The straight dope.
If I wanted it to, this entire newsletter could deal with doping in sport—and some weeks it feels like it does—but that’s not my main objective here. That said, there’s too much in the news right now to ignore the issue completely and it’s my duty to help you, my loyal readers, sift through the bullshit. So, given that, here’s how some of it piled up this week:
Something got up Trevor Graham’s ass in the past few days, causing him to completely lose his shit in a public way. Graham, the disgraced coach of Justin Gatlin and a slew of other sprinters who also served bans for doping, posted this lengthy diatribe Friday night on Facebook and followed it up over the weekend by creating the group “Justin Gatlin Negative Test” (which you can freely join if you’re so inclined), where he posted 26 pages of “evidence” he says proves that Gatlin never tested positive for performance-enhancing drug use and that it was all made up to destroy him. I’m not sure that I completely buy that story, given that Graham was perviously convicted of lying to investigators in the BALCO case, but it makes for some interesting reading nonetheless. Most fascinating to me, however, was the mention of a bunch of PEDs that I had never even previously heard of! They included H20-2, which is supposedly better than EPO, Gonadorelin, “a hormone that triggers the production of testosterone” that “is injected approximately one hour before a race,” and Geref, “a human growth hormone releaser.” The stuff we hear about in the news barely scratches the surface of what people are taking these days. According to Graham, “[Dennis] Mitchell stated that designer drugs were hot in track and field.” Now, I do have reasons to believe that statement As I wrote last week, “Improved and more widespread testing, while important, will never be enough to catch a committed cheat. History has shown that the best dirty doctors will almost always find a way for their clients to pass a doping test.”
Along those lines, here’s a short piece on how athletes dope at the Olympics and get away with it. “Dopers are always ahead of the curve,” says Alistair Jennings, who holds a PhD in Neuroscience. “These days we can test for almost all (n.b. my emphasis) chemical doping, but not for gene doping. Now this is sports Wild West, it's dangerous, it's unknown, but the potential rewards are massive.” More on so-called Superhero Genes, and their potential impact on athletic performance, here. This is fascinating.
Speaking of Gatlin, his Olympic teammate, gold medal swimmer Lily King, doesn’t feel that the convicted doper should have a spot on The Team. “No, do I think people who have been caught doping should be on the team?” King said after winning gold in the 100m breaststroke last night. “They shouldn't. It is unfortunate we have to see that. It is just something that needs to be set in stone that this is what we are going to do. Let's settle this and be done with it. There should not be any bouncing back and forwards.” Hat tip to Ms. King for not pulling any punches. I wholeheartedly agree with her stance. Unfortunately my former Competitor Group colleague Tracy Sundlun, who is serving as team manager for the U.S. track team in Rio, and I don’t necessarily see eye-to-eye on the subject. “Justin is a remarkably talented athlete who clearly made a mistake at some point,” Sundlun told the Daily Mail last week. “He has paid dearly for that mistake. He has owned up to that mistake. If people saw what he is doing and the amount of effort… if they saw his heart, I think they would feel as I do.” I’m sorry, but I’ll agree to disagree with Tracy, who is someone I have a tremendous amount of respect for given all that he himself has done for the sport. I don’t think Gatlin has paid the piper, nor do I believe he made a “mistake.” I believe he full-on knew what he was doing when he was doing it and for that he shouldn’t be allowed to represent his country in international competition. Period.
Meanwhile, Michael Rotich, the team manager of Kenya’s track and field contingent for Rio, was caught on camera demanding a $10,000 bribe in exchange for offering to warn athletes about drug tests. Kenya responds by dismissing the undercover reporting as “mischief” and brushing it aside. Seriously, you cannot make this shit up—or maybe you can—but man, does it make you wonder what the f*ck is really going on behind closed doors.
Lastly, how f*cked up is the leadership of WADA and the IOC (I’d also throw the IAAF in there for good measure), the governing bodies that supposedly look out for the best interests of sport on a global level? The always excellent David Epstein found out firsthand from Jack Robertson, the former chief investigator of the World Anti-Doping Agency. Amongst other things, he told Epstein, “The world needs WADA and IOC and IAAF, but we need people to run them who value integrity. That’s all. The people I worked with at WADA were absolutely amazing, the best in the field. But it’s my feeling they’ve been betrayed by their leadership.” Again, another sentiment I’ve agreed with multiple times in this very space. Do yourself a favor and read the entire interview. It will simultaneously blow your mind and piss you off beyond belief. Here’s the CliffsNotes version: Improved testing protocols or whistleblowers going straight to WADA or USADA is not what’s ultimately going to clean up doping in sports. “WADA only came out in support of the whistleblowers because of [prominent Irish journalist] David Walsh’s article [“Husband and wife who brought down Russia.”] based on his interview with Yulia and Vitaly,” Roberston told Epstein. “That’s how it works, it has to be in the media.”