Tag: USADA

A SAD STORY HOWEVER IT’S TOLD

Let’s begin with Emma Coburn’s response to the Kenyan team saying before the World Championships that they would bring the women’s steeplechase medals in Doha back to Kenya where they belong after Emma and teammate Courtney Frerichs won gold and silver in London 2017 for Team USA.

“I don’t listen to what other people say,” Coburn told NBC. “I’m focused on what I have to do and will bring my fight to the arena.”

Silver medalist Emma Coburn in the women’s 3000 meter steeplechase final at the World Athletics Championships in Doha, Qatar, Monday, Sept. 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

Last night in Doha, Coburn’s fight brought her to a 9:02.35 PR to take the silver medal behind Kenyan Beatrice Chepkoech as the Kenyan star literally ran away with the gold medal in a championship record 8:57.94.

It was the third straight PR by Coburn in global event finals. She went from a 9:07.63 bronze medal at the Rio Olympics 2016 to a 9:02.58 gold in the London World Championships 2017, and now a 9:02.35 silver in Doha.

Odds are Colburn will never run the times Chepkoech has. So what are you to do about that?  Accept it graciously and thank your competitors for bringing out the best in you?  Or do you look for another way to get closer?

How does this play into the four-year ban announced yesterday by USADA against Nike Oregon Project coach Alberto Salazar and Houston-based endocrinologist Dr. Jeffrey Brown?  Well, Alberto was never like Emma Coburn, he did pay close attention to what others said and did. And he did look for another way.

Nike Oregon Project Coach Alberto Salazar

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CONSIDERING CHICAGO 2017

People have been asking why I hadn’t written anything on the outcome of this year’s Chicago Marathon after the historic win by Galen Rupp in the men’s race, and the third place finish by Jordan Hasay for women, whose 2:20:57 represents the second-fastest marathon time ever by an American woman.  Well, it has taken me a while to write, because A) I wasn’t there to talk with the principals, and B) there are conflicting emotions at play.

On the surface, it’s a wonderful thing; two American runners achieved a truly impressive outcome against world-class competition in one of the major marathons of the world.  Both athletes are likable and humble with careers of excellence going back to their high school days now coming to full flower in their professional years.  Both have loving support systems and are coached by another all-time great American runner, Alberto Salazar of the Nike Oregon Project. Together, these results are worthy of grand celebrations, all things being equal. But, of course, all things are not equal, which is what leads to the conflicting emotions. (more…)

TWIXT THE SPIRIT AND LETTER

As an athlete Alberto Salazar was willing to delve more deeply into the dark raging corridors within than any athlete I ever encountered.  That do-or-die spirit is what elevated Al to iconic status as a runner, but it also brought him to the edge of the abyss. Twice he ran himself to the precipice of a serious medical crisis, once at the Falmouth Road Race 1978 (hyperthermia), again at the 1982 Boston Marathon (hypothermia).

Now, with the release of a 269-page interim USADA report on the Nike Oregon Project and its coach by Russian hackers, we find Coach Salazar’s intense drive to succeed once again putting him on the edge between fair and foul, not only in the court of sport, but in the court of public opinion.   (more…)

SALAZAR FIRES BACK

New York City 1981
New York City 1981

At long last Nike Oregon Project coach Alberto Salazar has come out with his response to the allegations made by a joint BBC/Pro Publica investigation regarding performance enhancing drugs and the misuse of Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUEs) at the Nike Oregon Project. I urge you to read both David Epstein’s original investigative piece (linked above) and Alberto’s two-part rebuttal here and here.

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But what has always been a head-scratcher to me as I followed the story over the last three weeks (and after knowing Alberto for most of our adult lives) was how so many people knew about the Androgel, the testosterone cream that was one of the main contentions of the investigation and follow up stories.

According to a Letsrun.com headline linking to a Daily Mail story out of England: “The AndroGel was so prevalent”

But that’s my point. Seems Alberto was telling anyone and everyone about it, not hiding it or making it all secret.  He told massage therapist John Stiner to clean out the Park City, Utah apartment that the NOP team used as a high-altitude training camp, all the while knowing there were needles and vials and a tube of Androgel there? That is who you tell to clean up your drug pit, an independent contractor who is not in on the cabal? (more…)

BEHIND ANOTHER SET OF BARS

BEHIND BARS?

I received a reply to my latest post TIME FOR TRUTH & RECONCILIATION from a fellow traveler, John Dehart, who suggested that criminal penalties and prison time should be instituted for doping violations in light of the recent fall from grace of Lance Armstrong, the now former seven-time Tour de France cycling champion.

“The present system is a joke,” wrote DeHart, “and a real insult to the hard working clean athletes.”

You are correct, John.  It is an insult, but also a fraud, an intentional deception made for personal gain.  The topic is both interesting and redolent given the amount of money involved in many of the sports where drugs are an on-going issue.

In the case of Armstrong, Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme wants the $3.85 million returned that the Tour paid to Armstrong for his seven wins.   What’s more, insurance company SCA Promotions said it, too, will seek to reclaim $7.5 million it paid to Armstrong after a 2006 arbitration proceeding went against them stemming from its initial refusal to pay Armstrong a U.S. Postal Service team bonus after his sixth Tour win. At the time, SCA was skeptical of Armstrong’s performance, but proof of his doping was not as clear, concise and overwhelming as the current USADA report revealed.

