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Rojo Speaks: January 30, 2002
The Questions No One Else Will Ask:
by Robert Johnson
Listening to USATF's international teleconference on Tuesday promoting Regina Jacobs world record run in the rarely contested 2 mile last week and her scheduled performance in the mile at this Friday's Verizon Millrose Games was hard to take. It was depressing and the majority of the time I felt like I wanted to throw up.
I mean listening to the fluff questions and her b.s., p.r. friendly answers was hard to stomach. Regina is really good at doing the p.r. thing and she was on top of her game. I'm not so sure about the journalists - and all of the usual suspects were participating: Runners World, Track and Field News, etc. - as they seemed incapable of asking the one question that most needed to be asked (click here to see excerpts from the interview from the USATF site). I mean how many times do we have to hear about Regina's stupid little miniature poodle Floyd and what a great training partner he is (Regina even talked about what a tough negotiator Floyd is and how he demanded a major section on her web-site which was unveiled today). Regina also talked about how invigorating it was to have new training partners at four local high schools, which is fine, but then she said that the four schools were "gracious enough" to let her train with them and my b.s. meter went off. Give me a break. Am I really supposed to believe that she thinks the schools are doing her a favor? Any school in the country should be honored to have a world-record holder working with them. Editor's Note: Track & Field News has informed us that they did not participate in the teleconference. Walt Murphy, who occasionally writes for TFN did participate, but he was not representing TFN. We apologize for the error.
The depressing thing was the whole time I'm thinking to myself, "My god, who are these answers appealing to? What real runner or running publication wants to listen to these p.r. friendly answers she is giving out?" Then I was reminded of a conversation I had ten days ago with some people involved in the promotion of distance running and they introduced to me to a new concept - "The People Magazine's Mentality of Distance Running."
They invented this concept to explain the success of Runners World magazine which seemingly features a model on the cover each and every month and barely addresses running at all. They said Runners World in its effort to reach the greatest circulation has to go to the lowest common denominator which is fitness, not running. I guess this makes sense. Being vaguely interested and not knowing much about celebrities, I find People magazine entertaining and will peruse it and occasional purchase it while waiting in line at the grocery store as it gives a nice glossary account of celebrity comings and goings. I guess for those many thousands of people who are truly interested in fitness and vaguely interested in running Runners World is a great magazine in a similar fashion. But for serious runners, it leaves a lot to be desired. That being said, I am subscriber.
Anyway, as the interview dragged on and on, I finally worked up the courage to ask a few decent real questions of Regina. The type of questions that everybody seriously involved in the sport wants to see answered but are never addressed. I mean drug accusations and Regina Jacob are practically synonyms in track and field circles (and probably explain her trouble getting a major shoe sponsor despite her great success over the years). Yet you never see the drug issue raised in an interview with her when you think it would be in both the fans and Regina's mutual benefit for the questions to be raised and put to rest (assuming of course she is innocent).
I thought long and hard about how I was going to broach the subject of drugs with Regina. As those of you who know me can attest, thinking long and hard how to somewhat delicately ask my questions didn't come easy for me as I have a tendency to pop off a little with my mouth before really thinking and have trouble showing restraint. Hey, I'm a passionate guy.
I'd been warned by virtually everyone to show a little restraint, but I really didn't need the advice. Trust me, I wasn't about to spout out and sling drug accusations at Regina and get LetsRun.com banned as an unprofessional site. Rather, I was going to ask legitimate journalistic questions that raise the drug issue but in a 100% totally professional manner. They just happen to be the questions that no one else seemingly will ask. (Yet they will ask them when it involves a foreign runner such as North Korea's Song-ok Jong)
Thanks to my brother Weldon's sleuth investigative
abilities and some help from the LetsRun.com message board posters,
I became aware of the fact that Tim Layden of Sports Illustrated
had written the following after Regina pulled out of the 2000
Olympic Games three weeks before they started and about a month
after it was announced EPO testing would be in place:
Regina Jacobs, U.S. 1,500 runner: After a brilliant spring and summer, and a double (1,500 and 5,000) at the U.S. trials in Sacramento, Jacobs got sick and pulled out of the Games. This is not only sad at face value, but allowed much of the world track press to suspect that Jacobs was pulling out to avoid the Sydney EPO test. It's not fair, but that's the way it is. And it might just be Jacobs' legacy. http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/olympics/2000/track_and_field/news/2000/09/20/layden_track/
Thus I decided to put the context of my first question in terms of Regina's legacy and to specifically mention Tim Layden and Sports Illustrated by name so that the burden of any accusations would be coming from an established media outlet and not me and some web-site that she probably had never heard of.
