A race against dope

As Usain Bolt got ready for the World Championships in Moscow, he spoke about uncorking “something special” at the event, revealing that he could break the 19s barrier in the 200m, writes Stan Rayan.

The other day, Usain Bolt came up with a simple three-word tweet about his Mission Moscow. “In full speed,” the Jamaican said.

And as the planet’s fastest human got ready for the World Championships in the Russian capital, he spoke about uncorking “something special” at the event, revealing that he could break the 19s barrier in the 200m.

Is he for real?

With the sudden spurt of dope cases in athletics, that could be the first question popping up in one’s mind.

In a perfect world, free of dope and injury, the 100m in Moscow would have lined up the five fastest men in history. Apart from World record-holder Bolt (personal best 9.58s), there would have been Tyson Gay and Yohan Blake (both 9.69), Asafa Powell (9.72) and Nesta Carter (9.78).

Unfortunately, that will not be the case.

Three of them will be missing — American Gay and Jamaican Powell after failing dope tests and Jamaica’s defending World champion Blake with a hamstring injury.

And in their absence, with American Justin Gatlin, who completed a four-year doping ban in 2010, one of the lead runners to challenge Bolt, the race to crown the World’s fastest man will amply reflect the troubled times the sport is living in.

To further raise eyebrows is the stunning rise of James Dasaolu, who came up with his fourth personal best time this year, lowering it from 10.03 to 9.91 — he is now the second fastest Brit ever, behind former Olympic and World champion Linford Christie’s 9.87 in 1993 — to emerge as a serious contender for a place on the podium.

RISE IN DOPE CASES

On the road to Moscow, reports came in that as many as 30 Turkish athletes had failed dope tests recently. Soon after, nine of them were banned and the Chairman of the Turkish Athletics Federation put in his papers.

Turkey’s Asli Cakir Alptekin, the women’s 1500m champion at last year’s London Olympics, was also provisionally suspended from competitions in May after abnormalities were found in her blood passport.

That apart, among those caught doping recently were two-time Olympic 200m champion Veronica Campbell-Brown, Jamaica’s most decorated female athlete, and Olympic relay gold medallist Sherone Simpson.

Naturally, Bolt is not happy with the uneasy situation.

“Talking is your business. Running is my business,” tweeted the Jamaican around the time when the talk of the dope-tainted stars was at its hottest. “Don’t worry bcuz I’m handling my business. At the end of the day, winning is my business.”

Clearly it is the Bolt Effect, the mid-race celebrations and the customary bow-and-arrow pose after victories, which is propping up athletics these days. The sport rides on Bolt’s success and the running sensation’s clean image.

THE SPORT’S SURVIVAL

So, will athletics emerge from doping’s dark shadow at the Worlds?

It surely will.

Didn’t we see the sport survive the Ben Johnson doping bomb at the 1988 Seoul Olympics when the Canadian was stripped of his 100m title after winning the gold in a world record time?

And did not athletics live through the positive test which came from 1992 Barcelona Olympics champion Linford Christie in 1999, and from the 2004 Olympic champion Justin Gatlin and former World record holder Tim Montgomery? — all guys who were hailed as the world’s fastest men at one time and then brought down to shame years later.

And didn’t athletics buffs sob through American speed beauty Marion Jones’ confession in 2007 that she had taken drugs in 1999? The confession resulted in Jones being stripped of her three gold medals from the 2000 Olympics and sentenced to six months in prison.

In fact, with every big fish the anti-doping crusaders catch, the sport will emerge cleaner and stronger. That is the stage every spectator and clean athlete cheer and long for.

RECORDS IN A SLUMBER

World records show up rarely these days and that means athletes are more cautious of trying illegal things, that things are a lot better than those hazy days. Czech star Jarmila Kratochvilova’s world record in the women’s 800m (1:53.28s) celebrated its 30th anniversary a few days ago. And East Germany’s Marita Koch’s women’s 400m mark, set in 1985, is still intact. So are the 100 and 200m World marks set by ‘the fastest woman of all time’ Florence Griffith-Joyner at the same Seoul Olympics where Ben Johnson brought shame to the sport.

Were they the ones who got away? We will never know but it’s a comforting feeling to know that beating these marks are a lot tougher now than what it was for the doping laws have been made tighter.

And though a few top stars like Kenyan 800m World record holder and Olympic champion David Rudisha, World 100m champion Yohan Blake and Britain’s Olympic champion heptathlete Jessica Ennis are absent through injury, the Moscow Worlds will have plenty to offer.

Britain’s long distance runner Mo Farah, the double Olympic gold medallist who will be attacking the 5000m and 10,000m again, the dazzling young Grenadian sprinter Kirani James in the 400m, American Jennifer Suhr, a grocer’s daughter who took Yelena Isinbayeva’s place as the world’s best women’s pole vaulter last year and won the Olympic gold, will be some of the stars to watch.

Moscow will also see the double Olympic champion Isinbayeva take her final bow — the Russian will retire after her home Worlds.

The duel between Ukraine’s Bohdan Bondarenko, whose 2.41m recently in Lausanne was best men’s high jump in the world since 1994, and Qatar’s Mutaz Essa Barshim (2.40m) should also be an interesting one to follow.

And of course, we will have Bolt.