Doping Dilemma: many questions, but few right answers, by Cathal Dennehy

| 0 Comments

Cathal Dennehy wrote this piece right after the World Champs after considering the doping issues from this past summer. I was there for several exchanges with Justin Gatlin, that I feel were, well, just pretty ridiculous. At times, it seems to me, that some want nothing but a confrontation on video, which is what happened in Eugene at the US Nationals, and after the 200 meters in Beijing.

SebCoe91415.jpgSeb Coe, September 2015, photo by PhotoRun.net

I believe that there is as much bad information out in the public, and media, as is good information. The release of the blood passports are a huge law suit waiting to happen. I sure hope that the media organizations behind those have great liability insurance.

The problem is many fold. It is decades old. In the beginning, no sports federations, amatuer or professional, took doping seriously. Without the Ben Johnson affair, the sport would have gotten even dirtier. Now, in frustation, media organizations strike out as they are given nothing that they can understand, communicate to readers and they see this lack of information, as the so called protectors of the sport being as guilty as the cheaters.

I am publishing Cathal's piece because I think, as it should be always, Mr. Dennehy presents both sides. What is Justin Gatlin supposed to say? Daphne Schippers is a talented young women, who I refer to now as the Netherland's Usain Bolt. Amel Tuka, coached by Gianni Ghedini, has developed quickly and amazingly, but when you hear that he was probably training quite poorly, one can see improvement, with someone, obviously with huge talent.

The problem is that no one has confidence in the current culture around drug testing and punishments. This is Seb Coe's cross to bear during his reign as IAAF President. Nothing else comes near the importance of this part of his job. For without an effective, trusted and well explained drug testing program, which has the legal limit on punishments to all involved, the media will hound the global federation, not because it is the right thing to do, but, for some, it is the easy story.

Doping in athletics has become the easy story.

Doping Dilemma: many questions, but few right answers

On the first Sunday night of the IAAF World Championships, in the bowels of the Bird's Nest Stadium in Beijing, one European journalist raised his hand with a question for Justin Gatlin.

Gatlin_JustinR-World15.JPgJustin Gatlin, photo by PhotoRun.net

"Justin, a few of the other athletes in the race have said it was an important victory for the sport because you've been banned twice. What's your comment on that?"

Gatlin sat forward, looked his inquisitor in the eye with a sombre stare and said: "I'm thankful."

The journalist, not happy with the response, pressed on: "Anything more? Can you be more specific?"

"Specifically, I'm thankful," deadpanned Gatlin.

"Is that what you have to say? It's an important issue for me, at least."

"Very important, said Gatlin. "Then I'm thankful."

Usain Bolt burst into laughter at the exchange. The journalist walked out. Who wouldn't?

Bolt_UsainQR-World15.JPgUsain Bolt, photo by PhotoRun.net

A few minutes later, I threw my hand up and ask Bolt for an opinion.

"Usain, the sport has had a tough summer and sprinting in general struggles with the doping problem and its perception. What do you say to young athletes who are looking up to you guys and wondering: can I succeed in this sport as a clean person?"

"For me, anything is possible," said Bolt. "I've been working hard. I always push myself. I've a good coach who I always give thanks to, who always helps me with everything I've been through with injury. I've got to give thanks to Dr. Muller Wohlfahrt, my German doctor, who always helps me to get back on track. It's just all about hard work and dedication. That's what I'm here for. I've been doing it for years, and just keep focused."

It was an answer, but not an answer to the question.

That same night, the fastest 800m athlete in the world this year, Amel Tuka of Bosnia, was standing in the mixed zone after breezing through his 800m semi-final.

Having progressed from a best of 1:46.12 last year to 1:42.51 this season, journalists were naturally keen to know what had led to Tuka's huge improvement.

"I started [athletics] when I was 18 and before that I trained in karate for six years," said the 24-year-old. "I have a black belt and that was the only sport I did before. I don't know. God has given me these PB's and this power for athletics, and that's the reason my best will come."