Since performance enhancing drugs became a serious issue in the 1960s, it is beyond obvious that sporting sanctions and public humiliation alone have not been successful in dissuading athletes or their representatives from cheating.  What we are talking about here is making cost-benefit analyses, and for decades the users have weighed the penalties against the rewards for not getting caught, and decided overwhelmingly, “Yep, it’s worth it”.  Even today, we see athletes hit with two-year sanctions which, taken early or late enough in a career,  or in the middle of an Olympic cycle, allows for a minor down time for additional training before their return to competition as if no-harm, no-foul. (more…)

TIME FOR TRUTH & RECONCILIATION?

With yesterday’s decision by cycling’s federation to bow to USADA’s comprehensive report of massive doping violations and conspiracy, UCI has stripped American cyclist Lance Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles (1999-2005).   Now USADA is calling for an amnesty program similar to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in post-apartheid South Africa which would allow any cyclist to come clean about his use of performance enhancing drugs so that the sport might somehow pull out of its current death spiral.

“It is important to remember that while today is a historic day for clean sport, it does not mean clean sport is guaranteed for tomorrow,” read part of a USADA-released statement.

The South African TRC was a court-like body where victims of human rights violations came to give witness about their experiences, while perpetrators of violence and rights violators could also give testimony and request amnesty from both civil and criminal prosecution.   The TRC was credited, along with president and former political prisoner Nelson Mandela, for helping South Africa make the political and social transition beyond apartheid peaceful.

The cynic in me senses that the impetus for instituting a cycling amnesty program will likely be based less on USADA’s findings enumerating Armstrong’s guilt, or cycling’s refusal to self-correct, but in reaction to the Dutch company Rabobank’s decision to end its 17-year sponsorship of professional cycling.  As Watergate so truly reminded us nearly 40 years ago, follow the money.

“We are no longer convinced that the international professional world of cycling can make this a clean and fair sport,” said Rabobank board member Bert Bruggink in a statement. “We are not confident that this will change for the better in the foreseeable future.

“The USADA report was the final straw,” he added later in a press conference televised live in the Netherlands. “The international sport of cycling is not only sick, the sickness goes up to the highest levels.”

Rabobank had been committed to the sport of cycling to the tune of €15 million a year in sponsorship.  And that’s just one of 22 teams which participated in the 2012 Tour. Compare that level of sponsorship with Virgin’s reported commitment of £17 million to the London Marathon between 2010 and 2014 – that’s £17 million total for five years, not £17 million per year.  Or, Samsung’s reported $2 million yearly investment in the Diamond League, the premier athletics tour in the world.  Samsung signed a new three-year extension this past January.

The sport of athletics battled internally for years before stepping gingerly out of its amateur past into a quasi-professional status in the 1980s.  But like Catholic girls of old, they never went all the way, and the sport has been on the margins of professionalism ever since.  The sport was further compromised after Canada’s Ben Johnson was stripped of his 1988 Olympic 100-meter gold medal in Seoul, Korea after failing a drug test.

With its constant drip, drip, drip of drug violations becoming the headline story for the sport rather than competition, one could say that athletics has never truly reached the heights achieved in the Cold War era when the sport sublimated the binary Free World and Communist World antipathy.

Even today with Jamaica’s Usain Bolt as its headliner, athletics is not viewed as truly professional by the general public, nor seen as worthy of financial backing on par with other world sports.  Bolt is, by far, the highest paid track athlete in the world, yet comes in as only the 63rd highest paid athlete on the globe. No other track athlete even nibbles at the edges of the list.

These are the long-term consequences of an ostrich-like stance.  One wonders if cycling will ever fully pull its head free in time to recover.

 

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THE ENDS AND MEANS OF LANCE

Lance says, “Enough”

At what point do ends and means come into conflict with ones such as Lance Armstrong or his obsessive Ahab-like hunter, USADA?  That question surfaced again this past week with the news that Lance Armstrong had decided to give up his legal fight against the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) in light of USADA’s pending arbitration hearing against the seven-time Tour de France champion for his alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs.  In each case, neither side has emerged as a champion.

The undeniable good that Mr. Armstrong has done for the cancer community with his Livestrong Foundation was built on the publicity generated by his seven consecutive Tour de France wins following his recovery from testicular cancer.  It is arguable whether the fame, and therefore fortune, behind the Livestrong movement would have been possible without those victories. Yet notwithstanding USADA’s continued obsession to harpoon what had become its white whale, Mr. Armstrong’s capitulation last week could only be seen as an admission of guilt, no matter how he framed it.

But at the same time, the Armstrong-USADA fight beggars the question, has the goodwill and cancer funding generated by his TDF titles been a worthy enough end to justify the performance-enhancing means that Armstrong all but certainly used to attain them?  Which, in this case, is the lesser of two evils, especially in a culture awash in denial and deception?

We know that the Tour de France organizers will not be announcing newly named winners of those tainted Tours, because it has long been accepted that the vast majority of competitors were no different in their doping than Mr. Armstrong.  What, then, is left as a final consequence? (more…)