When people ask, and they ask all the time, is track and field clean, there’s only one answer.
It came on a day like Sunday, when sprinter Tyson Gay, once among the poster boys for a U.S. Anti-Doping run-clean program, tested positive for a banned substance, and five Jamaicans, including gold medal-winning sprinters Asafa Powell and Sherone Simpson, also returned positive samples.
Those developments followed by just days word that the sport’s governing body, which goes by the acronym IAAF, had stepped up its drug-testing program in Turkey amid reports of dozens of positive cases there, perhaps as many as 30, ahead of last month’s Mediterranean Games in the city of Mersin.
Results in Turkey remain ongoing; under IAAF rules, a doping case can be announced only after a “B” sample confirms the initial positive finding of a failed “A” sample. Turkey has been hit by a rash of recent cases — eight in June, including 2004 Olympic hammer silver medalist Esref Apak, and in May, allegations against London Olympic 1,500 meter champ Asli Cakir Alptekin and two-time European 100-meter hurdles champion Nevin Yanit.
The rash of positives Sunday comes just weeks after 2004 and 2008 200 meter Jamaican Olympic champion Veronica Campbell-Brown tested positive for a banned diuretic. Gay and Campbell-Brown are longtime friends.
Powell and Gay, to be clear, are among track and field’s biggest names. For them to be busted, and on the same day, is — there’s no way around this — a double dose of ugly news for a sport that just can’t escape the perception that doping remains the fast lane to victory.
The world championships will be run next month in Moscow. Now they surely will go off under a shadow. A thread on the letsrun.com message boards proclaimed: “Admit it, we are all now waiting to see if [Usain] Bolt is positive … ”
Bolt, the multiple Olympic champion, self-proclaimed “legend” and world-record holder in the 100 and 200 meters, has maintained to all skeptics that he is running clean.
As Adam Nelson put it in a Twitter post Sunday, “Drug testing detects the symptoms. We have a lot of work to do to fight the cause.”
Nelson would know. He was made the 2004 Olympic shot put champ earlier this year after the guy who for nine years had won, Ukraine’s Yuriy Bilonog, was finally caught. Bilonog had been doping.
Gay, 30, has run a 9.69 100 meters, the second-fasted ever — tied with Yohan Blake, behind Bolt’s 9.58.
A three-time world champion in 2007, Gay had often been plagued since by hamstring and groin problems. He came in fourth in the 100 at the London Games by one-hundredth of a second. This year, he had run the world’s fastest 100, 9.75 in Des Moines at the U.S. nationals in June.
A few years ago, he was part of USADA’s “My Victory” program, in which athletes pledged to complete clean. In his testimonial on that website, Gay said, “I compete clean because I really believe in fairness, and besides that, my mom would kill me! Just being honest.”
He told Associated Press on Sunday that he had been notified late last week that a sample came back positive from a May 16 out-of-competition test, adding that he will have the “B” sample tested soon, possibly as early as this week. He said he had voluntarily withdrawn himself from Moscow.
It remained immediately unclear what Gay had tested positive for.
“I don’t have a sabotage story,” he said. “I don’t have any lies. I don’t have anything to say to make this seem like it was a mistake or it was on USADA’s hands, someone playing games. I don’t have any of those stories. I basically put my trust in someone and was let down.”
Asked by AP who that was, Gay said, “I can’t really say it. Sometimes a human being naturally, generally trusts somebody. That’s what people do.”
USA Track & Field chief executive Max Siegel said in a statement, “It is not the news anyone wanted to hear, at any time, about any athlete.”
Powell, for his part, held the world record — running a 9.74 in 2007 — before Bolt started his assault on the mark. Powell is still the fourth-fastest man all time and holds a gold medal as part of the Jamaican 4×100 2008 relay team.
Powell has run 9.88 this year. Even so, he did not make the Jamaican team for Moscow.
He and Simpson reportedly tested positive for the stimulant oxilofrine, and Powell issued a statement in which he denied being a “cheat.”
It said, “I want to be clear in saying to my family, friends and, most of all, my fans worldwide that I have never knowingly or willfully taken any supplements or substances that break any rules.”