What should normally be the biggest weekend in athletics—the World Championships—is instead being overshadowed by track and field’s ongoing doping scandal.
Since the exposé by German broadcaster ARD and the London Sunday Times earlier this month of testing data from some 5,000 athletes between 2001-2012, which purportedly shows that a third of the medalists in endurance events at the World Championships and Olympics in those years were doped, the sport has reeled under a continuing barrage of revelations and events.
How'd the IAAF Respond to the Doping Report?
Sebastian Coe, elected this week as president of track’s governing body, the International Association of Athletics Federations, arguably made things worse in his initial response to the August 2 report. First, Coe questioned the scientific bona fides of Robin Parisotto and Michael Ashenden, the two anti-doping experts who analyzed the test data for ARD and the Sunday Times, despite the fact that both are highly respected researchers.
Parisotto was part of the team that devise the biological passport, while Ashenden is a former member of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s Passport Committee, which helped international federations like the IAAF figure out how to implement it. Both were founding members of the Union Cycliste Internationale’s expert review panel, the first sport to use passport-style testing.
Coe also characterized the allegations as a “declaration of war” on athletics by the media and vowed that, “the fight back has to start here.”
What Else Has the IAAF Been Up To?
As questions mounted about whether athletes should release their test data, news broke that the IAAF had reportedly suppressed a 2011 study showing that up to a third of the 1,800 competitors at that year’s World Championships admitted in a confidential survey to doping at least once in the preceding 12 months.
And while Coe was busy defending athletics, the IAAF itself initiated anti-doping actions after re-tests of samples from the 2005 and 2007 World Championships revealed that 28 athletes previously thought to be clean instead had positive samples.
So What Does This Mean for Worlds?
Thursday's 100-meter men’s final, which Bolt utlimatley won, was billed as less of a race than a clash between good and evil. On the angelic side, Jamaican superstar Usain Bolt, who’s never tested positive. Although he’s been off his top form recently, Bolt has a well-deserved reputation as a “big meet” runner. And in the “evil” corner, American Justin Gatlin, a twice-banned sprinter who has been the world’s best this year, setting PRs at a supposedly clean 33 that he couldn’t as a doped 25-year-old.
But as Tim Layden pointed out in Sports Illustrated, judging the future of track based on the outcome of this race is a simplistic and naïve absolute. Athletics’ issues were as likely to end at the finish line of this race as Gatlin was to dispel doubts about his performances by running a 9.7.
When Will We Finally Know Something Concrete?
If you’re holding out for firm confirmation or repudiation of the Sunday Times and ARD’s findings, don’t hold your breath. WADA expressed alarm at the scope and specificity of the allegations and quickly pledged to expand the mandate of an independent commission that was investigating a prior ARD/Sunday Times report into widespread doping in Russian athletics. WADA said it expected a report by the end of the year, unless it was deemed appropriate to extend the mandate. Given that the original report on the Russian allegations was not yet published, and the new ones are far broader, expecting a report by the end of the year may be far too ambitious.