be considered clean, at least in the eyes of the governing body. After all, he too has passed every test since coming back from a 21-month ban in 2011. 

The IAAF may have had little choice but to have these two on their shortlist. The other athletes themselves, at least,  had an option not to accept it, not to move on, and, not to let them forget. This is where Harting comes in, and the stance he took this week is one that clean athletes everywhere found themselves rejoicing about. 

There is, however, one slight caveat that, if not exactly spoiling Harting's gesture, certainly tempers it with a slight feeling of inconsistency. Harting, you see, was coached and proudly associated, for the best part of a decade, with Werner Goldmann, who admitted to having doped athletes in the old East German system, reportedly feeding some of his protégés - such as shot putter Gerd Jacobs - little blue pills that he told them were "vitamins", but were reportedly, steroids. 

Goldmann was later sacked from the German Athletics Federation after information about his former practices came to light. Last year, Harting parted ways with Goldmann, reportedly switching to Torsten Schmidt. There has never, by the way, been anything to suggest that Goldmann was involved with illegal practices while coaching Harting. 

Either way, the sport needed someone to speak out like this, and the fact that one of its biggest stars, one of its most accomplished and charismatic champions, has done so, gives it all the more credence. When a pair of well-known British athletics fans wrote on Twitter that the return of Gatlin and Tyson Gay had ruined the athletics season for them, Gatlin wrote back, saying: "awe turn your tv off then lmbo". In case you're wondering, that last acronym stands for 'laughing my butt off'. 

And that, essentially, is Justin Gatlin: coming back after a four-year ban to run faster than ever, despite now being well into his thirties. For still showing no remorse for his previously ill-gotten medals and millions. And, for still expecting us to just move on and forget.

If doping is the acne which blights the beauty of athletics, then Gatlin is that big, juicy, front-and-centre spot you just can't help but notice when you look at the sport. When he was banned for using testosterone in 2006, he admitted nothing. Instead, he claimed sabotage. 

The fact that, in the absence of Usain Bolt, Gatlin has come to dominate the marquee event in track and field, makes his presence all the more difficult to swallow. Over the next week, athletes, officials, member federations and media from around the world will vote for who they consider to be the athletes of the year. 

Gatlin won't make the top three, and neither will Lashawn Merritt.

In terms of their place on the top-10 shortlist, the ball is now in Gatlin's, Merritt's, and the IAAF's court. Don't expect either of the first two to step aside from candidacy for what is the most prestigious award in the sport.

After all, who would? 

The IAAF, legally, seems in no position to remove them from the list, though there are signs already that they are now reconsidering their position for future years, re-shaping the rules for who is, and isn't, eligible for the award. 

This, more than anything, will be the legacy of Harting's stance this week. It may not have been enough to prevent previous athletes with positive drug tests from taking their place on the athlete of the year shortlist, but what it reminded us all of, once again - is this: when it comes to doping, the cardinal sin in our sport, we must never forget. 

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