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Post 08 Mar 2016, 12:24 pm

http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/tennis/35750285

So, start of a new month, guess it must be time for yet another doping scandal in top level sport. This time, take a bow Maria Sharapova, who just held a press conferenced to announce that she's tested positive for some drug called meldonium, which has only recently been added to the banned list. She's adopted a clever PR strategy to try and get out in front of the story and as it stands she seems to be attracting a measure of sympathy from the media, but really she shouldn't. The claim is that this is a drug she's been taking on the advice of her 'family doctor' for the last 10 years to treat some ill-defined health conditions and because there's apparently a family history of diabetes. She says that she missed the email where it was announced that it was going to be banned from the start of 2016 and so ended up testing positive at the Australian Open. It all sounds vaguely plausible until you become acquainted with the facts.

Meldonium is performance enhancing. It increases blood flow and so boosts endurance, which is obviously going to be of use to a lot of high-level professional athletes, particularly in a sport like tennis. It would be interesting to find out who this so-called family doctor is, because Sharapova has been resident in the US since she was 7 years old and meldonium has never been licensed by the FDA, meaning that a woman worth over $100 million with access to the finest medical treatment known to man must have been sourcing it from back home in Russia and getting it imported into a jurisdiction where it is illegal to prescribe. It's also a fact that she doesn't actually have diabetes, and that the Latvian manufacturers of the drug say that it's intended for use by people with serious heart disease and a typical course of treatment lasts for 4-6 weeks. Not 10 years you'll note. Oh, and apparently 17% of Russian athletes have been found to be regular users of it. Amazing how many Russian athletes seem to have heart disease...

While it's true to say that this has only just been banned so Sharapova hasn't actually been breaking any rules up until January this year, it's also quite clear that she was doping the whole time. She took this drug for 10 years because it enhanced her performance, not because she needed it medically.

But I don't want to be too harsh on Sharapova. Yes, I'm convinced that she's been doping for her whole career, but the same goes for most top sportspeople. We need only look at the unfolding farce at the IAAF to see that. Russia found to be systematically doping all their athletes, Kenya about to be ruled in breach of the WADA code, whistleblowers at the Oregon Project suggesting widescale doping in the US, and all the time the head of the IAAF was running a protection racket taking bribes to cover up positive tests. Clearly athletics is a joke. Then we have cycling of course, which doesn't even need to be discussed, so much has already been revealed about systematic doping in that sport. Tennis is likely to be the next sport to utterly and completely lose the trust of the fans, and not before time. It's well known that Dr Fuentes, the Spanish sports doctor who was busted in the Operacion Puerto scandal a few years back, was not only working with cyclists. He also had a number of athletes, tennis players (Rafa Nadal anyone ?) and footballers on his books, and had been known to work with both Real Madrid and Barcelona in the past. The Spanish courts have ordered that all of his samples be destroyed and the appeal against that decision is soon to be heard. Anybody like to take a guess as to why they'd want to try and cover up the disgrace of so many national heroes...?

I'm firmly of the opinion that almost all of our sporting heroes will someday be exposed as drugs cheats. In fact, the way things are going it'll soon be more of a case of who isn't doping ? Here's just a few of the big names that I'm fairly certain are probably cheating, I'd be interested to see if youy agree:

Rafa Nadal. As insinuated above, it seems highly likely that Nadal is, or at least was, a doper. When he started out in the game he was a waif and yet somehow he beefed up into a man mountain who nevetheless managed to play at a million miles per hour for 5 sets without ever seeming to tire despite covering vast distances mostly from the baseline. It's well known that Spanish sport has a major doping problem and also that Fuentes' samples included several from well known tennis players, but we'll probably never get to the bottom of that. Either way though, the inexplicable rise and of Nadal and his lung-busting style surely has to make him suspect. There used to be a very lengthy post available about the 'curious case of Rafael Nadal' on this blog:

http://tennishasasteroidproblem.blogspot.co.uk/

It gave chapter and verse on the subject in great detail, but it seems to have been taken down. Rumour is that the blog author had been threatened... The rest of it is still well worth reading though.

