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RunRepeat has conducted an interesting investigation into doping, especially Russian doping. The findings may not be what you expect them to be. For example, clean athletes, although disadvantaged, may not be as disadvantaged as we believe.

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Although there is much to debate with the published numbers, the results give a fascinating look into various events, levels of doping, and the results.

“Clean athletes performed better than banned athletes in 6 out of 21 disciplines, with the biggest differences in Hammer Throw Men (3.25%), Javelin Throw Women (2.63%), and 400 Metres Hurdles Women (2.30%).”

Now the reader needs to understand that according to RunRepeat, they decided to identify “clean athletes” as athletes that have not tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs; innocent until proven guilty, which is fair. However, we all know that there are plenty of suspect athletes who have never tested positive. Keeping that in mind, there may be some good news here.

When asked about identifying athletes as “clean” Jovana Subic, head of running content told Athletics Illustrated, “they are considered clean until proven otherwise. As mentioned, we really wanted to put politics aside and see what the numbers say. It’s the terminology we decided to run with. We actually brainstormed this with the whole team and found it was the simplest way to go.”

Women, according to this research have tested positive four times as much as men have. Either the women are not getting great advice or they are more competitive than they let on.

Disqualified versus non-disqualified results

“When analyzing banned athletes’ results, in 5 out of 28 disciplines their regular results are better than their disqualified results. Outside of their disqualification period, athletes performed better in Triple Jump Women (0.59%), Shot Put Women (0.23%), Shot Put Men (0.07%), 20 Kilometres Race Walk Women (0.03%), 20 Kilometres Race Walk Men (0.02%).”

Any physiologist will suggest that there is likely no clear indication of what is a non-enhanced performance versus an enhanced performance if taking results over a long period of time. The obvious question is, when did they really start doping? Also, how many athletes are skilled at micro-dosing, as well as being smart with the timing of their protocol? Some PEDs are believed to provide performance and recovery benefits long after the drug has cleared the system.

A good example is American sprinter Justin Gatlin, who was twice-banned. He continues to perform at the top level into his late 30s. He either continues to dope or is benefiting from years of doping. Only he knows at what age he began to take PEDs and only he knows if he continues to cheat today.

The numbers

The study looked at 29,190 results from 4,691 events, and 92 banned athletes. RunRepeat looked at 8,388 banned athletes results, while they looked at 262 clean athletes and 20,802 performances from 1993-2019 over 104 disciplines. This is a good sample size to identify trends and results.

“After 2007, we see a decrease in the number of overall results. The highest share of disqualified results was recorded in the 2009-2015 period. In no other years were there over 10% of all results disqualified. The peak occurred in 2013 when 23.51% of achieved results were disqualified.”

And this stands to reason as Russia, after the investigation of their alleged systematic doping program, was completely banned in 2015. They continue to be banned today and are appealing the latest extension on November 2, 2020, with the Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS).

The 2012 London Olympics re-testing of samples has continued since the Games happened and the statute of limitations ends next month. Once the deadline passes, athletes who cheated in London can breathe a sigh of relief. Meanwhile, many have been banned including some from the women’s 1500-metre event. The 1500m final is considered one of the dirtiest events of all time. For those who remember Ma’s Army of China and the East German human drug experiment or perhaps the Ben Johnson and Carl Lewis Seoul Olympic 100m sprint final in 1988, there have been many dirty events.

In the study’s data, just three women’s disciplines indicated no disqualified results: 100m, 400m hurdles and pole vault. The study is an interesting read to be sure and will likely stir up thought-provoking conversations.

Subic added, “We worked for a month on a database only – my colleague and I manually gathered results from Russian athletes across the web. We take pride in all of it because we know it’s really one-of-a-kind. Then our data analyst entered the scene and performed the statistical analysis. We’ve put a lot of effort into this and hope it will offer an interesting story.”

To that end, it does. More to come.