Saturday, 29 August 2015

Bolt to the rescue!

After Usain Bolt's 100m victory in World Championships last Sunday, I felt almost guilty for ever doubting him. After the 200m final I felt a sense of relief when Bolt crossed the finish line with meters to spare over Gatlin.

Of course I always wanted Bolt to win but I admit its been really exciting having Gatlin running so well. For the first time since Bolt broke the 100m world record in 2008, we generally didin't know whether he would win or not.

The good v evil narrative might be journalistic hyperbole but clearly the symbolism of either Bolt or Gatlin winning was always going to be huge. With Bolt prevailing he can be pushed as the saviour of the sport but in many ways his victory has little impact on the greater challenge of eradicating drug cheating in athletics.

I remember hearing the comments of former British sprinter Darren Campbell who argued that if Justin Gatlin had won the title it would force the IAAF to really confront the issue of drugs in the sport, what with a 2 time banned doper returning to win the blue riband event in athletics. I understand this argument and partly agree with it but ultimately Bolt beating Gatlin was the best result for the sport.

Athletics has has a rough ride in recent weeks and has been under a huge amount of scrutiny, particularly following the investigation into doping by The Sunday Times Insight team.

As an athletics fan I don't want to see the sport I love discredited and undermined which in effect is what happens everytime somebody is reported to have tested positive for a banned substance.

Like cycling, people have always taken drugs in athletics, and people will continue to do so. The key is to catch those individuals particularly before they compete in major championships and win any medals.

When I started getting into cycling and began learning more about drug abuse in the sport, I learned that people took drugs because they didn't think they could compete or win as clean athletes.

Athletics is an incredibly competitive sport, a sport that is truly global and to win medals is hard. Again taking cycling as an example, athletes and coaches need to understand and believe that they can compete as clean athletes.

The second point which I think differs from athletics is that I hear stories about athletes testing positive and to be honest I'm not always convinced that every athlete that tests positive for drugs has done so deliberately. There are so many medicines and supplement that athletes can take which include banned substances that I sometimes wonder if they've been ignorant or just naive.

I came across the following statement on the website of British Athletics:

Before using any medications, whether prescribed by a GP, bought over the counter in a Pharmacy or even straight from a supermarket shelf, it is vital that athletes check whether they contain prohibited substances. Medicines bought in the UK, USA, Canada or Japan, can be checked using GlobalDRO (

It makes it clear that athletes have to take the responsibility of knowing what substances they are putting into their body even if it's for medical reasons - I think this makes the argument about drug cheating a little more complex.

When it comes to sanctions imposed I think this is an area where things need to improve. Justin Gatlin has been able to return to the sport like many other athletes because the length of his ban has been too short. I think drug bans should be for at least 5 years.

That's long enough to potentially take away the best years from a younger athletes career - alternatively for older athletes such a ban could end their career. I don't think 5 years will come into effect but I can see 4 years being introduced.

When it comes to athletics punditry I always love listening to Michael Johnson, so have a listen to some of the things he had to say on BBC Radio 5 this week.

People like me are always going stick with athletics. If you're a sports fan you love different sports for different reasons. With athletics there's something I love about the simplicity of it all. It's just about who can run faster, throw further and jump higher than their competitors. But you need to have credibility about what you're seeing and that's the challenge for athletics.

A good example of this is when I look at many of the womens world records for 100m, 200m, 400m and 800m I shake my head, there's a question mark over everyone one of them. It's this type of question mark which I don't want to hang over the entire sport of athletics and I hope that with the election of Seb Coe as head of the IAAF things can move forward and improve.