Mo Farah. National treasure that he is, you do have to be sceptical about the man. He was a middling performer for years until he went off and hooked up with Salazar (now under a cloud of course) and suddenly began to completely dominate his sport. Keep in mind that his sport is itself dominated by Kenyans and Ethiopians, who have the laxest drug testing regimes in athletics and a huge number of whom have still tested positive anyway. It's obvious that distance running is is utterly riddled with dopers. Yet here's Mo Farah, who consistently beats all of the dopers. Anybody really believe that he's doing it cleanly ? I certainly don't.

And then there's the big one...

Usain Bolt. It pains me to say this because I really like Bolt, he's probably the coolest man on Earth. But let's get real here. After Bolt, the next fastest men on Earth are Justin Gatlin, Tyson Gay, Yohan Blake and Asafa Powell. What do all of these men have in common ? Well, every single one of them is a proven drug cheat, some of whom have been banned more than once. Are we really expected to believe that the only man in top-level sprinting not on drugs is the one who's half a second quicker than all the rest of them ? I mean really.

When Ben Johnson famously doped his way to gold in the 88 Olympics the samples from the final were frozen and kept in storage. Twenty years later somebody from WADA went back and retested them. What he found was that Johnson was not the only doper in the race. In fact, there was only one member of that race who came up clean, the man who finished last. He also found traces of all kinds of other drugs which the testers at the time didn't even realise existed let alone had a test for. If you believer things are any different now then you're a more trusting man than I am. Personally I don't think there's a single record in major athletics that can be trusted and I think that a lot of the great teams that we've all been thrilled by over the years will one day be viewed the same way we view Johnson et al as well.

Are there any heroes left ?
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Post 10 Mar 2016, 10:50 am

We have to first ask why is it that we care when athletes take PEDs. The only reason I can see is to protect the health of the athlete. A baseball player from a dirt-poor country is not going to care about . cheating when he can become unimaginably rich by doing so. The money in sports has just gotten crazy over the past 25-30 years. It simply makes economic sense for athletes to cheat. For some reason, all of us seem to have this upper-class British sentiment that one shouldn't cheat. That is a reasonable expectation for amateurs, but for a professional athlete who can make a 100 million dollars by taking PEDs the benefits far exceed the risks. A part of me just says let athletes take what they want to take. Baseball was a heck of a lot better when players were taking steroids...
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Post 10 Mar 2016, 11:27 am

Hmmm....

So, to compete in a sport you'd basically have to put things in your body that will most likely lead to a shorter lifespan or long-term health problems. Shoot, open it up to in-game cocaine use ala Hollywood Henderson. Look, I'm all for liberalizing drug use for recreational purposes but when it becomes an occupational necessity, I draw the line.

Kind of makes me think of Rollerball, that movie with James Caan only us geezers remember.
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Post 10 Mar 2016, 11:33 am

Well, it would be more honest, anyway. And I do remember Rollerball...vaguely.
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Post 10 Mar 2016, 11:48 am

I guess it is an athlete's choice, is what you are saying. That makes sense to me, Freeman.

I remember Rollerball. Great movie. Just watched the video clip of the ending. Good Times...
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Post 10 Mar 2016, 12:16 pm

Having a complete drugs free for all is a seductive idea, but it breaks down when you start to think it through. The problems are legion. firstly, it would just mean that all sport devolves into competitive pharmacology. Who wants to watch that ? Think Formula One writ large, only with drugs instead of engines. The top athletes would not be the most talented but the ones with access to the best new chemicals. This would in turn create another, much bigger problem. Since all athletes would be looking for a competitive edge it would encourage experimentation and secrecy. Everybody would be looking for that extra edge which give them the drop on their competitors. This would inevitably push people into taking ever greater risks with new substances that they don't understand, and would inevitably lead to people dying or suffering severe long term health consequences. Is this what we want sport to be about ?

