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More road race events should adopt the New York City or The Detroit Free Press Marathon’s new anti-doping policies for their long-running events.

“This was a priority for us in our offseason — to ensure fairness and integrity at the top of our race. This is a great step in ensuring our elite athletes feel confident they’re competing on a level playing field,” Aaron Velthoven, vice president and executive producer of the Free Press Marathon said in an article published on December 28 by Jenna Prestininzi.

Athletes will be made to meet a number of requirements to be eligible under the new policy, which will be vetted starting at registration. This includes:

  • Not currently be on a suspension for use of a prohibited substance by the USADA and/or WADA (the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and World Anti-Doping Agency).
  • Not have ever been suspended for use of a prohibited substance by the USADA and/or WADA.
  • Not be represented by a third party, including, but not limited to coaches and/or agents, who have had two (2) or more athletes that have received such suspensions in the previous four (4) years (from the date of the current race) by the USADA and/or WADA.
  • Provide proper documentation proving they are eligible for prize money (e.g. Forms W-9, W-8ECI, or W-8BEN).
  • Consent to random drug testing according to the standards and procedures of USATF, USADA, and WADA.

The key here is the second point. There has been a call by some in the global running community that athletes should have automatic four-year suspensions for a first-time offense and automatic life suspensions for a second infraction. And in some cases, eight years for the first suspension. The basis for the long-term suspensions is due in part to the idea that some PEDs provide long-term benefits after the athlete stops taking the drug.

Additionally, winning prize money while on PEDs is considered theft from athletes who run clean. Taking back prize money from athletes in certain countries has proven to be nearly impossible. Although the long arm of the law in anti-doping is doing a great job of re-testing samples and reassigning medal positions, the missed glory on the day is never to be fulfilled after the fact. It is just not the same.

Prizing directly from an event is only a portion of the funds that an athlete may earn. In some countries, much-needed carding (financial support from the national sport organization) may be missed. Also, sponsorships can be lost.

For example, Canadian 1500m runner Hilary Stellingwerff missed the final at the 2012 London Olympic Games. She was beaten in the semis by a cheating athlete. Later, most of the field competing in the final were eventually caught doping. It is anecdotally estimated that Stellingwerff (as well as a few other athletes) missed out on earning hundreds of thousands of dollars. There is now nothing that can be done about the 2012 London Olympic 1500m heats and finals. There is an eight-year statute of limitations on retesting samples, the time has passed.

Dirtiest race in history

Turkey’s Asli Cakir Alptekin, who had already served a two-year doping suspension, crossed the finish line in first place. Her victory was drug-aided. She is now serving an eight-year ban after irregularities were found in her biological passport. In 2013, 31 Turkish athletes tested positive for stanazolol or turinabol, which are anabolic steroids. Turkey should have been suspended like Russia currently is.

The mass bust included compatriot Gamze Bulut, who had improved her personal best by a jaw-dropping 18 seconds in the previous year. She finished second in London and was also banned for abnormal blood levels.

Russia’s Tatyana Tomashova, who had served a two-year ban up to 2010 for switching urine during a test, finished fourth.

Fifth-placed Ethiopia-born Swede and 2013 world champion Abeba Aregawi tested positive for meldonium in January 2016.

Russian Ekaterina Kostetskaya finished seventh and Belarussian Natallia Kareiva ninth were banned, as were two other athletes from the heats.

Stellingwerff had no chance.

It happens in cross-country and in road racing

It is not just at track meets where previously suspended athletes compete for money. Doping happens in cross-country and on the roads too. For example, Mary Beasley, seven years after she served a two-year doping ban under her previous name, took home the top finisher prize of USD $6,000 at the Detroit Free Press Marathon in 2022, which has inspired the new policy.

Beasley was born in Nigeria and became an American citizen. She was known for winning the BMO Vancouver Marathon in 2004, 2008, and 2009. She finished second in 2012.

In 2013 she tested positive for clenbuterol, a bronchodilator used to open the airway to take in more oxygen and it may help burn fat. This happened at the Gobernador Marathon in Mexico and accepted a two-year ban from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

Interestingly, the New York City Marathon, one of the iconic races that make up the six-race Abbott Marathon Majors series that includes Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, and Chicago has adopted a zero-tolerance policy. If an athlete has previously tested positive in any way shape or form and served a suspension of at least three months they cannot race the New York City Marathon. Clean athletes love the policy.

Unfortunately, there is an awkward reality with the new New York City Marathon Chairwoman Nenna Lynch who tested positive herself in 2016. She will responsible for vetting athletes, like her, who have tested positive. This should not detract from the policy.

It is embarrassing for race events to celebrate its champions and then find out that the athlete competed while on PEDs.

By adopting this policy, the New York City Marathon organizers are telling the World Anti-Doping Agency that their policies are not doing enough. As an event that hosts 50,000 runners and has partnered with charities like the Ronald McDonald House of New York, the event is more than just a cash cow for a few athletes who desperately want to win prize money, sacrificing their careers and health to do so.

The first-place prize is $100,000 for the first male and female, respectively. The total prize purse is $870,000. The 100K is a nice payday for anyone. It can be life-changing for some athletes.

If the World Anti-Doping Agency is not empowered to create more strict rules around doping, the events themselves can surely make that happen. More events should adopt the New York or Detroit marathon anti-doping policies. Perhaps more strict policies at registration will take some of the work away from the anti-doping process.