Drugs in Sport- Is Track Screwed and how to clean it up – Science of Running

Interview with Tony Holler – Science of Running


Today was drug Sunday.  If you haven’t been living under a rock, the first big name to fall was American record holder Tyson Gay.  The man who was supposed to challenge Bolt tested positive for an unknown substance.  Following that up, 5 Jamaican athletes including former WR holder Asafa Powell will miss the world championships because of their positive tests.  Powell’s was for a stimulant apparently.

It’s too early to speculate on how long people will be banned for and to what degree certain stimulants will help.  What I want to do is look at what do we do from here.

Tour de France part 2?

This is a quick list of the top performers in the 100m all time.  I have crossed out any who have tested positive for any substance (including stimulants).  I also crossed off Mo Greene, due to the fact that he admitted paying $10k to a known steroid dealer, he just said it was for a friend and he didn’t know what it was……sounds logical….

So here’s your all time top 5 runners in the 100m:

1       9.58       +0.9   
Usain Bolt                        
JAM     21.08.86    1     
Berlin                16.08.2009
        9.69       +2.0   
Tyson Gay                         
USA     09.08.82    1     
        9.69       -0.1   
Yohan Blake                       
JAM     26.12.89    1     
         9.72       +0.2   
Asafa Powell                      
JAM     23.11.82    1rA   
9.78       +0.9    Nesta Carter                       JAM     10.11.85    1     
        9.78       +2.0   
Tim Montgomery                    
USA     28.01.75           Paris                        14.09.2002
         9.79       +0.1   
Maurice Greene                    
USA     23.07.74    1r3   
          9.79       +1.5   
Justin Gatlin                     
USA     10.02.82    3     
          9.79       +1.1   
Ben Johnson                       
CAN     30.12.61           Seoul                        24.09.1988
        9.80       +1.3   
Steve Mullings                    
JAM     29.11.82    1     
2          9.84       +0.7   
Donovan Bailey                    
CAN     16.12.67    1     
3          9.84       +0.2   
Bruny Surin                       
CAN     12.07.67    2     
4          9.85       +1.2   
Leroy Burrell                     
USA     21.02.67    1r3   
9.85       +1.7    Adekotunbo Olusoji Fasuba          NGR     09.07.84    1     
         9.85       +1.3   
Mike Rodgers                      
USA     24.04.85    2     
5          9.85       +1.0   
Richard Thompson                  
TRI     07.06.85    1     
Port of Spain               

That doesn’t look too promising to say the least.  In fact, it is down right scary. But as I said, the problem is there.  Everyone is aware of it.  At least we are catching cheaters and having athletes test positive.  And we aren’t like the major sports who just kind of turn a blind eye to it, have testing designed to comfort the fans and just go about their juiced lives.  I always get a kick out of fans of the NFL for instance, making fun of track’s drug problem, but the point is how do you clean it up?

Clean Sport- Can we get there?

Attacking the Entourage
The current model of drug prevention is a bottom up model.  We attack the athletes, trying to drug test them and catch the cheaters, and if they test positive then we throw them out.  It’s all about catching the athlete and punishing them, which of course it is the athlete who makes the choice and is responsible for what goes into their body.

The problem is that very seldom do athletes act independently.  If nothing else, the history of BALCO, the latest baseball scandal, Armstrong deal, Festina, etc. that a team of people are usually aware of the doping.  Yes, sometimes we get the lone wolf like Christian Hesch, but you’re already going after those with testing.  What we need to do is attack the entourage.

Currently, if a coach or agent or physiotherapist has an athlete who tests positive, very little happens to them.  The athlete gets screwed, while the coach distances himself from that athlete. What needs to happen is the following:

1. Declaration – Make athletes declare the coaches, physios, massage therapist, doctors, etc.

This helps in two ways.  First, if they end up testing positive, you have leads to follow.  Secondly, it red flags anyone working with someone who has a prior “drug association” and can lead to increased testing.  Or put some rule that if you work with a known offender, you have increased where about responsibilities and standards.

2. Coaching Bans- Ban coaches.  3 strikes and your out program.  Have 3 athletes test positive and your banned from the sport for life.  Have 2 test positive and take away USATF privileges, credentials, etc.