Tuka_AmelPre-Beijing15.JPGAmel Tuka, photo by PhotoRun.net

After winning the bronze medal in the final, Tuka credited his move to Italian coach Gianni Ghedini for his improvement. "I train in Italy full time and we change a lot of things," he said. "One was endurance. Before I had very good speed but not endurance. Last year I was sixth in the European Championships, and this season we worked very hard and were very professional. I listen to my coach. We are very happy with the progress and I hope next season we will make more of a progress."

As good as the world championships had been - and make no mistake, they were pretty damn great so far - the problem for many was the lingering questions, the persistent inner turmoil.

When watching any outstanding run, jump, throw or walk, it's that voice inside that couldn't help but raise the question - that question - and many times, there was no right answer.

The innocence was gone, made off with in the night by all the roided-up hoodlums of times past.

After a summer of scandal, where the sport was painted in many quarters as a cesspool of depravity, it's the good ones who now have to suffer. The problem is: the honest athletes look the same, smile the same, talk the same and often perform the same as the crooks, so trying to decide who warrants the inquisition - and who deserves a free pass - is a fast pass to insanity.

Yego_JuliusWL-WorldCH15.jpgJulius Yego, photo by PhotoRun.net

On the Wednesday night, Kenya's Julius Yego took his nation's first title in the men's javelin with a whopping effort of 92.72m, a throw seven metres longer than his best before this season.

As Yego spoke to the press, some journalists broke away to speak to his coach. "Why are his eyes so bloodshot?" they asked. The coach furrowed his brow a little at the question, and said: "I don't know; his eyes have always been the same since the day I met him."

Two days later, Dafne Schippers of the Netherlands produced the most jaw-dropping performance of the week in the women's 200m, running 21.63, the third fastest time ever. It means the Dutch 23-year-old is now only slower than Florence Griffith-Joyner and Marion Jones, whose reputations have long resided in the gutter when it comes to doping.

So what, then, to make of Schippers, a freakishly talented junior athlete who had focused on heptathlon until this year? Naturally, the press pack descended, smelling blood, hunting for their answer. Could she be trusted?

"I know I am clean and I work very hard for it," said Schippers, whose coach Bart Bennema is one of the most trusted and respected figures in Dutch athletics, one with an impeccable record when it comes to coaching clean athletes.

Bennema was surrounded for the best part of a half hour by journalists wanting, needing, an explanation. "She doesn't have the best predecessors," admitted Bennema. "It's as simple as that. She can't help it."

He tried to explain just how talented Schippers is, how she ran 7.60 seconds for 60 metres at the age of 16, the first year they began working together, but what use was it? The questions kept coming, this time pondering how a white woman could run so fast in an event dominated by those of African descent.

Schippers_DaphneQ1a-Beijing15.jpgDafne Schippers, photo by PhotoRun.net

"It's not a factor for us," he said. "She has the right genes, she does the right sport. When they line up it's just eight women who want to run fast."

At 23, Schippers looks set to do exactly that for several years to come, but what she will never outrun, for better or worse, are the whispers, the questions.

It's not her fault who came before, how so many picked our pockets and lied to our faces, but because of them, it's now her burden to carry.

The journalists, meanwhile, along the fans of the sport, carry on with the guessing games, asking questions to which there is no right or wrong answer.

We hope they might offer a glimpse within - a guide as to whether the performances were as pure as the driven snow or souped up on a cocktail of chemistry - but in reality, we'll never know.

And that, above all, is a pity, for there was greatness on show during those nine days in Beijing. False greatness, occasionally, but also lots of genuine greatness.

As long as the latter keeps exceeding the former, the show must go on.

Leave a comment

Wake up to RunBlogRun's news in your inbox. Sign up for our newsletter and we'll keep you informed about the Sport you love.

Subscribe to RunBlogRun's Global News Feed

* indicates required