Saturday, August 30, 2008

When Did Jamaica Become the Sprint Capital of the World?

After having time to digest the Beijing Olympics, I'm left wondering the same thing: when did Jamaica, a nation of 2.8 million people, dominate both men and women sprinting?

When Jamaica swept the women's 100 meters the night after Jamaica's Usain Bolt become the World's Fastest Man (WFM), something didn't feel right. It didn't help that the Shelly-Ann Fraser, the winner of the 100m with a time of 10.78, didn't have a time under 11 seconds until this year. Another flag that came up: Fraser was sporting braces. High levels of HGH use include teeth gapping. Fraser is 21, comes from the inner city in Kingston and it's clear that she's going through braces later on in life. She is also a member of the Stephen Francis coached MVP Track Club based at the University of Technology.

The defending world champion in the 100m, Jamaica's Veronica Campbell-Brown, did not even qualify for the Olympics, yet ran the fastest 4th place qualifying time in the 100m. Campbell-Brown is not coached by Francis nor is part of the MVP Track Club. Another development that makes Fraser's performance in Beijing so unbelievable, is that per The Jamaica Observer in August 2007, she was "really looking ahead to the 2012 games in London, England, where she is picturing herself winning the 100m gold medal." The '08 games were not even a possibility less than a year ago. What changed so quickly in that time period for Fraser?

Looking at the world champion Veronica Campbell-Brown's yearly progression in the 100m, the biggest yearly decline was .37 of a second when she was 17 going on to 18. Since achieving a yearly personal best under 11 seconds in 2004, it has wavered .14 a second between 10.99 and 10.85 seconds. Her progression appears normal while Fraser came out of nowhere and was targeting the Olympics four years from now.

Jamaican women's sprinting history begins and ends with Merlene Ottey, the "Queen of Track." She has won medals at the Olympics for Jamaica in the 100m starting in 1984 through 2000. How is that longevity possible? No male had such a streak. During that period, there was some controversy involving PED's. In 1999 at an international meet in Switzerland, both "A" and "B" urine samples were positive for the steroid nandrolone. She claimed she was innocent of knowingly taking steroids. Eventually, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) cleared Ottey of all charges in the summer of 2000. In 1998, she already had moved to Slovenia and began training with Slovene coach Srdjan Djordjevic while still representing Jamaica, but started representing her new country in 2002.

As for the men and Usain Bolt, everything has been said that needs to be said: unbelievable. When comparisons are being made to Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton, we're getting way ahead of ourselves...easy Stephen Francis, coach of MVP Track Club. Everyone wants to believe they saw history on the track, much like in the summer of '98 when McGwire and Sosa were chasing "history." We're a society of suckers. The X-Files was right: We want to believe.

The problem occurs when Ben Johnson, Justin Gatlin and Marion Jones amazed us with their superhuman accomplishments, vowed that they were clean and then ended up serving doping suspensions. A reporter from the New York Times reported that the way to beat the urine test is to drop a grain of powdered laundry detergent since it will destroy EPO and HGH in the sample. With the positives not nearly matching the expectations, it looks like the cheaters are once again ahead of the testers.

Will the Jamaicans continue to dominate sprinting on the world stage or is this a temporary blip? When the women's world champion doesn't even qualify for the Olympics and then the country sweeps the 100m, I'd say they have the women's side locked up for the near future. With Bolt, everyone else is racing for second. Will other sprinters be tempted to dope to bridge the gap to catch up to Bolt? Wait and see.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Olympics: Another Arguement for Roided Athletes

It seems every 4 years at the Summer Olympics, someone will come out and support athletes having the freedom to roid out of their minds. If that ever does happen, bad news for the maker of the Whizzinator.

This year that argument comes from the New York Times' John Tierney. In his article, "Let the Games Be Doped", he describes the evolution of the Olympic athlete from the amateur to natural athletes, "untainted by technology". The amateur myth died and the natural myth "is becoming so far-fetched — and potentially dangerous — that some scientists and ethicists would like to abandon it, too". He also points out that anti doping authorities have created a culture of suspicion and claims that some tests, specifically for synthetic testosterone, are unreliable. He also warns that if athletes have moved from normal doping to gene doping, the authorities will have more problems catching these types of cheaters.

