Odd you agree to bring it back, but still struggle for ways to say that doping can still explain it all. The assumption is that everyone is doping, but you suggest she could do it more in 2003 than afterwards, and that she was better than others before 2003.
The men seem to suffer no such hindrance after 2003. On the contrary, 26 men have run faster than Paul Tergat's marathon world record in Sep. 2003. Using your model, 26 men, hiding their EPO usage, crushed Paul Tergat, who was able to hardcore use EPO. Was his 2:04:55 performance clean? Is 2:04:55 weak? For comparison, only 3 women have run faster than 2nd best Catherine Ndereba (counting Shobukhova), and only 15 women have run faster than 3rd best Naoko Takahashi 2:19:46 in 2001 (only 2 out of 15 of them linked to EPO).
The value of EPO is supposed to be more red blood cells. While it was easy to beat direct EPO detection, something should still show up in blood values (high Hgb, high RET during, or low RET after), especially if Paula was using more EPO (than for example in 2005). The IAAF started collecting blood from Paula in July 2001, yet her first "suspicious" value postdates all her marathon bests. (If she had another suspicious value, surely the Times would have reported it too).
Cycling is not running, so that part is a non-argument. In any case, we recently saw Tyler Hamilton say that even in cycling, EPO didn't make you faster absolutely, but made you less slow in the third week -- something that doesn't factor in the marathon. EPO wouldn't help one day trials.
It seems farfetched to me to argue that EPO can be the best explanation, yet only one women in history was able to figure it out and benefit extremely (and you are still 99.99% certain that this is the best explanation of the extreme performance, despite the lack of precedent or confirmation or demonstrated repeatability).
A better model is that:
- EPO has negligible impact for distance running (because the limits to performance, especially the marathon, are not connected to oxygen)
- the faster times are a function of the talent and training of the individuals, running in the right conditions at the right time (or alternatively, only a couple handful of individuals are high responders, able to take EPO, in doses that matter. Therefore most athletes didn't take EPO, or EPO is generally not effective.)
- the women lack depth and rivalry, leading to tactical races, with little incentive (or ability to pace) a time trial to a world record
casual obsever wrote:
Good point, let's bring it back. My understanding is that EPO became - within limits - detectable around 2004, and hence athletes had to cut back its usage. It's not just Paula whose performance dropped thereafter, it's also the lack of world records after 2004 in the men's 400 and 1500 and 5000, and to some extent in the 800 (10+ years without WR until Rudisha came along). Also, Ndereba ran 2:18 in 2001, on par with the current Kenyan stars. Strange, that no Kenyan lady really outperformed her in the last 14 years despite more competition, more money, better training and knowledge, unless you consider the differences in EPO doping. Similarly, the TdF got slower 10 - 12 years ago (at least until Froome came along). Those are quite strong arguments that EPO matters in running as well.
So, Paula then was the best in 2003 (someone had to be, right?), with Ndereba second best. We can assume that her 2:15 might have been a high 2:16 on a loop course. She was then 1 - 2 minutes faster than the current stars, which may be explained by more EPO for her in line with the better testing now. Blood transfusions may also be not that easy to hide anymore, for we can better detect traces of the blood bags.
If you take EPO out of the equation, then she'd be even a more extreme outlier. If you consider others to have doped, but not her, then she'd be even more extreme than extreme. Possible, of course, but less likely.
I don't believe into conspiracy theories (that she was "allowed" to use more than others, e.g. steroids), but I know that that comes up once in a while too. So I go with EPO giving a significant advantage, and that she was the best runner during the EPO times. That theory then also works with El G and others, not just her.
And to bring it back around to the "subject" of this thread, doping was assumed so we don't need to "go there" here -- hardcore EPO/blood-doping before, and softcore EPO micro-dosing/blood-doping after.
We should address things like:
- how can EPO be a reasonable assumption that rationalizes the extreme achievement when there is no precedent before, and no confirmation since, in the women's marathon? If EPO is so effective, so widely available, and so undetectable, it shouldn't lead to one extreme outlier, but (like the pattern in cycling) its effect should be repeatable, and observed across the board.
Seems to me the answer is a set of factors unique to Paula that exclude all competitors before or since. I don't imagine EPO/blood-doping in that set.