Not a clean run

Mary Decker-Slaney (in pic) of the United States leads the pack while the bare-footed Zola Budd, a South African who competed for Great Britain, is hot on her heels during an IAAF Grand Prix Final in Rome in 1985. The two middle-distance runners, who competed fiercely, were big crowd-pullers.-GETTY IMAGES Mary Decker-Slaney (in pic) of the United States leads the pack while the bare-footed Zola Budd, a South African who competed for Great Britain, is hot on her heels during an IAAF Grand Prix Final in Rome in 1985. The two middle-distance runners, who competed fiercely, were big crowd-pullers.

The recent allegations of doping, put out by the German broadcaster, ARD, and published by London’s Sunday Times , has taken the athletics world by storm. The sport wears a grim, worried look these days. By Stan Rayan.

When the athletes line up for the start of the men’s 20 km walk at the IAAF World Championships in Beijing early on August 23, there will not be a single Russian in the fray.

Russia has produced the world’s best race walkers. At the last World Championships in Moscow two years ago, Russians won the men’s and women’s 20 km gold and also the women’s silver. However, things will be very different in Beijing. Russia has pulled out its athletes from both the men’s and women’s 20 km walk at the Worlds after more than 25 of its race walkers, including four Olympic champions, were punished for doping in recent years.

Twenty of these athletes were trained by Viktor Chegin, the head coach, who is under investigation by the world body, IAAF, and Russia’s anti-doping agency. And after a series of positive dope tests, the president of the Russian athletics federation and Chegin resigned a few months ago.

The IAAF may be trying to brush away the recent allegations of doping, put out by the German broadcaster, ARD, and published by London’s Sunday Times, as false, sensationalist and misinformed journalism, but it is a fact that athletics wears a grim, worried look these days.

Short of stars

For a sport that is sorely short of marketable stars — athletics is now desperately clinging on to Jamaican Usain Bolt, the world’s fastest man ever, for attention — and which does not have the sort of intense rivalries that middle-distance runners Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett, or Mary Decker-Slaney and Zola Budd, or even decathletes Daley Thomson and Jurgen Hingsen offered years ago and pulled in huge crowds. This is a big setback.

And the World Championships are just round the corner.

The shocking revelations in ARD’s recent television documentary, Doping — Top Secret: The Shadowy World of Athletics, was based on a leaked database belonging to the IAAF which contained more than 12,000 blood tests from around 5,000 athletes taken between 2001 and 2012.

Two Australian anti-doping scientists commissioned by ARD and Sunday Times, Robin Parisotto and Michael Ashenden, who analysed these tests, said they indicated that more than 800 athletes, including 415 from Russia and 77 from Kenya, had given blood samples that were “highly suggestive of doping or at the very least abnormal”.

“For the IAAF to have harvested millions of dollars from the broadcasting of athletics events around the world … yet only devote a relative pittance of those funds towards anti-doping, when they could see the terrible truth of what lay beneath the surface, is … a shameful betrayal of their primary duty to police their sport and to protect clean athletes,” Ashenden had told the newspaper.

Parisotto said he had never seen such an alarmingly abnormal set of blood values.

“So many athletes appear to have doped with impunity, and it is damning that the IAAF appears to have idly sat by and let this happen,” he had told the English newspaper.

Meanwhile, the IAAF has vehemently countered the claims saying that they contain a number of seriously incorrect assertions.

“Of most concern to us is that the two scientists continue to defend their statements that the IAAF did nothing to act on “suspicious profiles”, and that the scientists also continue to believe that they were in a position to make this analysis based on their background and involvement in a number of Athlete Biological Passport (ABP) cases related to athletics.”

No knowledge of IAAF action

Their statement does not address the fact that they had no knowledge whatsoever of the actions taken by the IAAF in following these suspicious profiles, said the world athletics body.

“They both admit that they had not directly checked or were not aware of which specific athletes had actually been caught and sanctioned by the IAAF, either through an ABP case or positive EPO tests. How can you publicly state that no action was taken by the IAAF when you have not even done a rudimentary first check to see if anyone has been sanctioned?

“They also conveniently ignore the fact that more than 60 athletes have been sanctioned on the basis of abnormal blood values collected after 2009, and these athletes accrued 140 notable international medals, three world records, six World Marathon Majors wins, 13 other big city marathon wins before they were exposed by the IAAF as cheats,” said the IAAF.

Meanwhile, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) said that some of the tests in the database, that were put out recently, come from the period before the introduction of the biological passport programme that was introduced in 2009 to monitor an athlete’s blood profile over time for evidence of doping.

“This data could not possibly be considered doping, legally or otherwise,” said David Howman, the WADA director general.

But despite these, it is clear that doping is rampant in the sport.

The Kenyan shocker

While Russia has been under a doping cloud for decades, Kenya had for long been considered as a land of natural distance runners. But this notion has now taken a huge beating.

Thirty-six Kenyan athletes failed dope tests in the past two years with Rita Jeptoo — a three-time winner of the Boston Marathon and twice winner of the Chicago Marathon — the biggest star to fall into the net.

Now every time a world record comes up, athletics buffs will be quick to ask: Was that a clean run?