Where Your Dreams Become Reality
The Week That Was August 3 - August 9, 2009
An LRC Week That Was guest writer, Employee #1, combines forces with co-founders Rojo and Wejo to present our take on the biggest news of the week. We start off with news from the world's best milers - Alan Webb, Asbel Kiprop and German Fernandez - head to some Kenyan semantics and finish with a look at the drug fiasco currently unfolding in Jamaica. It's our last "Week That Was" before the World Championships, so enjoy it while you ponder Bolt vs. Gay and Wariner vs. Merritt, to name just two exciting rivalries coming up from Berlin.
Answer: Ethiopian Tilahun Regassa (apparently only 19 years old) smoked a talented, veteran field by going out in 8:44 for 2 miles on the 7.1-mile, hilly, warm course. Left in his wake were 2009 Boilermaker and Cherry Blossom champion Ridouane Harroufi, 2009 Beach To Beacon Champion Ed Muge, Meb Keflizighi and a bunch of other studs.
Nobody went with the young gun as the veterans assumed he was being an idiot. What actually happened was startling, and the veterans would regret their passive approach. Starting at three miles, Regassa was ahead by so much and feeling so good that he blew kisses to the crowd and smiled, as you can see in Victah Sailer's photo to the right.
If you click through the PhotoRun photo gallery, you can see the other runners covered with sweat, strain enveloping their faces. Compare them to Regassa's pictures. It looks like he's out for a jog. We'll keep our eyes out for Regassa, another potential Ethiopian road-race super-star like Deribe Merga.
On the women's side, Mamitu Daska made it look even easier, crushing 2nd place Rebecca Donoghue by just under 60 seconds. Donoghue has had a solid year, winning Club National XC and now beating everyone but Daska in Falmouth.
Topic #1: Miling News - Alan Webb Heads To Salazar Group, Kiprop Might Double, German Fernandez Gets A Competent Rival In James Brewer
One thing we wondered was how the decision was made. Whose idea was it? According to the article linked below, it was Webb's idea. His agent Ray Flynn said: "It's an amicable decision between (Alan) and Scott. He [Alan] likes the resources and the infrastructure of the Oregon project. Scott has coached him to the highest level of any American miler ever. Alan was to be respectful of what Scott has done for him. But he's reached a stage in his career now at 26 years old that he feels needs to make a change. The Oregon project is presenting itself as the best option for him where he feels he can make … positive changes in his career. Sometimes we all need a change."
We're not convinced it was Webb's decision on his own. One rumor we've heard this summer is that Nike is putting two contracts before its athletes, a much more lucrative one if you're coached by who they want you to be coached by and another one if you're not (hence more athletes are moving to Portland to be coached). Some may not like these tactics, but it's definitely within Nike's rights as they are the ones paying the bills. Regardless of how it came about, clearly Webb needed a change as things didn't go right in 2008 or 2009. This must have been one of the most difficult changes in his life but perhaps it marks an exciting new beginning for one of the world's most talented-ever junior middle-distance runners.
German Gets A Potential Rival - James Brewer
We don't mean to put pressure on Brewer as if he's the only guy who can possibly challenge Fernandez, but having him out there certainly adds intrigue to the otherwise bland proposition of Fernandez just smoking everybody in the NCAA track meets every year. Brewer has the talent to compete, and gives Fernandez another reason not to go pro early.
Worlds: Kiprop To Go For Mid-Distance KO - Women's Marathon Loses Luster
Kiprop is the total entertainment package.
Read our LetsRun.com men's 1,500m and 800m previews for more, including a video of Kiprop and Webb side-by-side heading into the final 200m in the Osaka World Championships. That's right, unlike some suspicious stars, Kiprop didn't become world-class all of a sudden. He has been very good for a long time and now he gets the chance to win his first global title (not counting his likely Olympic gold).
WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP MARATHON UPDATE
All of these unfortunate dropouts certainly help the chances of Amerian medal hope Kara Goucher. Without Mikitenko and Radcliffe, Goucher should feel even more confident that her best performance will yield more World Championships hardware. For more info check out our women's marathon preview.
Topic #2: Kenyan Bravado Explained
Have you been like us all these years in that you find yourself totally confused when reading a preview article of an upcoming championship in a Kenyan paper? Confused by the fact that there always is some ridiculous bravado-type quote from an athlete or official where the Kenyan seems 100% confident of doing something that isn't necessarily likely to happen like "slaying the Ethiopians"?
For years we've read ridiculous quote after ridiculous quote and didn't know what to make of it all. Was it some remnant of proper British colonial speak? We had no idea.
This week we may have finally started to have our mystery answered.
