Sprinting, steroids and questions we don’t want answered


Drugs that enhance performance aren’t exactly rare in high-level sport – or in recreational gyms for that matter — and I state the blatantly obvious because we still insist on taking it personally every time a pro athlete is ensnared in a doping scandal. Then we slit the throats of our sacrificial lambs, allow the controversy to subside, and go back to believing that every athlete in every sport is competing drug free.

Why?

Who knows?

But after the 14 baseball players tied up in the Biogenesis affair serve their suspensions, somebody else run afoul of a major sport’s doping protocol and we’ll all explode with anger and righteous indignation.

Again.

As if we couldn’t see it coming.

This isn’t to say that every elite athlete in the world is doping. I’ve been around enough to know most compete clean. But the truth is that while not everybody is on drugs, at the highest levels of any sport, anybody could be.

Sometimes it’s somebody we hate (see: Rodriguez, Alex). Other times it’s somebody we respect and admire (see: Gay, Tyson). And often it’s someone to whom we’d never paid much attention (see: anybody in Biogenesis not named Braun or Rodriguez).

We have our suspicions — often arbitrary and unfounded — but we never know until we know.

But do we really want to know?

I ask because of an article, published this week on Sports Illustrated’s website, in which the former head of Jamaica’s anti-doping program makes plain her frustration with the group’s less-than-stringent testing standards.

Witness:

In the first seven months of 2012 JADCO conducted exactly 11 out-of-competion drug tests.

Total.

Over that same span the US Anti Doping Agency conducted 10 tests on Tyson Gay alone, according to its searchable online database.

The distinction between in-competition and out of competition testing is important. If you know when a drug screening is coming you know what steps you can take to beat it. But if people use steroids during training, the best way to catch them is to show up unannounced and ask for samples of urine and/or blood.

GayBeatsBolt

Gay: “Hey I failed an out of competition drug test.” Bolt: “That sucks… Wait, you guys do those?” (*Fictionalized, hypothetical conversation*)

And how many times did JADCO subject its track and field athletes to such tests in the three months leading up to the Olympics and London?

Zero.

Over the past five years Jamaica’s sprinters have dominated world-class competition, and several theories have emerged to help explain the development.

Nurture and nature.

Slavery.

Yams.

And, yes, steroids.

None of these explanations is necessarily correct — plenty of yams at Canadian grocery stores, yet we’re still waiting on our next 9.8-second sprinter. But if I wanted to dope, I’d feel really comfortable doing it while competing for a country that conducted zero random drug screenings in the 12 weeks leading up to the biggest track meet ever.

That certainly doesn’t mean every prominent Jamaican sprinter juiced his or her way to the top. It just means athletes there who are inclined to use steroids have plenty of opportunity.

And if the folks in charge of doping control in Jamaica want to settle questions about whether Jamaican sprinters are chemically-enhanced, cutting out random testing before a worldwide competition is a strange way to do it.

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