Unless you live in a cave with no wi-fi service, you know that the role of PEDs in various sports has been all over the news lately. Fans of the Tour de France have been keeping their fingers crossed that their recently crowned champion, Chris Froome, will avoid the drug scandals that have plagued that sport for-seemingly-ever and restore some semblance of legitimacy to the yellow jersey.
By the way, there was a really interesting article in the New York Times last week describing the efforts of a physiologist to detect drug cheats in the Tour by comparing their performances to those of known juicers. Here it is…
Fans of track and field have to wonder if there is such a thing as a clean sprint champion, as Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell were busted last week. And speaking of Tyson, why does a thirty-year-old world class athlete require the services of an “anti-aging” specialist? Didn’t he (Tyson) have the leading time in the 100-meters this year? Does that sound like he’s suffering from the affects of old age? I’m the one who ought to be seeing a specialist. Takes me about a minute-and-a-half to haul my 50-year-old butt 100 meters, and then I need a nap. Here’s a link to a Sports Illustrated article about Tyson and his specialist…
Finally, fans of Major League Baseball, took a high hard one to the chin as Milwaukee Brewers all-star Ryan Braun admitted that he had been using PEDs and accepted a 65-game suspension. Braun, you may remember, tested positive in 2011 but avoided a suspension by successfully arguing that his sample had been “mishandled.” He insinuated that the poor schlemiel who collected his sample had somehow spiked it with testosterone before mailing it to the lab. This resulted in death threats aimed at the collector and should ensure Braun a prominent spot in the Big Fat Douchebag wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Braun, like Tyson Gay, was a client of an “anti-aging” clinic. It was evidence gathered while investigating that clinic which resulted in Braun’s suspension. Here is an article about him…
Often, when you read about PED scandals in baseball, you come across references to the “Steroid Era” and to Commissioner Bud Selig’s determination to move the game past that era. Commissioner Selig wants very badly to show baseball fans that he is taking all possible measures to keep PEDs out of the sport. This may have something to do with the fact that Selig was commissioner during the Steroid Era and is embarrassed by accusations that he kept his head firmly buried in the sand while a bunch of ‘roided up sluggers destroyed some of the game’s most cherished records.
I would date baseball’s Steroid Era as stretching from approximately 1995 to 2007. Though few prominent players were ever busted (baseball did not even begin testing major leaguers until 2003), a quick look at statistics shows that something fishy was going on during that period. For example…
-During the 1970′s only one player hit 50 home runs.
-During the 1980′s not a single player hit 50 home runs.
-From 1990-1994 one player hit 50 home runs.
-During the period from 1995-2007 twenty-two players hit fifty or more home runs.
The poster child for baseball’s Steroid Era (and a man who should get his own wing in the Narcissism Hall of Fame) is Barry Bonds who, suddenly blessed with biceps as imperious as his ego, launched 73 home runs in 2001, and eventually set the record for most homers in a career (762).
Selig would argue that, through the implementation of a thorough testing program, baseball has greatly limited the use of PEDs. Statistics prove him correct. In the five seasons stretching from 2008 to 2012, only one player hit 50 home runs.
So, good for Selig for finally facing up to the challenge of steroids in baseball. But, here’s the problem: the record books have forever been ruined. As long as baseball devotes its considerable resources to detecting and punishing drug cheats (and that seems quite likely, especially now that the players union is on board) Bonds will never be supplanted as the all-time home run king. He will remain in the record books forever.
And if you love baseball, that really sucks.
Because he is a cheater (and a tool).
Which brings me to the main point of this article: The throws are in the same boat as baseball. When I say “throws,” for the purpose of this article I am going to refer only to the shotput and discus as I don’t know much about the javelin or hammer.
And from the late 1970′s until the early 1990′s, the shot and disc experienced a Steroid Era as pronounced as baseball’s. The men’s and women’s world records for each of those events were set during this era, and remain unbroken. Here they are, courtesy of the Track and Field News website:
||23.12 | 75-10.25
||Randy Barnes (US)
||(note: Barnes tested positive for steroids later in the year; in keeping with its standard policy, T&FN does not carry any of his ’90 marks on its all-time lists)
||74.08 | 243-0
||Jürgen Schult (East Germany)
||22.63 | 74-3
||Natalya Lisovskaya (Soviet Union)
||76.80 | 252-0
||Gabriele Reinsch (East Germany)
Aside from the world records, the list of all-time top performances in the shot and disc is absolutely saturated with throws from this period. According to a list posted at http://www.alltime-athletics.com/wshotok.htm there are only two women’s shotputters from outside of the Steroid Era whose performances appear among the top 300 throws of all time. One of those is Nadezhda Ostapchuk, who has since been banned. The other is Valeri Adams, whose PR of 21.24m ties her for 184th on the list.