2004 Olympic steeplechase champion Ezekiel Kemboi of Kenya famously mouthed off last year prior to the Olympics, "I'm going to Beijing to defend my gold. If I don't win gold, I will never return to Kenya." A great quote that we had up on the website. Well what happened? He didn't even medal but he did return to Kenya.
This week we found an article in The Standard that stated that Kemboi explained himself last year after Beijing with the following disclaimer: "Those are the kind of things we say to make the game a bit interesting. Kenya is home; I don't have another home."
Fair enough. It sounds like Kenyan athletes are no different than American ones - some of them like to make hollow guarantees.
Drug Stories And Analysis
Drugs dominated the track and field newswires in this, the penultimate week leading up to the 2009 IAAF World Championships in Berlin, Germany. By far the most interesting debate centers around Jamaican sprinters.
Jamaican 5 Test Positive, Pardoned By JADCO - Then JADCO Appeals JADCO's Decision - We're Not Kidding
It should come as no surprise that sprinters, or almost any elite athletes, are taking stimulants before races. Sure, the sprinters may deny that they knew they were taking anything illegal (and it turns out they really were not taking anything illegal; rather, something that resembles something illegal), but the truth is either way they and their coaches/managers were looking for a stimulant to get them ready to race as fast as possible.
Brief History Lesson - Drug Testing In Jamaica
Not Your Average Case
The problem is, it was a big deal because the positives involved big, big names in track and field. Blake, for one, just signed a huge contract with adidas and trains with world-renowned coach Glen Mills and Usain Bolt.
The next piece of news to come out was that Sherri-Ann Brooks (Jamaican 4 x 100m and 100m member in Berlin) would walk free because her B-sample testing was improper. Officials and lab technicians didn't test it properly. So without a B-sample, Brooks can't officially test positive (the A- and B-samples must come back positive for it to be official and for someone to get banned or even be considered guilty of taking whatever substance). This was interesting because it made us think about a nation testing their own athletes. If the nation decides to screw up the B-sample intentionally, but say it was an accident, then that is a serious problem. There is no evidence that tampering took place in this case, but it is an interesting scenario.
Reading the article from The Jamaica Observer by Kayon Raynor called Brooks Walks! is interesting for two reasons: 1. because it reveals who exactly is making the decisions on the JADCO disciplinary panel. And 2. the JADCO officials offer totally different statements to the press.
JADCO chairman Kent Gammon told the press about the situation, saying Brooks has to be cleared due to procedural errors. The article also mentions another JADCO member, current coach and former Worlds gold medalist Bert Cameron. Having a national sporting hero and current coach on the board seems like having Alberto Salazar hearing drugs cases for the United States Anti-Doping Association (USADA).
Later in the article we get this quote: JADCO's executive director Dr. Patrece Charles-Freeman said: "The proceedings have not been concluded yet and I cannot make a comment." So one JADCO official is contradicting another to the worldwide press. Clearly this is not the way drug cases should be handled. Clearly this is a committee still learning the ropes.
Bear in mind here, JADCO's testing program was started after Jamaica's enormously successful Beijing Olympics. Before JADCO, there was basically no reliable testing in Jamaica (what this means is that there was testing, but the Jamaicans were not held accountable, legally or by unbiased observers, for their testing). The testing there had about as much legitimacy as the US testing in 1984 (more on that below). This reason, combined with the sudden, extraordinary success of the sprinters from the tiny Carribean nation, makes many people including Victor Conte (who knows the drug scene better than Victor Conte?) very suspicious of the Jamaicans.
The Conte/Elliot Verbal Battle
Leading up the 2008 Olympics, an LA Times article by Lance Pugmire called Victor Conte Suspicious Of Carribean Sprint Success was published with quotes from BALCO drug wizard Victor Conte about the Jamaican sprinters. Conte was personally responsible for chemically aiding the performances of athletes such as Marion Jones, Dwain Chambers, Barry Bonds and Bill Romanowski*. Conte, released from his jail sentence, had met with then-WADA head Dick Pound several months before the article was published because he (VC) was concerned with the trend of Jamaicans avoiding out-of-competition testing in the final months of 2007. To us, this seems like a decent argument given Jamaica's lack of an accredited national drug testing policy or committee and Conte's proximity to the world of athletics and cheating.
*We still remember watching an NFL pre-game profile of Romanowski where the reporter spoke with unfiltered adoration about the number of pills Romanowski took every day to keep in tip-top shape. They showed a clearly borderline-psychopath Romanowski actually chugging his pills before practice. We remember thinking: that looks crazy. Of course, we were like 10 years old. It's kind of crazy that Fox or CBS decided that was a good idea. Of course, this took place in that brief, happy window of time where the dot-coms were booming and guys like Mark McGwire were simply looked at with pure awe and admiration for their size, durability and strength. This was the pre-Balco, pre-baseball-steroid-scandal era.