3. Funding Loss-Coaches
If you look at USATF and see what groups they have given $20-25,000 training center grants to, it’s appalling. (
http://www.usatf.org/News/News-and-Notes,-Volume-13,-Number-13.aspx#grants).  Let me give you a hint.  On that list is one coach who has had 3 athletes test positive (Larry Wade, Torri Edwards, Mickey Grimes) and one (Mo Greene) who as mentioned paid a known steroid dealer $10,000… HOW IS USATF FUNDING HIS GROUP!?!  Secondly, on that list is a guy who helped coach Tyson Gay…

Look at Mike Young’s (more on him shortly) tweets today:

Take the funding away.  No group or coach should get any sort of national funding if they have had an athlete test positive while they were coaching them.  If you have 1 athlete, ineligible for a year to receive any funding or grants.  If you have had 2 or more, ban for life from getting funding.

4. Funding Loss- Athletes
Discourage athletes from going to coaches with a trend of steroid use.  Have athletes who train in a group that includes a coach who has had 2-3+ athletes test positive or a known steroid association be ineligible for any usatf grant, support program, or anything.

5. Agent Bans
Agents are often more disconnected than the coach, so it’d be unfair to have a one and done rule, but I think it’s reasonable to say if you have 3 athletes test positive, you are barred from conducting business for X years.  Maybe it will discourage agents from signing the questionable athletes in the questionable camps.

 You should never be allowed to hold a position at USATF if you had any sort of ban.  I’m not sure of the staff now, but I definitely know a few years ago there was at least one person who had been banned who worked for usatf (they’ve since left).  It starts at the top.  Stop condoning it.

Sponsors support
Mike Young had some interesting tweets today.  For those of you who don’t know Mike Young has a PhD in exercise science from LSU and has done work with USATF for their sports science programs and coaches education as well as helping the Vancouver MLS team in their strength and conditioning.  He’s a smart guy who knows track at every level.

I don’t know if this occurs or not, but I’ll take Mike’s word.  But even if a sponsor doesn’t push an athlete towards a group, tell your athletes that if they go to a coach who has had X amounts of positive or more, your contract is cut in half, not offered, or terminated.  Look, they tell athletes they have to go to certain groups all the time for performance reasons.  Well, do it for drug reasons.  Stop giving drug coaches top athletes to manipulate.

Sponsors have all sorts of crazy reductions and stipulations in their contract, and yes most have one that if you test positive, which is good.  But, the drug connections can easily be fixed if sponsors laid down the law when it came to working with athletes, coaches, doctors who have drug ties.

False Start Rule- one and done
For major offenses, make it a one and done.  Make the penalty incredibly harsh so that there is at least some discouragement.  And ban them from the sport.  That means no coming back and coaching, being an agent, , working for usatf, getting credentials, etc.  You screwed the sport, then you can’t come back in.

The only way you get out of this one and done rule, spill the beans on everyone who assisted you, show some remorse, and have it reduced to 4yrs or an ability to reenter the sport as a coach if enough information and service towards anti-drug support is done.

Strip the Record- The ENTIRE record:
Get rid of everything the athlete has ever done.  Take away all medals and places, no matter how long ago.  It’s too much of a joke to have an athlete test positive at a meet a few years later, yet still keep their Olympic title because we couldn’t catch them at the games.

Tracers on Drugs–  This has happened before, and granted it is a costly option, but maybe there is a possibility of partnering with the FDA and give perks for companies that put a tracer on drugs likely to enhance performance.  Give them a small incentive too and then let USADA know the tracer and you have the problem solved.  Easily tested and detectable.

Clean athletes, coaches, managers, meet directors- stand up for yourself.  Don’t enable it to happen.  If you have suspicions fight it.  Don’t be an enabler.  If you are a meet director, bar them from entry.  If you are an athlete, report suspicious stuff.  Make them explain it.  Realize that all you clean athletes doing things the right way are getting screwed by drug users.  Yes, they take away sponsorship and prize money, but when they test positive they damage the sport, making people less likely to believe that YOU are clean.  Make sponsors less likely to pour money into track and field anymore.  They kill the sport.

The bottom line is this.  It’s our sport and it’s going to continue to fade to obscurity or become so tainted like cycling, that it’s a laughingstock.  I don’t want to have to tell my athletes that they can never make it on the pro level because everyone’s juiced.  I don’t want to have to tell a junior high kid who comes to our track camp that all the guys he watched at the Olympics are cheats.  The approach needs to be changed.  Drug users are always a step ahead of the testers.  We need to discourage use by athletes, but also add penalties for the entourage.  Maybe USATF needs to impart fines or prize money fines based on drug use.  I’m not sure what the answer is.  But something needs to be done.

Maybe there needs to be a doping roundtable.  Maybe these positives will cause a change.  Maybe their will be a groundswell of clean athletes deciding they won’t take it.  I’m not sure exactly what needs to be done but something does.  Clean athletes, revolt…Change the system.


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