To what extent could it ever be informed consent on the part of the athlete ? You're some talented 14 year old swimmer in China and your coach tells you to take this or that, how do you refuse ? How do you know whether or not you ought to refuse ? I realise that this kind of dilemma happens anyway, but it would be infinitely worse in a world without doping controls.It's a dystopian future that we'd be inflicting on our children and I think parents would rebel against it pretty quickly.

I should also add that allowing PEDs to be used freely does not actually mean there'd be a level playing field. Different PEDs affect different bodies types in varying ways. A good example a friend told me about recently was EPO. Those who have a naturally lower hematocrit level in their bloodstream receive a much bigger boost from using EPO than those with naturally higher levels. What thios would mean if we simply allow EPO to be used in sport is that those who are genetically least suited to endurance sports like cycling and distance running would paradoxically be the MOST suited to taking those sports up professionally. It would be ridiculous.

Doping can be beaten quite easily if we're willing to fund it. The problem is that nobody is willing to stump up the cash to pay for the sort of testing regimes needed. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that most governing bodies and a significant number of national governments have no interest in catching dopers, quite the reverse in fact.
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Post 10 Mar 2016, 12:54 pm

Well, testing has apparently worked fairly well in baseball, offense is down quite a bit. But you still do see players with amazingly varying levels of performance, particularly during contract years. To think I used to be naive enough to think that players did better in their walk year because they tried harder!
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Post 10 Mar 2016, 1:16 pm

They've probably just gotten better at evading the testers. offence will inevitably be down since they never used to do any testing at all, meaning guys could get away with being massive roid monsters, but even now there are plenty of ways to cheat. Certain drugs like HGH have a very small window of glow time and it's comparatively simple to get away with it if you're clever enough.
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Post 11 Mar 2016, 3:22 am

One major problem is that there are some who you have mentioned in your first post who may well be clean, Sass, but we see the taint extend to them and everyone else in their sports as a result of the actions of others.

Bolt, at least, was strong as a youth athlete, and you do get rare physical one-offs.

I agree, though, that allowing PED use is a very bad idea.
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Post 11 Mar 2016, 9:18 am

You do get them, but Bolt would be extraordinary. Pretty much every top Jamaican sprinter has been caught at one time or another, including most of Bolt's training partners. On top of that you have essentially all of his rivals. I wouldn't be at all surprised if it turns out that Bolt has already tested positive at some stage in his career but it was hushed up for fear of what that would do to the sport.
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Post 11 Mar 2016, 1:40 pm

What kind of proof is needed before an athlete gets that PED label ? Over here you tend to get shouted down if you hint at a baseball player using PEDs unless they have failed a drug test. I think circumstantial evidence other than failed drug tests can possibly justify an opinion of PED use. The tell- tale sign of PED use is rapid unexplained improvement at an unlikely age of an athlete; the average athlete turning into the best athlete in the sport. Florence Griffith-Joyner comes to mind. In baseball, Encarnacion and Bautista were part-time players until their late '20s until they went to Toronto and turned into huge homerun hitters . Toronto is a homerun friendly park...but it is not that friendly. Josh Hamilton was an MVP candidate and is now is a questionable starter; and the spring training of the year his performance declined he showed up having lost a lot of weight due to a supposed juicing diet. I am not kidding. Albert Pujols was one of the best players in baseball DURING the steroids era, had a dramatic loss of performance in his early 30s, and he also showed up one spring training after testing began having lost a lot of weight.

Is it fair to label those athletes as PED users or we can only do so with a failed drug test?maybe it 's not fair; I certainly do not have any kind of definitive opinion with regard to the athletes mentioned above and would not publicly accuse them of PED use.I do think there has to be some significant level of proof; it's not fair to just assume PED because of high performance. There should some evidence of PED use, at least a good deal of circumstantial evidence or direct evidence of failed drug test. Circumstantial evidence being, for example, athletes don't go from being average to hall of fame caliber in the mid- point of their career without chemical aid. With regard to Usain Bolt what evidence ties him to PED use apart from high performance ? If there is nothing else then I don't think that is near enough.
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Post 11 Mar 2016, 1:54 pm

I'm not saying he should be banned, just that I personally don't believe he's clean.

