In this bitterly pitted world where truth and honor have fallen like so many past pillars of a once civil society, who can afford to take anything at face value anymore?
And yet with his sun shiny day 2:01:39 marathon world record in Berlin this past Sunday, Kenyan marathon master Eliud Kipchoge has risen to new heights of acclaim and glory. Already considered the best marathon runner in history, with ten wins in eleven starts, including the Olympic gold medal in Rio 2016 and an exhibition 2:00:25 super run in Italy 2017, the 33 year-old has long been recognized as a champion’s champion for his understated elegance and gentlemanly comportment.
I have long said that a sport must be fortunate in those who become its champions, for such designations must be earned not conferred. Nothing against previous marathon record holder Dennis Kimetto, but in terms of PR value to the game, Kipchoge is a major upgrade, as was the tolkienesque Ethiopian Haile Gebrselassie a decade ago.
Notwithstanding, despite all the hard-earned recognition that has come Kipchoge’s way, it is inevitable in these cynical times that some will raise questions about the legitimacy of the new record. As one long-time associate wrote to me right afterwards:
“Sadly, in today’s world, where we know how easy it is to beat the system, we have to hold them all under a blanket suspicion of sorts. Micro-dosing EPO, meldonium-like drugs making the rounds that are not illegal (yet) but have big PED effects, other designer drugs, so many westerners training in Ethiopia and Kenya, where the testers don’t go. Not only the Africans, it’s everywhere, even in the good old USA. Cheaters have always been a step ahead, now they’re 2 steps ahead.
“You’ve seen the WADA Report saying almost 40% of T&Fers have or are doping. Then that survey from the 2011 World Championships where 37% of athletes admitted to doping.”
Yes, it is all very unfortunate, but that is the world in which Kipchoge ran his new record. It is all a very jumbled up, mixed up world with very little in the way of universal conciliation.
Ask yourself, what would be the reaction if any other athlete ran such a time in such a fashion? When Ethiopia’s Almaz Ayana won the 2016 Women’s Olympic 10,000 in a smashing 29:A17.45 world record with similar ease, the doubters were out just as fast. And the women’s middle distance community is fraught with deep ethical and moral divisions centering on basic genetic definitions.
But what is any athlete to do, pull back because of the reaction people might have? What recourse do athletes have in such a toxic, post-truth environment? No matter how above reproach one may have been throughout his/her career, how do you argue or protest against innuendo and guilt by association?
No, today excellence itself is the victim of the sport’s inability or unwillingness to confront the cheats and short-cutters throughout the years. Doubt is what comes of institutional corruption, payoffs, and a win-at-all-costs philosophy. Look at the reaction to Russia’s recent reinstatement by WADA, and the IAAF’s negation of that reinstatement. Today, it’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
Is it fair to Eliud Kipchoge who has never been anything but the humble, gentleman athlete? It’s not fair to the sport, either, but, unfortunately, as with institutions far and wide, running’s own comportment has not been so honorable, its past pronouncements not so honest.
So for now, even when greatness is put on display, there is still a side-eye look given, a world-weary, open-palm shrug displayed, wondering if it’s all just a little too good to be true.
How’s that for a world we’ve created?
2 thoughts on “TO TRUST AGAIN”
Thanks for raising this issue, Toni. The problem here is with old timers like you and I and several others….who over many years of “hard knocks” experience in our sport…..still subscribe to the old adage… “if it looks too good to be true… it usually is!” Of, “If it walks like a duck… and quacks like a duck… it usually is…. a duck!”
Like the Olympic Games women’s 2016 Olympic 10,000 meters champion, Ayana, from Ethiopia… you so appropriately referenced….who also ran a huge new world record en route to her gold medal ….and then looked hardly winded in the seconds/minutes immediately following the race….while everyone else behind her were either stumbling around or collapsing to the track in extreme fatigue…. Kipchoge’s race did violate so many veteran onlookers’ “common sense” gut …about when something “looks right” or “looks wrong!” It is very rare to see a world record time beaten by over a minute… but I guess the marathon would be the most logical race for that to happen in… by a very special athlete… in a very special performance. .
And, there is no disputing that 10 victories in his last 11 major marathon attempts…. puts Kipchoge in hallowed ground as a strong candidate for “greatest of all time.” And, he did nearly break 2:00 in that staged “laboratory test case” marathon experiement last year, organized by Nike. And, although I have never met the guy personally… he certainly looks like a great guy and pretty classy to boot! For someone who has won 10 of 11 marathons over the last few years… he certainly comports himself with a great deal of dignity and likability. I definitely would enjoy meeting this man!
But, still, Kipchoge comes from a country that has only recently instituted regular out of competition testing for PED’s among its distance runners yet has the 2nd highest amount of “positives” during that time to only Russia. And, whose NGB officials/administrators have been found to be rife with unethical behavior and extortion demands/complicity… all in pursuit of more money…. or at least a “piece of the action” in order to “cover up positives” or toi alert certain athletes to pending testing. Regarding Ayana, she comes from Ethiopia… which is still behind Kenya in instituting regular “out of competition testing”….and what has she done since that “other worldly” Olympic Gold Medal performance? As Ethiopia finally institutes regular out of competition testing… one world testing body has predicted that there will be similar violations found in Ethiopia… as has been found in Kenya over the last two years.
The bottom line is that for those of us that have been following the sport for 25-50 years now…. it is hard to see a running performance nowadays that violates all our precepts of what is “right or rational or logical or common sense” and not question whether it was achieved with PED assistance… in some manner or another! The fact that Marion Jones or Lance Armstrong or many others who were later found to be “cheating” were never “caught red handed with a positive test sample” just helps to encourage the “cynicism” that exists today by those of us who desperately want “running heroes that we can believe in.” But, those are few and far between today…..so “when something… walks like a duck…and quacks like a duck….well, you know what I mean!”
Excellent piece Toni. And in the words of Leo Tolstoy, “What then must we do”?