What would happen if athletes were allowed to do anything to excel? If athletes were allowed to shoot beef roids into their eyeballs, professional sport leagues and the Olympics would turn into pure entertainment. The athletes would look like professional wrestlers. Instead of being amazed by Michael Phelps's 12,000 caloric intake days, the media would be following his roid regime.

Would athletes even honestly discuss what they were taking and where they obtained their drugs? Doubtful, why level the playing field - that's one of the reasons athletes roid up, to get an advantage over the competition. Now the real race occurs off the field - who has the best roid connection. Imagine if Bob Costas chose to interview Dara Torres' chemist rather than her. The scientists and chemists would love to see this happen, because then they, not the athletes, would get all the attention. Rather than MLB's slogan back in the day, "Chicks Dig the Long Ball", the new slogan will be: "Chicks Dig the Chemists".

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Olympic PED Preview

With the opening ceremonies for the Beijing Olympics a day away, a PED preview is in order.

According to the Chinese Anti-doping Agency, China has conducted over 5,000 doping tests on its Olympic candidates in the past several months. At the same time, the State Food and Drug watchdog has increased their control over the production, use, distribution, import and export of prohibited substances according to officials last week. This is a step in the right direction for the host country, but will the outside world believe everything and/or anything from the government controlled press?

This Olympiad will mark the first where testing methods are in place to detect the use of human growth hormone (HGH). The benefits of HGH include boosting strength and speeding recovery. The new test will track HGH use beyond 48 hours.

At the Sydney Games in 2000, there were 12 positive doping violations out of 2,500 urine tests for a 0.48% positive instance per test. In 2004, at the Athens Games, the most doping violations in Olympic history occurred with 26. There were an estimated 3,375 tests conducted for a 0.77% positive instance per test. The positive instance occurrence per test jumped 60% from 2000 to 2004. If this trend continues, there will be a 1.23% positive instance per test or approximately 55 athletes testing positive at these Games.

In a poll on this blog, the highest number of athletes to be busted for PED's at the Games (8.8 - 24.08) were 21-25 (12% of respondents). The highest possible answer was greater than 25. International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Jacques Rogge expects up to 40 athletes to be caught doping at these games. 40 athletes would represent a 54% increase in the number of athletes caught doping from the Athens Games. Rogge's prediction is based on the increased testing and improved quality of urinalysis.

Already doping has ended the Olympic dreams of 20 athletes from all over the world and from sports as diverse as race walking, swimming, middle distance running and weight lifting. Notable athletes banned from competition include:

  • Yelena Soboleva, Russian world record holder and favorite in the 800 and 1,500 meters

  • Jessica Hardy, American swimmer tested positive for clenbuterol

  • Song Hongjuan, Chinese race walker

  • The entire Bulgarian weight lifting team (11 members in total male and female)

The Olympic doping testing period began July 27th and runs until the Games end. Let the Games begin.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Big Brown is Back...Will be Clean before Breeders’ Cup

Big Brown came from behind to win at the $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park Sunday beating 20-1 long shot Coal Play by one-and-three-quarter-lengths.

A victory is a victory, even though it was unlike any of Big Brown's previous wins where he"destroyed" the field according to trainer Rick Dutrow. Like any good salesman, Dutrow spun the unimpressive victory by playing up the competition. "The other horse (Coal Play) ran a huge, huge race. That’s why maybe it looked like Brown didn't look like himself. But, man, in the last eighth of a mile, he really got himself together. He showed us that he’s back in town."

A week earlier, Representative Bobby L. Rush, chairman of the congressional subcommittee that investigated horse racing and performance-enhancing drugs during hearings in June, sent a letter to the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority (KHRA) asking why Dutrow only received a 15-day suspension for a positive test when the rules appeared to dictate a harsher penalty. The KHRA could have suspended Dutrow up to 60 days for a first offense and one to six months for a second offense. Dutrow has been fined or suspended at least once for the past 9 years. Apparently, the KHRA did not feel that Dutrow's previous missteps did not take place under their jurisdiction or simply were not relevant when netting out their current punishment for this transgression.

Look for more Congressional involvement in the sport after inconsistent enforcement of doping violations and look for a bit more skepticism from the public when it comes to Big Brown's earlier Winstrol-aided feats. The next confirmed race on Big Brown's schedule is the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita on Oct. 25. Big Brown's owners (IEAH) have said all their horses will be PED-free by October 1st. If Big Brown wins at Santa Anita, don't expect him to "destroy" the competition.