after hearing Regina talk about pulling out of the Olympics
and her advanced age of 38, I finally was spurred to action
and had the following give and take with Ms. Jacobs:
Robert Johnson: "Regina, Robert Johnson here with LetsRun.com. You're 38 old. You have accomplished an awful lot in the sport but you have to be thinking about the end, although you are running great these days. Do you feel that somewhat perhaps the legacy of Sydney and this year at the Worlds that could sort of overshadow (the rest of your career) and end up being your legacy?-the pullouts, I know Tim Layden (of Sports Illustrated) wrote something in 2000, that fair or not, when you pull out in this day and age, and don't do well on the world scene, people, now that the EPO testing is out, think of that (as being the reason)?" (Editor's note: Robert was cut off before adding the end of his question)
Regina Jacobs: "Well I think it's funny because I had someone say something about all my injuries and I was like, 'Huh? How did I make all these medals and have so many injuries?' I think that one of the things that I've bee most proud of isn't that I've been able to compete at such a high-level, but that I have, given my age, been able to stay injury free for such a long-time. Because let's face it, I mean the way we train, there's (even) a lot of younger athletes that are felled by injuries. So I'm just taking it one race, one season at a time, (because of) what I recognized at the world championships - it (This next race or season) could be the end. When you get to this age, it's the injuries that end careers - and attitude."
Robert Johnson: "Right. But do you feel any extra motivation maybe to perform well somewhere on the world scene - after the EPO testing - where they have that in place to prove to your critics that that's not what it is?"
Regina Jacobs: "No. Can I answer
the next question?"
So there you have it. My official give and take with Regina Jacobs. Her second response was a classic. I just wish I knew of a way to put my scratchy tape-recording up on the web so you could hear her long and protracted, anger-rising "No." It was the only time during the whole interview that she wasn't full of laughs or had lots to say (Actually, I don't have to worry about it. Someone just emailed the site and told me that USATF has put up the entire interview on their site. The entire interview is about 24 minutes long. My questions come very close to the end, about 4/5th of the way into it, just after the 20 minute mark if your player displays the time. Click hear to listen to entire interview(Windows Media Player)).
In looking at her first response, she seemingly ignored my actual question (as well as cut me off and wouldn't let me ask the full question) , but regardless, her response certainly isn't going to satisfy her detractors. It may actually even add fuel to the fire. I never said she was injured a lot. It's precisely the fact that she's enjoyed such a long and relatively injury free career that makes her withdrawals at the major championships since the advent of EPO testing all the more suspect (In addition to pulling out of the 2000 Olympics three weeks before the Games and about a month after EPO testing was announced, Regina Jacobs also dropped out of her heat at the 2001 World Outdoor Track and Field championships).
As for her response to my second question, it's clear that Regina isn't comfortable talking about drug related questions. I thought the question offered a great opportunity for her to vouch for her desire to prove her innocence, but I guess she had more important things to talk about - like her dog.
All I know is that if I was the center of countless drug accusations and truly innocent, my #1 priority would be to prove my innocence. I would welcome the chance to given an opportunity to perform well and then be tested so I could prove my critics wrong. Either Regina is unconcerned about the fact that her name is already being tarnished by accusations or she is indeed guilty.
Critics likely will say that I put Regina in the unenviable position of trying to disprove something that is already unproven - sort of like a politician trying to prove that he or she didn't have an affair - for she has no official positive drug tests on her record. I don't agree with this assertion. An unfortunate legacy of track and field's drug scandal filled past, with shoddy testing and supposed cover-ups of positive tests, is the fact that no official positives in one's drug testing history does not result in one necessarily being considered innocent in this day and age.
This is precisely why we want to open up the whole drug testing scene, make it public, employ blood tests, save samples for a number of years and clean up the sport from the inside out with the athletes leading the way. Once credibility is restored the system, then no official positives in one's testing history will result in one being considered innocent and the media will move on to other professional sports where the testing is currently a complete joke like the NFL or NBA.
I know if I was the center of drug accusations that were costing me thousands of dollars in endorsements, as is the case with Regina, I would welcome the opportunity to clear my name. After setting the world record, I'd demand to be given both the standard drug test as well as the EPO test so the media would make note of it. What better way to prove your innocence than to be given the most sophisticated test right after such a great achievement?
Imagine how much good Regina could do for both the sport's and her own image if she offered to take the EPO test right now and also requested to be given an EPO test out of competition sometime during 2002 at a time of the tester's choosing. For the sport to regain its credibility, athletes have to lead the way.
Regina, if you read this and want to take
an EPO test out of competition this year, let us know. LetsRun.com
will find a way to raise the money and pay for it.
PS. For those of you looking for more words of wisdom from the interview, the only thing of note from my perspective was that Regina said she wasn't sure if she was gong to do world cross country or not. She's definitely going to do the US Trials but isn't sure about worlds. EPO Testing has been announced for the world cross country this year. Hopefully, Regina will go and clear her name. (Click here to see Regina's answer about world cross country from the USATF site) or Click here to listen to entire interview (Windows Media Player)).
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Editor's Note: Robert Johnson, a.k.a. "Rojo", is the co-founder of LetsRrun.com. Robert has been running all of his life, but only competing seriously since the Fall of 1997 as a serious of injuries curtailed his high school career and prevented him from running in college. Since returning to competitive running, Robert progressed quickly and just missed out on qualifying for the 2000 US Men's Olympic Marathon Trials by running a 2:23:11 marathon at the 2000 Las Vegas Marathon. A former high school math teacher, Robert is in the process of moving back to Flagstaff, AZ to work on the web-site and assist his brother in preparations for the 2004 US Olympic Trials.