Do doped world records encourage athletes to cheat?
Inaction by the IAAF continues to encourage clean athletes, such as Cathy Freeman, to dope to beat farcical world records set by doped runners. (Image: AAP)
At the peak of her career, Cathy Freeman was knowingly encouraged to take drugs by the ‘gurus’ who administer the international body that runs track and field.
A big call you say? Well, sadly, it’s not.
There is no suggestion here that Freeman doped. That’s not the story. It is the story behind the encouragement by officials that must be closely examined.
When Freeman officially retired from her sport in 2003 she bowed out with a glittering array of achievements. She won Olympic gold and silver medals, two World titles and four Commonwealth Games gold medals.
There was just one thing that was missing from her CV and it was the piece in the jigsaw that would have defined her as the fastest over 400m in the history of the sport – the world record.
And this is where the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) comes into play.
How you ask? Well let’s journey back to Bruce Stadium, as it was then, in Canberra on 6 October 1985. The last day of a three-day World Cup meet.
At the time Freeman was just a starry-eyed 12-year-old who would have had no interest, you would imagine, on what unfolded that day in our national capital.
A swag of big name stars were in town, participating in the World Cup, including a young Ben Johnson, who won gold in the men’s 100m.
But the biggest news to come out of the meet was the performance by a 28-year-old East German by the name of Marita Koch.
Five years earlier in Moscow she won gold in the 400m but was denied her chance to defend her title in Los Angeles in 1984 due to the Eastern Bloc boycott.
However, on this day in 1985 she shattered the 400m world record – her time a staggering 47.60 seconds, slicing an incredible 0.39 off the existing mark.
And what is more amazing, that record still stands today, over 27 years hence.
Well, maybe it is not so amazing given the fact that Koch posted her time as a result of being plied throughout her career with performance enhancing drugs.
With the fall of the Berlin Wall in late-1989, journalists from around the world were for the first time permitted to access the files of the East German sporting federations.
And what they found, as we have known for a long time, was the irrefutable evidence of a systematic state-sanctioned doping regime.
And among the hundreds of names there for the world to see was one Marita Koch.
Her entire daily drug protocol was there in black and white.
Like so many that preceded and followed her, Koch to this day flatly denies having ever used banned substances, which is a staggering fact.
Staggering because long time anti-doping campaigner, Werner Frank discovered a hand-written letter from Koch in which she complained that one of her main rivals, Bärbel Wöckel was receiving a higher dosage of drugs than herself because she had a relative who worked for the company that produced them.
Fairly damning evidence you would think and the IAAF has had over 25 years to consider what they should do about it. After all that time, what have they decided to do? Nothing.
Since Koch sizzled around the track in Canberra, the closest anyone has got to the benchmark is Marie-José Pérec’s 48.25 en route to claiming gold at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics – that is a whopping 0.65 seconds outside Koch’s tainted time and that is the best anyone has done in 27-plus years since.
Freeman’s gold medal winning time of 49.13 in the 2000 games remained 1.53 seconds outside of Koch’s record.
The question needs to be asked just why Koch’s world record still stands.
Some have questioned over time whether Pérec was clean, but that is all it is – supposition.
Florence Griffith-Joyner’s mind bending 10.49 100m world record in 1987 and 200m world mark of 21.34 at the Seoul Games, both which still stand, have also been highly questioned but again there is no proof.
With Koch, it is a fact – she cheated, knowingly.
So why does she still sit ‘proudly’ in the record books?
The IAAF and the IOC will state that it sits too far outside the eight-year statute of limitations clause with regard to the expunging of performances and times.
Really? Then why has cycling’s world governing body, the UCI, seen fit to strip Lance Armstrong of his Tour de France titles that date way back to 1999?
No issue with the eight-year clause as laid down by sports ultimate drug watchdog, the Montreal-based World Anti-Doping Agency.
Armstrong has been proven to be a cheat and so too has Koch.
By leaving her 400m world record as the single lap benchmark for women, the authorities are openly encouraging young athletes to dope if they wish to be the fastest of all-time.
I would have thought that is actually against the whole ethos of sport.
Unfortunately, the Amex card carrying, five-star hotel and first-class flight brigade who make the ultimate decisions reckon it’s all kosher.
And speaking of grand pooh-bahs who live a life of luxury as a result of their role in sports administration, what about our own Kevan Gosper, the AOC and IOC (former vice-president) board member?
Just before the 1992 Barcelona Olympics I interviewed Gosper for ABC Grandstand and asked him why Ben Johnson, having admitted in 1989 at the Dubin Inquiry into drugs in sport in Canda that he had doped ever since 1981, was still in possession of his two bronze medals (100m and 4 x 100m) from the LA Games of 1984.
He said it was the first time the matter had been raised with him and he would look into it and get back to me.
Sixteen years later, a few months before the 2008 Olympics I again interviewed Gosper for ABC Grandstand and asked about various issues relating to the Beijing Games.
As an aside, I again inquired of him about the Johnson medal issue surrounding the LA Games.
His response was to tell me that it was the first time it had ever been raised with him!
Very strange I thought, and when I twigged his memory his response was an equally strange, “What do you expect me to say?”
But – I was again reassured when he told me on air that this time he would look into it – and be rest assured he would furnish me with a response to my question.
I left the ABC in mid-2011 and guess what; I am still yet to hear from Kevan.
Mind you, in fairness I did only first raise the issue 20 years ago and to expect an answer so quickly is a little presumptuous on my part.
But Kevan, if you do happen to read this and have been able to find an answer to my query, feel free to post a comment below like all good Roarers do.
After 21 years as a sports broadcaster with the ABC, since mid-2011 Glenn Mitchell has been freelancing in the electronic and written media. He is an ambassador for mental health in Australia, and tweets from @mitchellglenn.
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