© Copyright – 2017 – Athletics Illustrated
Good for the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) for reaching back into the past and re-testing suspected athlete’s blood samples. And good for them for acting upon the positive tests that they have come across. It is time-consuming and expensive, but the sport of athletics needs to be cleaned up before it loses any more respect in the globally competitive sporting landscape.
Re-testing suspected athlete’s blood samples is the right thing to do. Having cheaters being disgraced in the global media will go a long way towards acting as a deterrent.
The latest in the long line of cheating athletes are a pair of Turkish runners who tested positive for the anabolic steroid Stanazolol, which is the same drug that Ben Johnson had been taking before he was busted during the 1988 Seoul Olympics. On Wednesday, March 29 Turkish runners Gamze Bulut and Elvan Abeylegesse were banned by the IAAF.
Abeylegesse is a plastic Turk; she is Ethiopian-born and raised, but chose to run for Turkey for financial gain.
Turkey set off alarm bells in August of 2013 when 31 of their athletes were suspended for testing positive for the steroid. At the time, Athletics Illustrated suggested that Turkey, like Russia, should be banned from competition due to potential systematic doping. Systematic doping would be hard to prove, but reaching back is a step in the right direction.
From samples taken during the 2017 Osaka IAAF World Track and Field Championships, Abeylegesse was banned from the sport of athletics for two years retroactively. Her results from 2007 to 2009 have been removed, which has affected the results of the athletes who finished behind her including two Americans and at least one Kenyan athlete.
Abeylegesse will lose her Olympic silver medals that she won in the both the 5,000m and 10,000m events at the 2008 Beijing Games. She also won a silver medal in the 10,000m event during the 2007 Osaka IAAF World Championships.
The Turkish federation needs to clean up its act. One of the most disgraced athletes all-time is 1500m runner Asli Cakir Alptekein, who received an eight-year ban, served four years, then competed in the 2017 European Cross Country Championships and finished in 11th place, which is an auspicious result for a middle-distance athlete back from suspension and known to be a proven drug cheat.
The pathological Alptekein finished first during the 2012 London Olympic Games 1500m final, which has proved to be one of the dirtiest events in global championships history.
Regarding the Beijing 10,000m, the third place finisher was American Shalane Flanagan. She will now be moved up to silver. The bronze medal will go to Linet Chepkwemoi Masai of Kenya.
Flanagan told Athletics Illustrated, “It was surprisingly very emotional to hear about my upgrade. [There was] a mix of emotions; I was extremely happy but also [there was] sadness. I am happy to be validated for my dedication to my sport, but saddened at the loss of a moment for myself, my support team and other athletes affected.”
Flanagan has had a long career racing competitively in distances from 1500m (4:05.86) to the marathon. She has competed in four Olympic Games including the 2004 Athens, 2008 Beijing, 2012 London and 2016 Rio de Janeiro editions.
Her marathon personal best is the second fastest time in American history at 2:21:14. Her best in the 10,000m is 30:22:22. She held the American 5,000m and 10,000m records until Molly Huddle broke both standards in 2010 and 2016 respectively.
Although she is ecstatic to finally get the upgrade, she isn’t holding her breath that she will see the silver medal anytime soon.
“I hope I actually get to hold the silver medal in my hands. I have a feeling it will be a long road to actually physically acquire it, sadly.”
Fellow American Kara Goucher will also be upgraded due to Abeylegesse’s positive test result. Goucher finished third behind Abeylegesse during the Osaka world championships 10,000m race.
Goucher, who has run the 10,000m as fast as 30:55.16 and the marathon in 2:24:52, is a two-time Olympian. She has railed against dopers including accusing her former coach Alberto Salazar of pushing the legal limits to do with doping or supplementation.
On the news of her upgrade, Goucher tweeted, “Very happy to learn of medal upgrade (via media – not any governing body) but mental/emotional/financial anguish of this has been difficult.”
The only other athlete to finish in front of Goucher during the Osaka worlds 10,000m event was Tirunesh Dibaba of Ethiopia. As far as we know, she has not tested positive for PEDs; however, her reputation has been tarnished as she was staying in the same Spanish hotel where her sister’s coach, Jama Aden, was arrested at. The hotel is located in Sabadell, Spain. The hotel room was raided and at that time up to 30 athletes were in town training. Although not all the athletes there were coached by Aden, at least 22 were drug tested by the IAAF.
Although Aden was not formally charged, for the IAAF to have testing equipment with them and the area police to have the hotel under surveillance leading up to the arrest, this results in very poor optics.
The global athletics community continues to wonder what had transpired in Sabadell that allowed Aden to walk away as a free man. Silence only leads to suspicion, especially in light of the extortion and bribery charges that have been laid to various personalities previously associated with the IAAF.
Interestingly, Tirunesh’s sister Genzebe Dibaba had taken the world record in the 1500m distance in July of 2015 with her performance of 3:50.07, 22 years after Chinese athlete Qu Yunxia had set the world record that has been under suspicion since the day it was set at 3:50.46. Some of the Chinese athletes associated with Yunxia’s group: Ma’s Army have said that they were forced to take PEDs.
After the Sabadell bust, Dibaba ran poorly, claiming a foot injury.
None of the upgraded athletes will see the prize money, sponsorship bonuses or the extra opportunities afforded silver and bronze medallists.
The money has been stolen and will not be returned, despite the fact that the thief has been caught.
The IAAF needs to continue to battle drug cheats, hard. Dirty athletes, who steal from clean athletes need to be punished. Meanwhile, at least as importantly, clean athletes need to see that the sport is available to them and that the governing bodies are protecting their careers.