Wejo Speaks to Science of Sports Ross Tucker: Paula Radcliffe Can Gain Credibility With More Transparency – Paula’s Explanations are Plausible But More Info Is Needed – Tucker: ‘You’re not dealing with Shobukhova… here!’

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by Weldon Johnson, LetsRun.com
September 10, 2015

Disclosure: I have said all along I’m compromised on all issues relating to Paula Radcliffe and doping as I paced Paula Radcliffe to her first world record and consider her a friend. Previously, I shared some thoughts on our forum about the doping allegations surrounding Paula after I got some insight on the issue from Paula by going on a run with her in Beijing but before her blood values were released. I strongly believe she is clean, but that doesn’t mean that more info needs to come out

Today, after three of Paula Radcliffe’s off-scores were released today by Sky News, I spoke to The Science of Sport’s Ross Tucker one of the world’s best experts on high performance sport (and a guy who is very good at explaining complex anti-doping issues in laymen’s terms) about the issue. We discussed the scores, Radcliffe’s explanations for her three higher scores: dehydration (being tested soon after a race), training at altitude, and being sick.

The one big point I was left with after talking with Ross is what I have thought all along A LOT MORE DATA NEEDS TO COME OUT.

Update 9/11/2015: Ross now has his own post on his site talking about many of the things below. You can read it here.

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“Radcliffe stated that she had expert support for her explanations for those suspicious values.  The problem is (and I’m saying this for the benefit of people who are perhaps not close enough to the sport to know this context), people don’t trust passionate, convincing pleas for trust.  Words are relatively meaningless, especially when they come from the athlete (we’ve seen this movie too often), and so even if these experts do exist, people need/want more.

Perhaps she needs the expert to do the explaining, instead of assuring us they exist, and that they’ll be rolled out at a later occasion (why drip-feed the story though, it’s just facilitating a feeding frenzy?).  Perhaps it is just a case of terrible PR and messaging, but the failure to provide promises without details, and instead to declare that she has data would clear her, but that she won’t release them (pride? anger? principle?) is only feeding cynicism that has been growing for many years.

Those possible, plausible explanations could be made to look credible if they were openly discussed, and that would require maximum transparency.” and 

“There is a significant portion (of the public) in the middle who I think want to believe (Paula is clean), or don’t know what to believe.  All they know is that they’ve believed before, and been proven wrong, or they feel that they have heard this all before.  For those people, transparency is the answer.

Worst case scenario, the doubters keep doubting, the believers keep believing, and the uncertains remain uncertain about the technical data, but are encouraged by how open and transparent you are being.  It is the ACT, and not necessarily the data, that will help convince many people.

Best case, your data is plausible, it is credible, and you earn trust with both the data, and your willingness to share it, because that was, after all, your position not too long ago.”

Sky News has the headline today, “Blood Tests That Cleared Paula Radcliffe” and while I believe Paula was clean, in my mind, there is still a lot more that needs to come out before Paula is cleared. The process is just starting now that her name is actually out there. Maybe that is why Radcliffe never wanted her name out there because clearing things up isn’t a one day deal.

Paula Radcliffe and Haile Gebrselassie

Paula Radcliffe and Haile Gebrselassie

Ross summarized succinctly what he believes when he said, “Her explanations for her high off-scores (altitude, time of test (dehydration) and antibiotics) are plausible. They would gain significant credibility if they were being disclosed with context and all the relevant information.”

  1. Ross said isolated off scores on their own mean very little. Off-scores essentially became individualized over time to a specific athlete so comparing an athlete to a generic altitude cut-off means very little. An off-score for a specific athlete can change week to week as an athlete gets tested. (Ross has some links on off-scores here) If an athlete had a 100 off score and it changed to 70 that could be suspicious even though it is well under the threshold. As Ross said in his facebook post, “isolated off-scores tell you nothing other than you’re not dealing with Shobukhova-level doping here!” It is good news that Radcliffe is not a Shobukhova type doper, but to clear her name in her entirety see the next point:
  2. Full blood profiles over time need to be released. Ross said that the other athletes releasing their “normal” off scores to the Sunday Times, but not releasing full-blood profiles including reticulocytes and hemoglobin levels doesn’t mean that much. He said an athlete could be doping and have a normal off scores, but you’d see rises in reticulocytes and hemoglobin. An off-score is not a end-all be-all, and Paula Radcliffe told me that in Beijing. So let’s get all of Paula’s blood values over time out there. At this point she has been named a person of interest and since I think she is clean transparency can only help her.

The Sunday Times hinting that Paula an unnamed British athlete had suspicious blood values (but not releasing the values or her name) doesn’t do anything. They did their best to shame Radcliffe without naming her or giving specifics and doping cases are all about the specifics. Cowardly if you ask me. I can understand why Paula’s camp thinks the Sunday Times acted in bad faith. But all of that is irrelevant now – her name is now out in public. It’s time for The Sunday Times to stop hinting at impropriety. Put your cards on the table, tell us why you think she is dirty or issue an apology. They have no other option.

Regardless if they come out with an expose this Sunday or not, Paula’s name is in the mud, if she wants to clear it, there is no reason to hold back any cards no matter how pissed she may be at the Sunday Times or thinks they acted in bad faith. She needs to get all of her blood tests out there and let the experts analyze them. As I told her, the truth will set you free.

When I spoke to Gary (Paula’s husband) before Worlds and went running with Paula in Beijing, I got the impression they wanted to do this. Paula’s statement from the other day hints that WADA is investigating this and says she has hired independent experts to look at her data anonymously.

I don’t see any advantage to delaying and Ross definitely seems to agree.  Get all the cards on the table face-up. Ross might have said it best when he said, “If you’ve got nothing to hide, stop hiding things.” This may take a few days because her name only came out two days ago, but expressing the sentiment could be done today.

Paula Radcliffe, with LetsRun.com 's Weldon Johnson, en route to marathon WR #1 of 2:17:18 in Chicago in 2002

Paula Radcliffe, with LetsRun.com ‘s Weldon Johnson, en route to marathon WR #1 of 2:17:18 in Chicago in 2002

Ross noted that within elite sport the status quo is one of suspicion when it comes to doping. Paula has said she has three experts looking at her data. Imagine the trust that would be created if she said, “I have independent experts looking at the data.  They are going to issue a report. I know you may not trust them so I am going to release all the data in conjunction with their report.” All that can do is leave her in a better spot. The worst case scenario is she is in the same position with some people being skeptical. She will never win over the haters but the rest of the public is up for grabs.

The most impressive move Paula could make would be to get the expert hired by The Sunday Times Michael Ashenden on her side. If he looks at her values and says they pass the test, then it is ball-game over.

Full transparency and disclosure can only help Paula from this point forward.

Prior to Tuesday she had not been specifically named so I can see the argument for keeping things quiet. That changed with Paula outing herself on Tuesday.

I had posted this after running with Paula in Beijing: “3) I firmly believe Paula does not have anything to hide and down the road will make her values public.” I look forward to that process playing out. If you want to hear from someone who knows Paula much better than me and would bet his house she is clean, click here to read from her physio Gerard Hartman.

Weldon Johnson is a co-founder of LetsRun.com. He finished 4th in the US at 10,000m twice, but his claim to fame is pacing Paula Radcliffe to her first world record in the marathon. 

Discuss in our forums: Radcliffe Blood Values Released

Ross’ facebook post is below and see a tweet on the off scores released today.

On off-scores and doping, since you’ve probably seen that Paula Radcliffe has released the three off-scores in question…

Posted by The Science of Sport on Thursday, September 10, 2015

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