Don’t Cast Doubt on Who’ve Worked Hard for Their Success

NEW YORK – There have been loud whispers from UK athletic officials regarding expunging the track and field universe of all its current world records so that any new mark might be true and common, free from the scourge of drugs.

What UK athletics and its supporters are positing is beyond ridiculous. The suggestion is that the sport must be rid of the scourge of drugs and everyone associated with them. I am not sure if this position is strengthened by the election of Britisher Seb Coe (photo), former Olympic great and world record holder, the new International Associations of Athletics Federations (IAAF) president, who succeeded Lamine Diack last year. Diack enjoyed a ton of goodwill upon his presidential ascendancy, but that goodwill eroded particularly during the waning days of his leadership, with accusations of bribery and kick-backs, leading to his arrest and a full-fledged investigation, along with the confiscation of his passport by French officials. What does this have to do with expunging world records? More on that.

According to accusations leveled at him and the IAAF in tow, Diack turned a blind eye on reports of heavy drug use and evidence of other impropriety, leading to the removal of former track and field superpower Russia from the IAAF family. Some of the great athletes of the last 40 years have hailed from Russia (or politically back then, a part of the United Soviet Socialist Republics (the USSR). The outstanding Olympic double sprint champion from 1972, Valeriy Borzov; the phenomenal Ludlia Bragina, the multiple world record holder and Olympic champion of the early 70s, and the Olympic women’s 100m champion from 1980, Ludmila Kondratyeva, to name a few, are all from this region. Were they all involved in the usage of banned substances? There has always been talk that the Soviets (again, by association, the Russians) and East Germans (before they became a part of West Germany to form Germany), were involved in widespread steroid usage among top athletes.

And years later, some of those athletes confessed to being connected to systematic drug use. Enter Marita Koch, who starred in all three sprints, and her 400m world record of 47.60secs remains unchallenged today. There were allegations of drug use, but no real action was taken. Koch has held the world record since June 1985. American Florence Griffith-Joyner set her 100m and 200m world records in the summer of 1988, and those times (10.49secs and 21.34secs) remain the standard bearer, almost 30 years on. There have been loud whispers about FloJo, as Griffith-Joyner was known, but no real action from track’s governing body. Would it have been fair to investigate after the athlete passed all drug tests ascribed by the governing body? Can drug tests be ‘beaten?’ You be the judge.

Knee-jerk Reaction

What is sure, however, is that if the IAAF is not prepared to enforce the rules it outlays regarding systematic drug testing, and advancing all of its protocols, it should not cast a shadow on athletes who have trained hard and long for their success. I believe that there should be repeated and advanced testing, and repeatable scrutiny, if warranted, on a case-by-case basis. It is not fair for every hardworking athlete to be under a cloud of suspicion. I think that the British are advancing a knee-jerk reaction and the IAAF tacitly agrees because of ineptitude and inertness. It is time to put up or shut up. I say, act now.

If, according to the British, the records should be reset, where do we start? How far back do they suggest we go? To the start of the modern Olympics in 1896? To the turbulent 70s, 80s and 90s, when records tumbled like wildfire? If a world record was set during the Olympics, would that record and title be withheld? Do we erase personal bests, national records and regional bests? Where does this madness end? I do not know the answer but the British might. They ought to know that the world is enlightened; you can fool some people sometime. That time has passed.

One Bad Apple Does Not…

Anyone who is involved in track, even peripherally, would be naive to think that the sport is free from sin. At the same time, one bad apple does not spoil the whole bunch, to use an old idiom. For instance, there are many cases in which an athlete is disqualified after winning a major title, but the minor placers do not reap the financial rewards that they deserve. The Olympic champion or World champion remains in the public consciousness for a long time. Every measure should be taken to ensure that the track marketplace maintains a level of integrity that can only be realized if there is resolve from leadership. Every step should be taken to educate our young and upcoming young stars where the IAAF has a voice – more than 200 countries universally. The international body must confer with all of its national congresses. It needs more than just threats about sanctions and disaffiliations; it needs to educate in order to eradicate the banality of drugs.

So Usain Bolt is understandably against erasing current world records and replacing them going forward. The big man would have a lot to lose: three records in all. Would this be fair to an athlete who worked his butt off, with blood, sweat and tears to prove his hard work? The simple answer is a resounding no. There should be a more visionary, rational approach to the current situation. There should be accountability, and that starts with the Administration, not with the athletes. We all need to act in concert to show a force of unity. According to an early African proverb, until the lion has a historian, the hunter will always be the hero. The angst from Bolt et al is understandable.

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