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The latest in an endless parade of doping scandals to hit the sport of athletics, the apparent systematic and colluded doping that has been carried out with reckless enmity in Russia and the cover-ups by the greedy and the corrupt old men of the sport’s various governing bodies, has had far-reaching implications. Implications that are heart-wrenching for the supporters and fans and gut-wrenching for the athletes that have been pitilessly ripped off from the pursuit of their dreams and glory.
With horrible arrogance, the covetous bastards who preside over athletics are killing the world’s oldest sport and they could care less. As Arnold Beckett, a member of the International Olympic Committee’s medical commission said 21 years ago, “Somebody has got to stop this madness.”
The dream of crossing the finish line first, the pomp of the dais, the wreath and the medal, the national anthem played for the world to hear, are all just shattered conceptions of glory. The national rankings, the records and the money; to etch one’s name in the hallowed halls of achievement, forever, like Bannister, Waitz, Walker, Kristiansen, Keino and Snell, gone; stolen without malice by the guardians of the sport.
Athletics is nothing without athletes; dreams are just dreams without opportunity.
Last week Steve Magness, NCAA coach at the University of Houston, popular blogger at The Science of Running, author and former Nike and Alberto Salazar assistant coach and whistleblower asked, “How in the world did Seb Coe find himself working with two of the most corrupt and scandal-ridden leaders in the history of sport, Lamine Diack and Sepp Blatter?
…that’s impressive that he was able to cosy-up to both, have high ranking jobs under both, and find out nothing while there.”
“…if Coe truly cares about the sport as much as he says, then he owes the sport answers. He needs to admit to mistakes in judgement, apologize to athletes and to journalists, to everyone involved.
The public, and the athletes he is now the head of, deserve an explanation.”
What will his legacy be?
“I am pretty positive drug cheats finished in front of me in two Olympic Games largely through ineffective or no national anti-doping systems. The Moroccan federation should have been banned in the past as their doping was federation-orchestrated. By using anti-doping data we can identify countries with ineffective anti-doping strategies and these need to be sanctioned – Turkey for example should be expelled from all sport,” shared Jonathan Brown, three-time Olympian.
Brown finished fourth in two successive Olympic marathons, by 11 seconds and 15 seconds at the 2000 Sydney and 2004 Athens Olympics. He also competed in the 1996 Atlanta Olympic 10,000-metre event finishing in 10th position, here is a list of athletes that finished in front of him in those games:
1996 Atlanta Olympic 10,000-metres
Haile Gebrselassie Ethiopia 27:07.34
Paul Tergat Kenya 27:08.17
Salah Hissou Morocco 27:24.67
Aloys Nizigama Burundi 27:33.79
Josphat Machuka Kenya 27:35.08
Paul Koech Kenya 27:35.19
Khalid Skah Morocco 27:46.98
Mathias Ntawulikura South Africa 27:50.73
Stephane Franke Germany 27:59.08
2000 Sydney Olympic Marathon
Gezahegne Abera Ethiopia 2:10:11
Erick Wainaina Kenya 2:10:31
Tesfaye Tola Ethiopia 2:11:10
2004 Athens Olympic Marathon
Stefano Baldini Italy 2:10:55
Meb Keflezighi United States 2:11:29
Vanderlei de Lima Brazil 2:12:11
There are four Kenyans who finished in front of him. Kenya has come under the microscope recently and is now being investigated. Since they have been exposed for using performance enhancing drugs by an ARD TV documentary, 18 athletes have been suspended. They have no out-of-competition testing facility or program in place and they have stalled for several years in dealing with their doping issues. The IAAF Independent Commission headed by World Anti-Doping Agency founder, Dick Pound is investigating them at this time.
Three Ethiopians have finished in front of him. While Brown ran for Great Britain and Canada – countries that have rigorous out-of-competition testing programs – Ethiopia does not. Two Moroccans finished in front of him as well.
Asked how things would be different if he had medalled in the Olympics Brown, in his typical understated way told Athletics Illustrated, “Certainly George (Gandy, his coach) and I would have a bit more satisfaction with the outcomes, not only at the Olympics but in many other races too – Europeans, World Cross Country Championships etc. For us it was always about the performance rather than the result, but ideally you want the result to fairly reflect the performance, but usually this didn’t happen.”
For others the difference could be much more dramatic. During the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games Vancouver’s Leah Pells finished fourth during the 1500-metre event. She finished behind at least two suspected drug cheats and possibly a third.