The women’s discus statistics are even more skewed. Sondra Perkovic’s winning (69.11m) throw from last year’s Olympics? Good for 263rd place.
The men fare a bit better. While the list of farthest shot put throws is dominated by putters from the Steroid Era, at least Christian Cantwell and Adam Nelson managed to crack the top 15. (Kevin Toth’s 2003 put of 22.67m is listed at number 7, but he was banned shortly thereafter.) And 7 of the top 10 discus throws were produced since 2000 by Virgilius Alekna, Gerd Kanter, and Piotr Malachowski. (Robert Fazekas is at number 8, but like Toth he was banned.)
So, what’s the problem here? Based on these statistics, one could argue persuasively that track and field’s anti-doping measures are working. But having those all-time lists dominated by throwers from the Steroid Era diminishes the sport in two ways.
First, it makes today’s great throwers seem patently inferior to those from the Steroid Era.
As I was working on this article, Valeri Adams won the London Diamond League meet with a world-leading toss of 20.90m. That’s an outstanding throw from one of the greatest putters ever (a two-time Olympic Champion need I remind you) in the middle of her prime. And it ranks 405th on the list of all-time performances!
Do you see what that does to our sport? Imagine a young lady sitting at home in a country where they actually show the throws on television, seeing Adams nail that 20.90m to beat runner-up Christina Schwanitz by over a meter and, filled with inspiration turning to her parents and saying, “Wow! Mom, Dad, was that a world record?”
“Uh, no honey. But it tied her for the 405th best throw ever!”
“Awesome, maybe if I train hard someday I can crack the top 400!”
I asked Adams a couple of years ago if she thought she could make a run at the world record, and she just laughed at the notion. And looking at these statistics, she was right. As long as she stays clean, she’s not likely to get anywhere near it.
Feel free to raise your hand if you think that is good for our sport.
Second, if a current thrower does manage to break a world record, they will immediately be suspected of juicing.
It’s happening in baseball right now. Chris Davis of the Baltimore Orioles had 36 home runs going into the All-Star break. Guess what question he gets asked several thousand times per day?
The physiologist quoted in that article about the Tour de France to which I posted the link above argues that any current rider whose power output approaches that of the known juicers should be suspected of juicing as well.
And you tell me, if any current discus thrower, male or female, throws 75 meters…aren’t you going to wonder?
Again, this is awful for our sport. A world record should be cause for celebration, not suspicion.
So, what is to be done?
Baseball, if you pardon my bluntness, is screwed. They are trying their best to eliminate the use of PEDs, but the more successful they are the more likely it is that Bonds, the King of Cheaters, will continue to own the record book. I visited the Hall of Fame in 2004, and they have the all-time performance lists displayed all over the place. Even then, a couple of years before his retirement, Bonds’ name was everywhere. Based on evidence gathered during the Balco investigation, I suppose Selig could try to get Bonds erased from the record books, but what about all the other guys who got near the top of those all-time lists by cheating as well? Sammy Sosa (full disclosure: I grew up on the South Side of Chicago and hate the Cubs) pulled off the same panther-to-rhino transformation as Bonds late in his career. Actually, the Sosa/Mark McGwire home run race of 1998 is thought to have inspired Bonds to hit the sauce. But as far as I know, there is no hard evidence linking Sosa to steriods. So, should his name stay in the record books?
I imagine that mess has cost Selig many a night’s sleep, and as much as I’d like to see the record books renovated, I just don’t know how he could do it.
But for the shot and disc, a solution exists: Change the weight of the implements.
Add a half of a pound to the men’s and women’s implements and start over with a new set of world records. Think of the excitement it would add to our sport. At the 2016 Olympics, Whiting, Storl, Majewski and whoever battling for the lead until one of them walks away with a gold medal and a new world record.
We who love the throws are always talking about ways to make them more popular with the viewing public. Holding the shotput in venues like the Zurich train station is a step in the right direction. I’ll bet standing in that station holding a brat and a beer while watching world class putters is a lot of fun. Know what would be more fun? Whipping out your phone and texting your friends that you just saw a world record!
Right now, that’s about as likely as the movie Sharknado winning an Academy Award.
And that really bites.
by Dan McQuaid
this article originally appeared on the Illinois Track & Cross Country Coaches Association website on July 27, 2013