The contaminated straw that led a racehorse to fail a drugs test might create a smile but events at the world athletics in London are no laughing matter
If there was a lighter side to a week in which doping predominated the athletics headlines, it came in the discovery of O-desmethyltramadol in a sample taken from a horse called Wotadoll. Sitting in judgment, the British Horseracing Authoritys disciplinary committee accepted the explanation that the metabolite of the opioid tramadol detected after the three-year-old bay filly finished unplaced at Wolverhampton could be sourced to the urine of a groom who peed in the ponies box after taking the drug for pain relief.
The Racing Post called it an embarrassing leak but pee-pee in a horses straw is apparently a common practice among Britains incontinent stable chaps when they are supposed to be mucking out. The horses trainer, Dean Ivory, was fined 750. Later he announced his personnel will be reminded of the proximity of the toilet block and, merely to be on the safe side, encouraged to wear gloves.
There was also a four-legged animal involved in the proclamation of Alberto Contadors retirement: the creature from which, according to the multiple winner of cyclings grand tours, a piece of meat had been taken and carried from Spain by a friend to provide him with a nourishing steak dinner during the 2010 Tour de France. Contadors explanation of the clenbuterol found by medication testers failed to avert a two-year suspension and an expunged third victory in the worlds biggest motorcycle race. Some supporters of his attacking style wanted to give the Spaniard the benefit of the doubt but his deviation will sever another link with the epoch of Operacin Puerto.
We ought to be beyond the stage of giggling at claims of cocaine traces picked up by a tennis player through kissing a girl in a Miami nightclub( Richard Gasquet in 2009, who was cleared of all charges by the court of arbitration for sport) or too much sexuality on his wifes birthday producing an unnaturally elevated level of testosterone in a sprinter( Dennis Mitchell in 1998 ). It was certainly easier to maintain a straight face while reading about the two-month suspension handed this week to Sara Errani, formerly the worlds No5 female tennis player. A exam had disclosed tracings of letrozole, a drug used to treat her moms breast cancer and apparently picked up from a kitchen run surface.
But neither laughter nor compassion seemed an appropriate response to the soap opera of the three men 100 m final in the world championships last weekend, when the two-time drugs cheat Justin Gatlin helped deprive Usain Bolt of a golden farewell to the event in which the Jamaican is a triple Olympic champion. That is because there is no appropriate single reaction. Gatlins case is an awkward one, uncovering the layers of moral intricacy that can defeat the human exhort to make a clean separation between right and wrong.
Gatlins first offence, at persons under the age of 19, was for traces of amphetamine, said to have been given to him since childhood as part of a treatment for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Non-medical people might be surprised to find amphetamine used as a remedy for ADHD but that is apparently the reality of it and the authorities reinstated him halfway through a two-year suspension, while warning that any further offence would trigger a life ban. But by the time he was pinged for testosterone in 2006, while being coached by the notorious Trevor Graham, the rules had changed and he was given an eight-year forbid which his lawyers succeeded in getting halved on appeal. So now we have Bolt retiring when clearly past his best at 30 and Gatlin who is currently coached by none other than Mitchell operating faster than anyone at 35.
An hour or so before Gatlin celebrated his victory by raising an admonitory thumb to his lips in response to the London crowds boos, Almaz Ayana had surged away from her rivals with a solo assault a mere 4km into the womens 10,000 m final. The Ethiopian work the next 3km at a velocity that would have won all but one of the womens 3,000 m races run throughout the world this year. The last 3km were barely any slower. To anyone not taking that into consideration it was a beautiful sight like watching Michael Johnson in Atlanta in 1996, for example. Such unanswerable dominance always takes the breath away until, as with Ayana, one is reminded of what it may mean.
Those who had read Martha Kelners investigation into medication testing in Ethiopian athletics or rather the inefficiency of it in these pages that very morning may have been rather less starry-eyed. They may even have wondered if this was a clear demo of the old axiom that, if something seems too good to be true, it almost certainly is. Ayana, of course, has previously declared herself crystal clear when answering inevitable an issue of post-race press conference. Merely Jesus and training, she said, were responsible for her success.
And then there is Icarus, the documentary about the Russian governments involvement in doping made available on Netflix and given a limited cinema release in this of all weeks. Bryan Fogels two-hour film starts small, with an experiment to see if he can improve his own performance as a competitive amateur cyclist through in accordance with the full Lance Armstrong menu of performance-enhancing medications. But his encounter with Grigory Rodchenkov, who ran Russias anti-doping laboratory while simultaneously helping the countrys athletes to dedicate it the swerve, results him down another route, one that exposes the biggest state-run PED programme since the Berlin Wall came down.
The film tracings a line from Rodchenkov and his colleagues through Vitaly Mutko, then the countrys sports pastor and now its deputy prime minister, all the way to Vladimir Putin, who has used sport to help build his image as the incarnation of a newly virile Russia. The all-shootin, all-fishin, all-ridin Putin flashes his pecs at the world to emphasise that predominance whether of an Olympic podium or in the annexation of neighbouring territory is his nations natural and rightful characteristic.
The fact that Rodchenkov and his fellow whistle-blowers Yuliya and Vitaly Stepanov are in a US witness-protection programme exemplifies the scale and gravitation of their own problems for athletic. We are not in Iffley Road now, watching a medical student and his chums achieve immortality. We are in the world of strong-arm geopolitics, where people can be made to fear for their lives.
As it turned out, all the EPO and testosterone in the world could not induce Fogel into a great bike racer. In fact they built him worse. In any other movie that might have raised a chuckle but not in this film , not in this week , not in this world.
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