Romanian Gabriel Szabo, who finished second in that race was arrested then cleared for being in possession of drugs (in her car) in 2003; she was on her way to a high altitude training camp. Austrian Theresia Kiesl was implicated in a doping scandal. Drugs were confiscated from her home in 2007, although it was her husband and a friend who were handling them, according to Kiesl.
Russian Svetlana Masterkova was not implicated in doping, however, her husband Asiat Saitov, who was a Spanish cyclist, was. The team he cycled for Kelme, were busted for doping. Teammate Jesús Manzano has publicly discussed the doping regimen that the entire team was on.
If all the athletes in that final were clean, Pells likely would have medalled or would have won gold. She told Athletics Illustrated, “I had a hard time with that for a very long period. Even in 1996, we all knew. It breaks my heart thinking about it”
Canadian 1500-metre runner Hilary Stellingwerff, who competed in the 2012 London Olympic Games has been in the Canadian media spotlight recently. The CBC quoted her as suggesting that over the past decade she may have lost out on “hundreds of thousands dollars.”
She said, “There’s appearance money that comes with being top-10 in the world. A lot of times you’ll see five Russians on the start line in the 1,500m in a Diamond League race. They’re taking away spots that we could gain if they weren’t there. It’s unjust.”
“Then there’s prize money at these events that you could be winning,” she added. “And there’s contract money from your shoe [sponsor] that you could be getting if you were ranked higher in the world.”
During her Olympic semi-final competition, where she did not make the final and thus the opportunity to compete for a medal, there were confirmed drug cheats in the race. For example Turkey’s Aslı Çakır Alptekin was busted at least twice, once in 2004 and again in 2013 and had her results from 2010 and forward have been nullified. At that time 31 Turkish athletes were banned for doping infractions, primarily for anabolic steroids. Although teammate Gamze Bulut has not tested positive, she finished less than half a second behind Alptekin in the final. Two of doping’s most notorious drug cheats, Marion Jones and Lance Armstrong apparently never tested positive either.
Others who made that final were Russian Tatyana Tomasheva. In 2008 Tomasheva and several teammates received two-year bans for doping. Belarusian Natallia Kareiva received a two-year ban for manipulating the Athlete Biological Passport (ABP). Russian Ekaterina Kostetkaya had been disqualified from the 2011 IAAF World Track and Field Championships for testing positive for performance enhancing drugs (PEDS). That is five of the 12 finishers including three of the top four are drug cheats or suspected drug cheats.
Stellingwerff missed qualifying by 1/10th of a second. Her personal best is 4:05.08. The race was won in a pedestrian time of 4:10.23.
Irish runner Sonia O’Sullivan, who is a three-time Olympian said, “Looking back it makes you wonder about it all. Look at my final in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, Romanova dead at 43, Dorovskikh tested positive in 1993.”
Mysteriously Yelena Romanova at the age of 43 was found dead in her home in Volgograd. There is a large number of young, former Eastern European athletes that have died from “unknown causes”.
“I believe there are many questions that need answering from the Chinese in 1993 when they turned up out of nowhere and won the 1500m, swept the 3,000m and went one-two over 10,000m., then a few months later obliterated the world records and all-time lists.”
The fastest 3,000m time in recent history by Kenyan Helen Obiri is over 14 seconds slower than Wang Junxia’s world record – 14 seconds is a massive difference. Obiri’s performance – if she is clean – would be the world record aside from this bizarre list of six performances that make up the top-six all-time from two different track meets, run on the same track in the same year.
The top six times should be removed from history.
1 8:06.11 Wang Junxia CHN 09.01.73 1 Beijing 13.09.1993
2 8:12.18 Qu Yunxia CHN 25.12.72 2 Beijing 13.09.1993
3 8:12.19 Wang Junxia CHN 09.01.73 1h2 Beijing 12.09.1993
4 8:12.27 Qu Yunxia CHN 25.12.72 2h2 Beijing 12.09.1993
5 8:16.50 Zhang Linli CHN 06.03.73 3 Beijing 13.09.1993
6 8:19.78 Ma Liyan CHN 03.11.68 3h2 Beijing 12.09.1993
7 8:20.68 Helen Obiri KEN 13.12.89 1 Ad-Dawhah 09.05.2014
“The thing that bothered me the most about all of this was in 2012, I was invited to Barcelona for a massive IAAF 100th year celebration with the inductions to the inaugural IAAF Hall of Fame awards. It was hard to accept as Wang Junxia was being inducted as an athletics hero in that first year.