Look, baseball is not the best benchmark for this stuff. Nowadays drugs programs are far more sophisticated, although in many cases they don't need to be. In certain countries doping is systematically organised (think Russia or China) and in others the level of funding is so low and the extent of corruption so all-pervasive that it might as well be. Kenya and Jamaica both fall into this category. Both of these countries are not only notorious for doping and rife with corruption, they're also remarkably successful in international competition. I think there's a reason for that, and I very much doubt that Usain Bolt could have come through the exact same system as Blake and Powell and Fraser-Pryce and all the rest of the Jamaican dopers at about the same time and using the exact same coaches without also being exposed to PEDs. It's completely illogical to think that he could have separated himself from the predominant culture in Jamaican sprinting, and it's very naive to think that he could consistently beat so many guys who we know full well have been doping if he wasn't doping himself.
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Post 11 Mar 2016, 3:34 pm

That's essentially a guilt by association argument. The inferences you are making may be logical but without evidence particular to Bolt tying him to PEDs I don't think they are particularly fair. Bolt makes the case that he has been having great results from a very young age. With no failed drug test and no circumstantial evidence of an athlete all of sudden becoming great and no discernible body build-up indicating PED use... where's the actual evidence of use?

www.independent.co.uk/sport/general/ath ... 31975.html
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Post 11 Mar 2016, 5:33 pm

Sassenach wrote:I'm not saying he should be banned, just that I personally don't believe he's clean.

Look, baseball is not the best benchmark for this stuff. Nowadays drugs programs are far more sophisticated, although in many cases they don't need to be. In certain countries doping is systematically organised (think Russia or China) and in others the level of funding is so low and the extent of corruption so all-pervasive that it might as well be. Kenya and Jamaica both fall into this category. Both of these countries are not only notorious for doping and rife with corruption, they're also remarkably successful in international competition. I think there's a reason for that, and I very much doubt that Usain Bolt could have come through the exact same system as Blake and Powell and Fraser-Pryce and all the rest of the Jamaican dopers at about the same time and using the exact same coaches without also being exposed to PEDs. It's completely illogical to think that he could have separated himself from the predominant culture in Jamaican sprinting, and it's very naive to think that he could consistently beat so many guys who we know full well have been doping if he wasn't doping himself.

Sorry, that's not even circumstantial evidence, it's conjecture based on generalisation and guilt by association. Which coaches has he shared with which known doped athletes?
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Post 12 Mar 2016, 12:36 am

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glen_Mills

Yohan Blake is his training partner btw, they run at the same club together. Several other sprinters coached coached by Mills have tested positive over the years. Outside of Bolt you'd be hard pushed to find a top Jamaican sprinter who hasn't.

It should also be noted that Bolt started out as a 200m specialist and didn't switch to the 100m until a year or so before the Beijing Olympics, where he went on to smash the world record.

You guys can believe him if you want to. I'm not trying to prove anything, just pointing out why I'm suspicious. I like Usain Bolt and in a funny sort of way I hope he never does get caught, but I have a very hard time believing that the only clean athlete in the race is also the fastest.

edit:

If you want some more detail, this is a pretty good read:

http://www.letsrun.com/forum/flat_read. ... 768&page=7

Turns out that Bolt has a notorious drugs expert on the payroll, one who was implicated in BALCO and worked with several other top sprinters who subsequently failed doping tests. I'm sure it's all above board though... :rolleyes:

Oh, and this from the comments below:

Just look up the IAAF 200m results for the period of 2005-2008 and count the times in 2005-2007 when Bolt finished second. He was a consistent 19.9 guy--FOR SEVERAL YEARS--with the exception of one race in Jamaica (their NC I think) where he ran 19.75.

In meet after meet, Usain would get out ahead in a 200...and his good friend Wallace Spearmon would run him down from behind. In 2007, Bolt lost to Spearmon in New York, in Sheffield, and he lost to Gay in Osaka.

Then, suddenly, in 2008 Bolt was untouchable...and the margin was huge.

Without phamacology, it doesn't work that way.