Posts Tagged ‘Usain Bolt’

It was the nightmare scenario – a twice banned drugs cheat beats the most popular athlete in the World. But, thankfully and remarkably, after an indifferent season blighted by injury, Usain Bolt beat Justin Gatlin and saved his sport. Bolt had a terrible semi-final, stumbling as he came out of the blocks and with some 20m to go he was about 5m down on the leaders. Only a runner of his ability could have qualified, and he did by winning. But, his time was poor and Gatlin set the fastest time in winning his semi-final. It did not look good for Bolt going into the final.

Apart from being supremely talented, Bolt is an athlete who can not only handle the presure, but seems to run better the greater the expectation. He got a fantastic start and was neck and neck with Gatlin with 20m to go. This was the first time Gatlin had been put under pressure in the last two years, and he crumbled. He started dipping for the line with about 10m to go, and in doing so lost his form, stopped driving and lost the race. The world of athletics breathed a collective sign of relief; a twice banned drugs cheat thankfully had not won the most prestigious race in the sport.

With the recent scandal over the revelations that some one third of all medal winners in the last 10 years have been found to have anomalies in their blood samples, athletics is in danger of descending into the same kind of doping nightmare which engulfed professional cycling. Last week Sebastian Coe was made the new IAAF President, and I only hope that he will head up a major effort to clean up the sport. He can start by making sure that someone, like Gatlin, who is found guilty twice of doping, is not allowed to return to the sport after the second suspension – that second suspension should be a lifetime ban from the sport. As I have said before, Gatlin should not be allowed to compete, he should be banned from the sport; no ifs and no buts.

There were some other remarkable performances over the weekend, with Mo Farrah winning the 10,000m in style after a team effort from the Kenyans tried to break him by setting a fast pace from the start of the race; and Jessica Ennis-Hill winning the heptathlon, just a year or so after giving birth to her first child. But, it was Bolt’s remarkable victory over Gatlin which was the highlight of the weekend for me.

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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?


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.


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.


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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This morning, the news from the Athletics (Track & Field) World Championships in Moscow is all about Usain Bolt regaining his 100m World Title (he was disqualified for a false start two years ago in Daegu after winning and setting a World record in Berlin in 2009). The British newspapers are also waxing lyrically of Mo Farrah’s impressive win in the 10,000m on Saturday evening, beating Ethiopia’s Ibrahim Jeilan, the man who beat him two years ago into second place.

There is, sadly, almost no mention of what to me was the most impressive performance of the weekend, that of Tirunesh Dibaba. She won the women’s 10,000m in majestic style. There is nothing about her victory in the Disnunited Kingdom’s The Times, The Telegraph or The Guardian (the three quality British newspapers), The New York Times mentions her in passing in its summary of the weekend’s action, and France’s Le Monde also fails to mention her completely. The BBC sports website has a very short mention of her; not quite nothing but little more than nothing.

Why is this?


Admittedly it is difficult to compete for headlines with the showman of athletics, Usain Bolt. And in winning his fourth World Championships gold medal (100m and 200m in Berlin in 2009, 200m in Daegu in 2011 and now the 100m in Moscow), he is cementing his place as one of the all-time great sprinters. He is a larger than life character, and the cameras follow his every move when his is competing. Last night, Bolt was competing in the 3rd of the three semi-finals, a couple of hours before the final. The camera was panning down the starting line-up for the 2nd semi-final, but just before the runners went into their blocks the TV coverage cut away to show Bolt sitting watching the semi-final before his! We nearly missed seeing the start of the second semi-final just so we could see Bolt watching it.

In contrast, in very stark contrast, Tirunesh Dibaba virtually goes below the radar. Why is this? Last night she won her fifth World Championships Gold medal, adding to an already impressive tally of gold medals which also includes 3 Olympic Gold medals and 5 World Cross Country Championship Golds. She has never been beaten in a 10,000m race. Yet I suspect most people have never heard of her.


One possibility is that the 10,000m is not as “sexy” an event as the 100m. But the coverage given to Mo Farrah suggests that people are interested in the 10,000m. So I can only assume it is because Dibaba is a shy, unassuming athlete. Also, she does not speak English, so doesn’t give any interviews to the English-language media. She doesn’t seek the spotlight, she just gets on with winning, and winning to such an extent that she is probably the greatest women track athlete of all time.


At least Dirbaba is a heroin in her native Ethiopia. She probably would prefer that were not the case; unlike Bolt who relishes the attention of the World’s media, one gets the impression that Dibaba would hate that level of attention. So let us give her the privacy she prefers, but revel in the privilege of seeing such a remarkable athlete run, or should I say flow (as she has one of the most beautiful running styles I’ve ever seen) on the running track.

Do you think Dirbaba is the greatest woman athlete ever?

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Late on Sunday evening the news broke that two of the World’s all-time best sprinters have tested positive for perfomance enhancing drugs. The American Tyson Gay, joint number 2 on the all-time list of fastest 100m runners, and Jamaican Asafa Powell who is number 4, have both tested positive for performance enhancing drugs.


And, from The Times (of London)


Some people are saying that this could be the most damaging news the sport of athletics (“track and field” to any Americans reading this) has suffered. In the Times article above, it says that this is the “worst crisis athletics has faced for decades”. I have not read the whole article, as it is behind the “dirty digger’s” paywall, but I would imagine the only similar crisis would be Ben Johnson’s positive test after winning the 100m at the 1988 Soeul Olympics. Or the “Balfour” doping scandal which saw athletes like Marion Jones finally admit to cheating.

Yesterday morning I was speculating with a few friends whether athletics will survive this scandal, should two of the all time top four 100m sprinters prove to have been cheating? We concluded that it will, but that if Usain Bolt were to test positive it could possibly fatally wound the sport.

Is Usain Bolt so important to athletics that the sport could not survive if he were found to have been doping? Well, it now seems virtually certain that the Usain Bolt of a generation ago, Carl Lewis, did indeed cheat but was deemed to be too important to the sport so his failed tests were suppressed.


So, if athletics protected Carl Lewis’ cheating as they felt it would destroy the sport, are any of the top sprinters immune today? Or has athletics cleaned up its own house sufficiently that no athlete, not even Usain Bolt, is above the anti-doping rules?

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