Conte's meeting with powerful world drug enforcement higher-ups and his leveling of "suspicion" certainly did not strike aforementioned JADCO Member and Jamaican Olympic doctor Herb Elliot very well. The Jamaican doctor fired back, "We are far in advance of the U.S. record for [preventing] doping. We preach, cajole, and test. ... Sports is such a part of our culture that the disgrace [of doping] is so great that the Jamaicans that live here wouldn't even consider it."
This quote - like his quote before the "Jamaican 5" drug hearings even commenced saying it was "nothing major" - is interesting. We see potential truths in the statement but also some huge potential logical and semantic pitfalls.
First we'll start off by blasting the statement that Jamaicans wouldn't even consider doping because of some cultural moral superiority to every other nation that has dopers. This is a ludicrous statement with no proof. The statement shows a disturbing lack of rational thinking.
On the flip side, it IS likely true that, historically speaking, Jamaica has prevented doping better than the US. Mainly because the US has done little to prevent doping in sports, and much to encourage it, up until recent years. You can turn to sports like American football for innumerable examples of promotion of or ignorance of harmful and illegal drug use by players. Read this Orange County Register article for more on systematic USATF cover-ups leading up to the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. The OC Register article shows that in 1984 the US committee (full of proud, flag-waving dignitaries like Elliot) wasn't preventing doping, it was preventing positive test results that mattered, results that would tarnish the "national image." They, in fact, were fine with doping as long as nobody knew about it.
Being "far in advance" of the US record is nothing to be proud of, because very few US athletes (in any sport) that used drugs have actually tested positive. Saying Jamaica is "far in advance" because they "preach, cajole, and test" is like saying track and field was a cleaner sport in 2007 than cycling because zero athletes tested positive at the IAAF World Championships in Osaka (that actually happened somehow).
Let's examine whether preaching, cajoling and testing in Jamaica has prevented Jamaicans from using illegal performance-enhancing drugs.
Preaching: There is absolutely no way to know if preaching prevents drug use. There is no way to know if preaching even takes place there, or if the preaching is pro- or anti-drug.
Cajoling: The definition of cajoling is "to persuade with flattery or gentle urging especially in the face of reluctance." (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary). We do know several Jamaicans and they are very good at cajoling, for sure, but cajol-ability does not mean your nation's athletes are not taking illegal performance-enhancing drugs. Persuading people who are reluctant means that Jamaicans, like any other athletes, want to be the best at what they do, and they might think using drugs is a good idea as a means of getting there quickly. So, if anything, the need to cajole suggests there has been a problem.
So far we have serious doubts that preaching and cajoling are proof that Jamaica is far in advance of the rest of the world in drug prevention in sports. Perhaps preaching and cajoling are more oft-used mechanisms in Jamaica and perhaps Jamaican athletes are particularly susceptible to positive reactions to preaching and cajoling. But there is no proof.
Testing: The third credential that might offer proof of good behavior by Jamaican athletes, according to Dr. Elliot, is "testing." His other credentials don't pass any sort of test other than "He is Herb Elliot, so we should all believe everything he says."
Testing, on the other hand, is something we can actually measure. Do the Jamaicans independently test, report to WADA, and undergo supervision by unbiased, technically advanced higher-ups randomly and year-round? Not before 2009. So the Jamaicans, in terms of testing (which we can easily see is the only measurable factor offered by Dr. Elliot), were far below the Americans, Europeans, Asians ... in fact many other countries. When Jamaican athletes went to the big meets, they were tested by independent agencies such as WADA (and they knew the tests were coming; as Conte said, WADA is basically wasting their money). But when they were at home in the off-season training and lifting weights, there is not really any legitimate proof that they were tested and that the testing was done up to world standards. That doesn't mean they were not tested, it means we don't have any proof that legitimate, random testing was performed and athletes were dealt with appropriately.
Jamaicans Might Not Be Cheating At All
Here is a great letter from Warren Blake (JAAA member in charge of anti-doping matters, so it's hardly coming from an impartial perspective). Blake addresses the suspicions Conte and others voiced in 2007 and 2008. One of Blake's principal arguments is that Jamaican athletes were subjected to the 5th-most tests by the IAAF in 2008 of any nation in the world. But this is not proof of anything. 1,000 drug tests were done in Osaka and zero were positive. So was everyone in Osaka clean? These tests of Jamaicans were done mostly in Europe, during the competition season. The high number of Jamaicans being tested stems from the high number of Jamaicans being really good at sprinting, not because Jamaicans have a great independent off-season testing program or are hyper-interested in having their athletes tested (who would sign up for that?).
