Opinion

Masters athletes not immune from doping or cheating

Written by Joe Conway

Athletes are never too old to cheat. Perhaps the most intriguing and somewhat amusing case doesn’t involve doping, but rather an athlete who claimed to be ten years older than he actually was.

According to the WMA, [Brazilian] Francisco do Carmo de Oliveira’, a Civil Servant, had falsified his passport and driving licence to show himself 10 years older than he was, (08 / 06/1927) and had been competing in masters athletics and other events for 11 years in the incorrect age groups. He had refused to give to the hearing panel the correct information of his details. More details.

Aren’t we all (masters runners) a little too old (simply by definition) to be lying about our age?

Apparently, cheaters don’t discriminate on the basis of age. Neither should the testers although let’s be realistic because masters athletics will never have the funding to test at the levels expected or deployed for open athletes. In some ways, masters athletes are a throwback to an amateur era of yesteryear. The prospect of masters ever making a living from the sport are slim to none so I would anticipate testers continuing to test open athletes and largely ignoring masters athletes.

I have yet to hear about widespread out-of-competition testing for masters athletes.

In America, USADA which has to be commended for transparency discloses who is tested and how often. Many federations in other countries don’t disclose as much information — but why not? The sports community has a right to know who is being tested and ultimately for clean athletes, from a public relations standpoint, this can work in their favor even if they are the most tested athletes. Of the 415 athletes tested by USADA in 2014 (930 total tests), only a handful are masters runners and are generally only being tested because of prominence as open athletes (for example: Bernard Lagat and Meb Keflezighi).

A handful of athletes have been busted at the World Masters although the 2014 World Masters Athletics Indoors in Budapest had no adverse findings.

Anti-doping cases at WMA events:

source: World Masters Athletics

Hungary ’14: No violations

Brazil ’13: No violations

Finland ’12: Violations

USA ’11: Violations

On occasion, USADA has banned a few masters-eligible athletes:

Runner Kristi Anderson, 51:

2014: USADA announced that Kristi Anderson, of Longmont, Colo., an athlete in the sport of track & field, has accepted a 12-month sanction for an anti-doping rule violation after testing positive for a prohibited substance administered with the support of a medical advisor. Anderson, 51, tested positive for Dehydroepiandrosterone (“DHEA”) as a result of an in-competition urine sample she provided at the Pikes Peak Marathon held in Colorado Springs, Colo. on August 17, 2014. More details

Cyclist James Martin, 41:

2014: USADA announced that James Martin of Cherry Hill, N.J., an athlete in the sport of cycling, has received a two-year suspension for committing an anti-doping rule violation by failing to appear for testing. Martin, 40, failed to appear to provide a sample at the New Jersey Criterium Championships on May 18, 2014, in Evesham Township, N.J. More details.

Track athlete Roger Wenzel, 64:

2013: USADA announced that Roger Wenzel, of Yukon, Okla., an athlete in the sport of Track & Field, has tested positive for prohibited substances and received a two-year sanction for committing anti-doping rule violations. Wenzel, 64, tested positive for Modafanil, a prohibited stimulant, and for exogenous Anabolic Androgenic Steroids in a urine sample collected on August 4, 2012 at the USA Masters Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Lisle, Ill. More details.

The long-term impact of doping on an athlete is largely unknown because of the lack of research data. Not surprisingly, the medical community has more important work to do, like finding a cure for cancer — to name just one more noble endeavor.

Irish athletic fans and runners might wonder what long-term impact EPO had on Cathal Lombard, especially considering the Leevale runner’s national club cross country title in 2008 upon his return from a doping ban in 2004.

Masters track fans and competitors might ponder what long-term gain Finnish runner Martti Vainio gained from his drug use. The Finnish runner was stripped of his Olympic silver medal in 1984 after flunking a drug test. Two years later, Vainio returned to senior athletics and despite no medals in major championships after 1986, he ran 27:44.57 for 10,000 in 1986. In 1991, Vainio won the M40 10,000 meters (29:16.88) at the World Masters Athletics Championships in Turku, Finland. We may never know what long-term advantage cheaters gained from prolonged or even isolated use of performance enhancers.

Just like for open athletes, the therapeutic use exemptions can be a gateway to approved use of medications or substances. Because of privacy laws and policies, we don’t always know who has what exemptions.

You don’t have to have a medical degree to draw this conclusion (and I don’t) but I would argue that masters athletes generally have a greater need for regular use of legitimate medications as they age.

What I wonder though is how many masters athletes (and open athletes for that matters) can hide behind the therapeutic use exemptions.

The already-known lack of testing at the masters level (especially out-of-competition testing) makes it easier for a potential cheater to avoid detection.

It’s kind of depressing to think that masters athletes could or would be doping but that should not take away from the phenomenal performances of many clean masters athletes.

Ultimately, we want the testers to be skeptical and sometimes cynical, but it looks like amid the current Kenyan and Russian doping debacles, the full-time testers don’t have the time or the means to be chasing down part-time masters who are doping.

TL_01660

About the author

Joe Conway has contributed to various publications including the Houston Chronicle, The Irish Voice and Irish Runner Magazine. Conway has worked for various media companies in the USA and Ireland, including nine years as the Online Sports Editor for the Houston Chronicle. Conway is currently the Director of Print and E-Media at Houston Community College which serves more than 70,000 students. You can read his blog here

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