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It was announced a few days ago that the American sprinter Justin Gatlin is on the shortlist for the IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations) “Athlete of the Year” award for 2014. This is largely due to his having set the fastest times over both 100m and 200m this year; faster than Usain Bolt, faster than Yohan Blake, faster than anyone. In fact, he has set 6 of the 7 fastest times over 100m in 2014! Also, he has run faster over both 100m and 200m than anyone one else in their 30s (he is 32). Ever. But, should Gatlin be considered by the IAAF for such a prestigious award? Should he be even allowed to compete at all?



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For those of you not familiar with Gatlin’s athletics career, he has twice been banned for failing drugs tests. In 2001 he failed a doping test, testing positive for amphetamines. He was given a 2 year ban by the IAAF, but Gatlin appealed saying that his positive test was due to medication that he had been taking since he was a child. Upon appeal, Gatlin’s ban was reduced by the IAAF to 1 year. It was made clear by the IAAF to Gatlin that, despite his ban being reduced to 1 year, that it would stay on his record and a second positive test would result in a life-time ban. In 2004 he won the Greece Olympics 100m, and in 2005 he won both the 100m and 200m at the World Athletics Championships.

In July 2006 he was found guilty of doping for a second time, from a sample taken after a relay event in late April. After the usual denial of guilt that 99.9% of athletes give, in August 2006 Gatlin avoided a life-time ban (which should have been his punishment for a second offence) by agreeing to cooperate with the doping authorities, and also because of the “exceptional circumstances” of his first positive doping offence in 2001.

Then, Gatlin appealed this 8-year ban which he had negotiated at a Court of Arbitration in the US, who reduced the ban to a 4-year ban. Gatlin then appealed this ban to the World Court of Arbitration in Sport in Lausanne, asking for it to be halved again to 2 years, but in December 2006 the Lausanne Court upheld the 4-year ban the US Court had given.

So, by 2010 he was back competing, and since then his results have steadily improved after a 4-year absence. In 2011 in the World Athletics Championships he was eliminated in the semi-finals of the 100m. In the 2012 London Olympics he won Bronze in the 100m, and in the 2013 World Athletics Championships he won Silver. This year, he has beaten all before him and has not lost a single race at either 100m or 200m.

Many feel, given his having been banned twice for drug doping, that the IAAF should not be including him in any shortlist of Athlete of the Year. Sebastian Coe, the current vice-president of the IAAF, and hotly tipped to become President next year, has voiced his concerns, and he is not alone.



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Personally I feel that Gatlin’s second doping offence should have resulted in a life-time ban, or at least the 8-year ban that he negotiated with the IAAF (which, at his age, would have essentially been a life-time ban). Even if he is allowed to compete, I feel he should be banned from taking part in major championships, and certainly should not be considered for any awards like Athlete of the Year. Athletics (“Track and Field” as Americans call it) have a big problem with doping, particularly in the sprint events. As I have blogged about before, a disturbingly high fraction of the top sprinters have been found guilty of doping over the last 30 years. It is not a problem that is going to go away when cheating athletes are given a third chance.

If you take a look at the list of the 8 finalists from the 100m in the most recent Olympic games, the 2012 London Games, the number who have served doping bans is pretty shocking.



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Of the 8 finalist, 4 (four!) of them have tested positive for doping. As I’ve commented before, athletics, particularly the men’s 100m, is teetering on the brink of losing all credibility as a clean sport. Shortlisting Justin Gatlin for an Athlete of the Year award does nothing to enhance its already tainted credibility.

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The highlight for me of the 1980 Moscow Olympics was the show-down between Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett in the middle distance events. Coe and Ovett were the best middle distance runners of the time. Going into the 1980 Olympics, Coe held the World record at 800m, with a time of 1m42.33s, and Ovett and Coe jointly held the 1500m World record with equal times of 3m32.03s.

Prior to the Moscow Olympics, Coe and Ovett had avoided racing each other for over 2 years. Each had been setting World records, but always in separate races. Their show-down at Moscow was the most eagerly anticipated athletics event for many years.

The 800m race was first. Coe was the World record holder so, naturally, was expected to win. But in a dramatic turn of events, Ovett beat him into second place, running a far superior race tactically. Coe was devastated to lose the event for which he held the World record.


Steve Ovett beating Sebastian Coe in the 1500m at the 1980 Moscow Olympics.


Here is a video of the 800m final.



A few days after the 800m was the final of the 1500m. Steve Ovett was undefeated at this distance for over 3 years. Having beaten Coe in the 800m, Ovett was the hot favourite to add the 1500m title. Remarkably, Coe managed to pick himself up from the devastation of losing the 800m and beat Ovett.


Sebastian Coe beating Steve Ovett in the 1500m at the 1980 Moscow Olympics.


Here is a video of that remarkable race.



The American boycott and Alan Wells

The American Government decided that the USA would not compete at the Moscow Olympics, in protest at the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979. The United States led an international boycott, in which 65 countries took part, including West Germany, Japan, China and Canada. As a consequence, many of the events had the best competitors absent.

Nowhere was this more true than the men’s 100 metres. Apart from 1960, 1972 and 1976, the USA had won the men’s 100m in every Olympics since 1932. The 1980 Olympics men’s 100m was won by Scotsman Alan Wells, in a time of 10.25s (this compared to the World record of the time of 9.95s). It was the slowest time to win the men’s 100m since the Melbourne Olympics of 1956. The 2nd placed runner, Silvio Leonard of Cuba, was awarded the same time, it was the closest 100m finish in Olympic history.

Here is a video of Alan Wells winning that 100m.



What is your highlight of the 1980 Olympics?

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