Track & Field

As Beijing approaches, time to separate the truth from Chinese whispers

By Kevin Byrne

It has been little more than a week since the German documentary ARD aired and the Sunday Times printed their doping scandal exclusive. Since then, the IAAF has issued several statements, the Sunday Times experts have responded and a few other organisations and athletes have weighed in. In simple terms, the athletics world has lost its shit and no one knows who to trust any more. It’s time to work out what is truth and what is fiction.

So this German dude and the Sunday Times got hold of thousands of positive tests?

FALSE. What Hajo Seppelt and the Sunday Times managed to obtain was a database of 12,000 blood tests belonging to 5000 athletes. A minority of these were classed as ‘abnormal’.

Right, but that means that the athletes with abnormal blood test results are dopers?

Taking the piss: Tatyana Tomashova, who had an extremely abnormal offscore of 129 (which had a 100,000-1 chance of being natural) when winning the World Championship 1500m in 2005, was later target tested and banned by the IAAF in 2008 after attempting to manipulate her urine sample. Image: PhotoRun

Taking the piss: Tatyana Tomashova, who had an extremely abnormal offscore of 129 (which experts say had a 100,000-1 chance of being natural) when winning the World Championship 1500m in 2005, was later target-tested and banned by the IAAF in 2008 after attempting to manipulate her urine sample. Image: PhotoRun

FALSE. Some of them may indeed be cheats. But both the Sunday Times and the IAAF concur that there can be many reasons for these abnormal test results: illness, altitude training, pregnancy, etc. In isolation, these results are in no way an indication of doping. They need to be put in context within the Athlete Biological Passport scheme.

Ok. But the IAAF covered up these results, right?

FALSE. These are private medical records; they’re not meant for the public domain. Even if they were all within the normal range, the IAAF is not permitted to share such data; it would be a breach of confidentiality. So yes, they were kept private. But that’s not the same as a ‘cover up’. Interestingly, while no names were revealed at the time, the IAAF published the percentages of abnormal blood tests in a study several years ago. Their figures tallied with those quoted by ARD and the Sunday Times.

So why didn’t they do anything about it?

WRONG AGAIN. They followed up on all abnormal findings. This process involves contacting the athlete and their federation to give them the opportunity to explain the reasons for the abnormal blood test results. Follow-up tests are also conducted. If the explanation isn’t sufficient or if follow-up tests show similarly abnormal results, then the athlete can be banned. Several athletes within this database have indeed ended up with bans.

Ok. Gotcha. Isn’t there meant to be a top British athlete involved in this?

TRUE. According to the Sunday Times, there are seven British athletes who have had abnormal blood test results. One athlete in particular is said to have had three abnormal results; one of them was taken after winning a race in hot conditions, which could have led to the abnormal levels. And even the Sunday Times’ panel of experts were in agreement that their two other abnormal test results had valid explanations (eg, illness and/or pregnancy).

Oh, fair enough. But hasn’t the athlete in question taken legal steps to prevent their name being publicised?

ALLEGEDLY SO. Such measures aren’t always a sign of guilt, though. It could simply be that this athlete cares deeply about their reputation. No doubt they have seen how much the facts have already been twisted by certain corners of the media and how many people now wrongly believe that anyone with an abnormal blood test is an out-and-out drugs cheat (even though that’s not true).

I see. Should we be concerned if this athlete has recorded performances that are superior to some athletes who have been caught cheating?

NO. There are cheats at all levels. Some athletes dope and only get to, for example, the 10.5 level in the 100m. It doesn’t follow that everyone who runs faster than that is a cheat; that would make the false assumption that everyone is born with exactly the same level of talent.

Back in time: Asbel Kiprop was one of those to benefit from retro-active testing. The Kenyan was upgraded to Olympic 1500m gold after the positive test of Rashid Ramzi. Image: PhotoRun

Back in time: Asbel Kiprop was one of those to benefit from retro-active testing. The Kenyan was upgraded to Olympic 1500m gold after the positive test of Rashid Ramzi. Image: PhotoRun

Makes sense. So these recent drug busts from the 2005 and 2007 World Championships, are they anything to do with this blood test database?

NO. These findings came from the reanalysis of urine samples taken at the 2005 and 2007 World Championships which were frozen at the time for future analysis. As and when new testing technology becomes available, the authorities go back and test old samples. With WADA having increased their statute of limitations to 10 years, it means the IAAF can go back as far as 2005 to re-analyse samples.

Nice idea, but apparently most of those dodgy athletes have retired now. Surely there’s no point in banning them?

INCORRECT. Ok, a ban won’t do much good if the athletes are no longer competing. But the IAAF can still reallocate medals. If you were an athlete who finished behind one of these newly caught cheats and stood to gain a medal promotion, then I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s a waste of time.

Fair point. Will we find out the names of these cheats?

YES. The disciplinary process is still ongoing, but once the national federations have done their bit, then the names will be publicised. Some sources are saying as soon as next week.

Hang on, just rewind a second; you’re saying that for the past 10 years, someone has had a freezer full of wee?!

YES. Yes, I am.

 

Doped up: Rashid Ramzi, who won double gold at the 2005 World Championships, was later banned for doping. Image: PhotoRun
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Ronan Duggan

Ronan Duggan

Ronan Duggan is an athlete, coach, athletics fan and, most importantly, was once named Bandon AFC's under-12 Player of the Year. He was once a promising athlete but is now a promising coach, teacher and part-time athletics writer/broadcaster. While an 800m runner himself, Ronan has coached everything from pole vault to 10km with varying levels of bluffing. He has regularly been threatening to do something for years but is yet to deliver. He is regarded as our expert on the American running scene, though has yet, to prove his knowledge in this realm.

1 Comment

  1. Very annoying
    August 14, 2015 at 6:25 pm — Reply

    Are you talking to yourself?

    The question & answer format of your piece is highly annoying and insulting. If we want to ask questions, we will ask.

    Try and string together an article if you can.

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