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Face the Facts: EPO Usage Likely Widespread!

by Robert Johnson

May 23, 2000

To all track purists and all those who think distance running is clean:

It's time to take your blind-folds off. Now that you can see, hopefully you'll take a look around and see that drug usage at the top levels of the sport is widespread and it's time we started doing something about it namely blood-testing.

What's that? You say you don't actually see anyone doing drugs. Come on now, don't be naïve. Do you really expect to see an athlete standing at the starting line of a major competition sticking a syringe full of E.P.O. in his or her veins? If so, you ought to be committed.

There are a lot of reasons why one should believe EPO usage is widespread at the top levels of the sport.

I first became suspicious when I realized that all of the men's distant event world records most likely to be affected by EPO usage have been obliterated since EPO gained FDA approval in 1989 (not 1991 as I previously stated). If one compares the progression of the distance world records in the ten years since EPO came out (1989-1999) to the historical progression of the records during the previoius 20 years (starting with the year 1969), one is bound to become suspicious.

Let's start with the 10k. Prior to EPO's introduction in 1989, the men, world record had remained nearly static for roughly 25 years. In 1989, the 10k world record for men was 27:08.81 (set by Arturio Barrios in 1989). This time didn't represent much of an improvement from the 27:39.3 that was the record in 1969 (set by Ron Clarke in 1965.

In absolute terms, the record only fell 30.5 seconds. However, one should remember that Clarke's record was run on a cinder track, which when compared to today's surfaces, costs a runner at least one second per lap. Thus looking at things conservatively, Clarke's record was equivalent to a 27:14 (25 seconds faster or one per lap) on a modern track and thus the world record had really only come down by 5.5 seconds in two decades.

However, in the ten track seasons since EPO was put on the market (1989-1999), the 10k world record has dropped an amazing 45.48 seconds, which is a lot more than the 5.5 seconds (or even 30.5 seconds if you don't believe my cinder track conversion) it came down from in 20 years since 1969 - a time frame twice as long. In percentage terms, the % improvement per year in the 10k world record has increased by an astonishing 198% in absolute terms since 1969 and 1397% if one takes into count the fact Clarke ran his record on a cinder track.

If this doesn't make you suspicious, then I urge you to look at following chart which shows similar astonishing improvements in the world records for every men's Olympic distance event from 1,500 meters on up in the eight years since EPO came out when compared to the historical improvements seen from 1969 to 1989. In fact, the chart reveals that the annual percentage improvement in each men's distance world records has increased by at least 19% since EPO was first commercially introduced in 1991.

(Please note: I used men's times only because the worldwide level of competition in men's running has been much greater over the time frame. Women didn't start running the longer events regularly on the international scene until the 1980s. The year 1969 was used as the starting point because although I first noticed the trend in the 10k (with Clarke in 1965) I couldn't track down the marathon record for any year prior to 1969. I wanted to keep the starting year consistent so I wouldn't accused of rigging the data to fit my conculsion. For example, if I used the year 1965 for the 10k, my numbers would be even more impressive.)


1969 WR

1989 WR Pre EPO

 Pre EPO

 1999 WR

 Post EPO

% change in annual
of WR since
EPO's introduction







































Now I know many of you might claim that the huge improvement in the world records might be expected due to an increased amount of competition (mainly from Africans now that there is prize money in the sport). I disagree as prize money/appearance fees first were introduced openly in the 1980s, and I believe most would agree that the increase in the amount of competition was greater from 1965 to 1989 than from 1989 to 1999.

Still not convinced? Then let's turn to cycling.

Just a few years ago, everyone in cycling was doing what everyone in running seems to be doing now denying that EPO usage was widespread despite a large number of behind the scenes rumors and reasons to believe that it indeed was being abused. The denials only stopped when the French authorities caught a bunch of the top teams at the 1998 Tour De France redhanded with tons of EPO in their cars/hotels.

Despite the fact that the top people in cycling had been denying it for years, the result of the Tour de France EPO Scandal of 1998 was that most observers walked away believing that virtually every top cyclist was abusing EPO.

It's stupid to believe that distance running would be any different than cycling. The performance of runners, much like cyclists, improves a great deal from EPO. And while most runners don't train in as structured of an environment as cyclists, they still have agents or coaches who easily could supervise their EPO usage. Additionally, training camps have become increasingly common in running over the last few years.

Considering the fact there have been astonishing improvements in distance running since EPO was introduced in the marketplace in 1991 and we know that EPO usage was widespread in cycling, I think it's very difficult not to conclude that EPO is being used by many top distance runners.

At the very least, everyone should agree that there are a lot of reasons to be suspicious. As a result, we ought to move quickly to introduce blood testing into the sport as this type of testing is the only one that offers any chance of catching the new drugs like EPO.

Regretfully yours,

Robert Johnson

PS. I always wondered if that college statistics course would ever prove to be practical. I guess the torture was worth it after all.

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