I do not believe that there were too many people in that room that truly believed that the 3,000m and 10,000m word records were achieved on turtle blood alone. And if the general public questions the performances of an athlete; how can such an athlete be voted in by a group of people who supposedly know about athletics as a sport and understand what is real and what is not? How can they put someone up there in the hall of fame as a role model for young kids to look up to? I really had to question this decision and acceptance by the panel of experts,” shared O’Sullivan.
O’Sullivan has been defeated in global competitions by athletes that have either doped or have been implicated as a doper. For example during the 5,000m final at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, O’Sullivan won silver in 14:41.02. Guess who won gold? Romanian Gabriela Szabo in 14:40.79.
During the 3,000m event at the 1998 IAAF Golden League final, Russian Mariya Konovalova finished in third place in the time of 8:47.77, while O’Sullivan finished fifth. Konovalova was given a two-year ban for irregularities with her Athlete Biological Passport.
During the 1997 IAAF World Track and Field Championships 1500m final, O’Sullivan was beaten by Regina Jacobs, who in 2003 retired after she tested positive for BALCO’s ‘designer’ steroid THG and was suspended from competing in track and field for four years by the United States Anti-Doping Agency.
During the 1993 IAAF World Track and Field Championships O’Sullivan finished fourth in the 3,000m finals. The only athletes to beat her were mysterious, one-off Chinese athletes:
1 Yunxia Qu CHN 8:28.71 CR
2 Linli Zhang CHN 8:29.25
3 Lirong Zhang CHN 8:31.95
4 Sonia O’Sullivan IRL 8:33.38
Number two, Linli Zhang is one of the six Chinese athletes implicated earlier in the article with Wang Junxia. It appears that O’Sullivan has been robbed of a gold medal.
Being robbed of a medal in a finals of a global championships is bad enough. For every finalist that has had glory stolen from them, there are many more that did not make the final at all and yet more still that suffer because the IAAF set standards to qualify for events based on world records and progression of performances from recent global championships. Worse yet, some national bodies make qualification more difficult for example Ireland, Australia and Canada have set their own, tougher standards based on false performances.
Athletics Canada based qualification standards at a level that, should an athlete meet them, they would be in-theory positioned to finish top-12 in the world. If the majority of winning athletes are doped, then the standards are set unrealistically high.
Canada’s Malindi Elmore tried in vein for a decade to make the Canadian Olympic and IAAF World Championships teams, to no avail. The standards she was chasing were unrealistic.
“This is a very complex and embedded question but I would say the whole institution of the drug cheating and the A+ standards (which were based on the top-12 positioning) negatively affected my career,” Shared Elmore. “I know this sounds harsh – and I hate to be negative, but it really sucked out all of the enjoyment of the sport for me and led to me to some darker places in my world.
I pretty much missed every team between 2008 and 2012 by less than a second – and on standards that changed every year, despite having run IAAF standards in the qualifying windows multiple times. We were required to run these inflated standards that were based on convoluted performances that were significantly impacted by doped athletes. In 2008, I was the fastest person in the world not to be selected to the Olympics in the 1500m and two weeks prior to the Games a massive number (~8?) of the women were disqualified for doping infractions.”
“When the eight were caught, it was remarkably quiet – no one seemed to care at the time that eight women in a single event were eliminated; thus turning the event into straight semi-final. I felt like Athletics Canada turned a total blind eye and despite the fact that four women in the 800m and 1500m in Canada had run A+ standards and IAAF standards in the Olympic qualifying windows, we were still not selected.”
“When we tried to point out the fact that the A+ (and IAAF standards) were largely impacted by these cheating women from the preceding years, we were not supported.”
“This basically resulted in my loss of sponsorship, carding, and most importantly, my self-confidence that I belonged on the world scene.
It is our lives, our dreams, our sacrifices and our sense of being; it is so much more than just money and medals.”
Elmore’s scenario is a clear and cut case of an athlete that had her career stolen from under her. The IAAF ignored or turned a blind eye to doping, which was obvious to the fans, athletes, coaches, agents and doctors. How motivated will the next Malindi Elmore be by this acceptance of doping? What is the alternative? To dope?
O’Sullivan shared, “There is such a spattered history of obvious cheating throughout athletics. Now when you look back when things were blatantly obvious and ask the hard questions, why were those questions never asked then and why were the answers not given until now?”
See message board threads on the subject, here.
More WADA & Doping articles, here.