`I am not surprised that there were 100 positive tests'

GARY HONEY, Commonwealth Games gold medallist in the long jump in 1982 and 1986, is best known for winning silver behind Carl Lewis in the long jump at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

GARY HONEY, Commonwealth Games gold medallist in the long jump in 1982 and 1986, is best known for winning silver behind Carl Lewis in the long jump at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. With the recent revelations about positive drug tests in America, ROHIT BRIJNATH spoke to Honey about the use of drugs in track and field. Excerpts.

For Marion Jones to go to Charlie Francis (Ben Johnson's former technical coach) shows some desperation. — Pic. AP-

Question: Were you surprised that over a 100 positive tests were kept under wraps by the United States Olympic Committee?

Answer: Yes, I'm surprised the USOC covered it up, athletes around the world would be disappointed. But I'm not surprised that there were 100 positive tests.

You're not surprised by a 100 tests?

No, I thought it would be more. I think it (drug use) exists more now than ever, and if a body so big covers up tests you would then ask, what other countries are doing it. Then drug testing is a farce. Logically there's no great incentive for the international athletics organisation to catch people, for then performances will decrease, and people will not perform as well as the drug days.

Was the fact that Lewis's name was there surprise you?

Look, I think about the Lewis situation what I can't ascertain is that when they're talking about three positive tests, it could only be one occasion, and the same test/sample in three bottles. If on one occasion he tested for small amounts of psuedoephedrine then many athletes have done the same; it's found in cough medicine, and a small amount of pseudoephedrine would not help him. So I'm not too worried about Lewis. In fact, I'm disappointed that journalists are focussing on Lewis and not the USOC.

Say if they were from three different tests?

Then I'd be more concerned, but to be honest I don't think small amounts of pseduoephedrine helps too much. I don't think he'll risk his career and reputation on small amounts of pseudoephedrine.

You jumped with Lewis, tell us what he was like?

He's the greatest athlete who ever lived, no doubt, he had nine Olympic golds over four Olympics. Carl's a gentleman, but having lived in a bit of a cocoon it's not surprising he reacted the way he did, crashing the car the way he did.

Does it in any sense devalue his medal or make you a little irritated about your silver?

No, look Carl was better than me, would have beaten me whatever, I'm comfortable with that. But you take someone like Raelene Boyle (silver in the 100m and 200m at the 1972 Olympics), and Renate Stecher (the East German runner who beat Boyle in both races) we know took steroids, so if anyone deserves retrospective gold she (Boyle) deserves it.

Was drug use rampant in your time?

Yes, at the 1988 Olympics I'd say conservatively that 50 per cent of medallists would have taken something in the past 12 months. The blockers they were using (to hide traces of drugs) were always a step ahead of testers. Go check the 1983 world championships and see many people got caught, how many drug tests were clouded with penicillin... that was the blocker (then).

But who pushed it? With due respect, athletes are not always the smartest people, so was it the coaches...

It wasn't like the Eastern Bloc where it was a serial offence... (perhaps) coaches of training groups decided that's the way to go, to be competitive, and it's not that hard to get the actual drugs. The difficult part is to administer them correctly. You probably need a doctor or a chemist... having said that Charlie Francis (Ben Johnson's technical coach) was pretty open about talking about it, a lot of people got advice from him... there's a little trial and error. Organised groups may have had their own doctor.

Have you seen anything happen, of an athlete using drugs?

In, about the 1980s I think, I was competing in Brussels, a Cuban athlete (long) jumped 7.65, and then on his last jump he made 8.10. I thought it was strange, maybe he had run-up problems, but when I went to pick up my bag there was syringe near the bag. He must have done something.

What could have such a quick effect? Speed. Can it be injected?

I think so, or maybe pseudoephedrine if he put enough in. If you're tired and flat it will improve your performance. Look at how many athletes had asthma (in my time) and how many athletes used ventulin. It gives you a lift.

Was drugs ever offered to you by a coach or training partner or someone?

Of course. Can you give me an example?

Several people in Australia were offering it fairly openly. An East German told my coach that if I was East German I would have won Olympic gold... but I probably would not have been alive to talk about it. Steroids were the big thing (then), now it's more EPO and Human Growth Hormone.

Why did you say no?

I basically wanted to have a family and normal life afterwards. Winning gold wasn't the be all and end all... and we were probably less educated (about drugs) in Australia. It may have changed now.

What were/are the signs that someone was using drugs, was it consistent performance, sudden improvement ... ..

You see athletes one year and 12 months later they're a different person. What I struggle with now is how athletes compete at a phenomenal level all year round; I was lucky to have two peaks in a year. You've got to train some time. Twelve months of performance could mean you're taking a substance that allows you to train hard and not get tired.

In a recent interview, you suggested a collusion of sorts between some tournament promoters and athletes, where you said promoters would tell athletes the long jump is not going to get tested tonight.

As a promoter what you want are great performances so they're on the athletes' side. (In those days) they had to give notice for tests. So East Germans would ring up promoters and ask, "Will your meet be tested?" The testing was also not as proficient, and they'd say there's no testing at the meet, so they would go to that meet. At the Olympics and world championships there would be tests, but at European meets it was not as prolific.

Are there performances that make you uncomfortable even today?

I'm uncomfortable when someone pulls a performance out so far above their previous best. In the long jump (these days) the standard is the same (as before), less in many cases, same in the 200, 400... . But when you get to the 5K, the 10K, the steeplechase, times are coming down dramatically. Is there some new breakthrough in training... I don't think so.

But logically wouldn't times in longer distances come down more than in shorter distances?

Look Dave Moorcroft, a great 5K runner wouldn't even be competitive these days ... so there has to be a question mark over some of the times. The other point is that there are too many drugs on the banned list... you have aspirin which is absurd. Small amounts of pseudoephedrine is only to be found in cold tablets and people testing positive for that is ridiculous. You take some of them off (the list), it will only make it easier.

Does Marion Jones having a meeting with Charlie Francis send out all sorts of wrong signals?

She must have been desperate or poorly advised to go to Charlie... I don't think his technique (Francis was known as a technical coach) is that much better, Tom Tellez (Lewis' former coach) would be as good. To go to Francis shows some desperation, surely she wouldn't think the world wouldn't ask questions. Either she's very naive and so is her management or she's desperate.

So does the pure athlete not exist anymore?

No, I think they do. Ian Thorpe's a freak of nature, a phenomenal athlete. I wouldn't say track and field is more competitive but there are more nations and it's much more difficult to be dominant. I'm just suspicious when someone puts in a performance and never gets there again.