31 January, 2014

Gatlin is, alas, still running

One should not misinterpret this, admittedly provocative, title as a mark of animosity against Justin Gatlin. I do appreciate all athletes, even the ones who use performance-enhancing substances, because I know by first hand experience the enormous amount of work necessary in order to attain a certain level in any sport. Doping is something that some athletes resort to in order to surpass themselves. This is a proof of human weakness and, while it is something punishable under the current rules, it does not justify the ostracism of the athlete. 

So why am I targeting Gatlin in this article of mine? In 2001, Gatlin was banned from international competition for two years after testing positive for amphetamines. Gatlin appealed on the grounds that the positive test had been due to medication that he had been taking since his childhood, when he was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder. The appeal resulted in a reinstatement after just one year. It was agreed that Gatlin had a genuine medical explanation for his positive test, but the Council stressed that Gatlin had committed a doping offence and issued a warning that any repetition of his positive result would result in a life ban. Gatlin went on to win the gold medal over 100 m in the 2004, Athens, Olympics followed by victories over both 100 m and 200 m in the 2005, Helsinki, World Championships. Then in 2006 he gave another positive doping test. It is believed that the substance that Gatlin tested positive for was "testosterone or its precursor”, something confirmed by the analysis of the B sample. Gatlin denied having knowingly taken anything prohibited and his coach, Trevor Graham, claimed that his athlete has been "sabotaged". (It is interesting to notice here that the WADA chairman, Dick Pound, pointed out that Graham himself was being investigated by the Grand Jury because a surprising number of his athletes have been found guilty of doping offences). 

Given that this was a second offence one would normally expect a life ban for Gatlin. However Gatlin got into an agreement with the US Doping Agency and obtained an eight-year ban, avoiding a lifetime sanction in exchange for his cooperation with the doping authorities, and because of the "exceptional circumstances" surrounding his first positive drug test. Most surprisingly in 2008, Gatlin’s ban was reduced to four years allowing him to compete from 2010. He went on to win another gold in the 2013, Istanbul, Indoor World Championships as well as medals in the 2012, London, Olympics and 2013, Moscow Worlds.

There are scores of athletes who have received a file ban at a second doping offence. Perusing the 2013 IAAF Athlete Doping List I encountered 25 lifetime bans. In the case of Thanou a minor doping offence resulted to a lifetime ban from the Olympics. Why are there so big differences in the way the athletes are treated? Shouldn’t they all be equal in the face of the anti-doping regulation? Apparently not.

I hope this is the last time I post something related to doping (although I am itching to write something about the 1988, Seoul, Olympics 100 m final where six out of the eight finalists had been or would be involved in doping incidents, including the “great” Carl Lewis). Writing about doping is not something I enjoy and the only reason I did write the previous post and this follow-up was because I was convinced that an injustice had been done and I just had to voice my feelings.

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