Blake's other argument is that taking steroids and other drugs involves a lot of things that Jamaica doesn't have. People have to make the drugs, acquire them, use them properly, disguise them ... it's a process. And, according to Blake, since Jamaica doesn't have any pharmaceutical production plants, then how could Jamaican athletes possibly take drugs? This is not good evidence of innocence, though it may be true. On the contrary, there are thousands of examples of people taking steroids in places you wouldn't think would have steroids. In Jamaica, there is huge incentive to be good at track: money, making a good living, getting an education. Thus, there is a good incentive to cheat. Neither theory, ours or Blake's, provides proof either way.
Proof comes with scientifically intelligent, impartial, random, unnanounced, year-round, independent testing. The Jamaicans have not had that. So there is no proof that Shelli-Ann Fraser and the Jamaican women's 1-2-3 100m sweep in Beijing was clean. But there's no proof that it was dirty, either.
Can times provide proof? Victor Conte pronounced proudly, "I told you so," after his warnings of Carribean shenanigans pre-Beijing preceded unusual Carribean dominance in the Birds Nest. Fraser, 100m champion with braces, lowered her best time from a ho-hum 11.31 to a spectacular 10.78 seconds in one year. A huge improvement? Yes. Proof that it was done by off-season steroid or HGH use? Nonexistent.
But based on this "Jamaican 5" trial - how it was handled in the press, hearing room, and in the laboratory - we do not think the Jamaicans have had a good independent, off-season or in-season testing system. And Victor Conte does not think so either. We also think that this current testing system is held to a far higher standard than it was in the past, so we cannot conclude that the Jamaican testing system pre-2008 was up to par (basically if their system now seems unprofessional and partial, it's doubtful the preceding system was any better).
Conclusion: Jamaican Drug Officials Should Support Athletes But Must Be Impartial
But we must make it clear that athletes have to be protected, too. Nothing is worse for a person who honestly believes they have never cheated to be accused of cheating and immediately pronounced guilty in the court of public opinion. Oh, what to do with such a predicament? Each one of us reacts differently and views athletes and sports and cheating and drug use differently.
One thing is for sure: national administrators often make sweeping generalizations that have nothing to do with reality. The next time you hear a Russian track administrator proclaim, "No Russian would ever dream of cheating. Sports are too important here, and our cajoling is so strong that no athlete would dare cheat," or an American administrator say, "America stands for freedom and justice, and our athletes hold those virtues highest in their hearts. So high, in fact, that they would never disgrace themselves or their country by doping," demand proof from impartial, scientifically trained, well-connected people before you trust the sweeping declarations of moral purity from administrators who believe they have everything to gain and lose from their charges' successes.
What Will Happen To "Jamaican 5"?
We feel a bit sorry for the Jamaican 5 now that JADCO is appealing JADCO. Can you imagine hearing that news? Sir, you're no longer free. Your lawyer's boss just appealed your winning decision.
Perhaps if the head of the committee had treated this seriously from the get-go - putting his own opinion aside and letting the facts come out in an unrushed manner - this case would be heading in a better direction. Instead, more lawyer's fees, more controversy, and more doubts will certainly fly as this stimulant dubbed as "nothing major" could make a major stink for a major period of time.
In Other Drug News ...
Brazilians, Sheikh Mo And NBA Step Into Doping Spotlight
Various Reports On Jamaican Drug Fiasco
Other Drugs News Links
Final Action Before Worlds
Cottbus Recap: Tyson Gay Rests, US Women Run 8th Fastest 4 x 100 (41.58), US Men 37.85 That pretty much is it in terms of track action until next week's World Champs, which start on Saturday.
Recommended Reads From Last Week
*LA Times' David Wharton Paints A More Complete Picture Of The 1984 LA Steroid Scene It's hard to believe that was 25 years ago.
Monday: "I have had the majority of my professional success in the steeple but have been working so much this year on my 800 and 1,500 fitness. I am very excited about the 1,500 right now and think I have a shot to do very well at Worlds ... (In) the steeple I didn't feel as confident in my ability to place top 3."
- Anna Willard, talking about why she decided to run the 1,500 at Worlds instead of the steeple. She, Christin Wurth-Thomas and Shannon Rowbury
will all be looking to become just the 3rd American (and 1st not later
convicted of a doping offense) to ever medal in the 1,500.
Saturday: "When my wife, Yordanos, saw me in pain and take about 5 minutes to
crawl, just to go to the restroom in the hotel, she was scared about
the effects of running. She said there is a better way to make a
living, 'we have our education and I have no problem going back to
work.' My reply to her was 'Let GOD's will be done.'"