Awards gala turns to doping talk


MONACO -- Usain Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, the Jamaican sprint stars, were named Saturday the IAAF male and female athletes of the year. To think it would have been anyone else would strain credulity. What, they were going to name Bohdan Bodarenko or Zuzana Hejnova? Only track diehards know he's a high jumper from Ukraine and she is from the Czech Republic and runs the 400 hurdles. Come on.

Bolt and Fraser-Pryce won three gold medals apiece, and in spectacular fashion, at the 2013 world championships in Moscow. Bolt is, more or less, track and field. He was his usual awesome self, winning the 100 at the exact instant a lightning bolt flashed across the sky, the moment captured in a remarkable photo. Candidly, Fraser-Pryce was even better than he was in Moscow, winning the women's 100 by an absurd .22 seconds.

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The IAAF did not direct voting for the awards. Even so, the challenge facing it and, more broadly, world sport is that the two Jamaicans were going to be the obvious winners in a year in which matters of doping and its protocols have emerged as a major concern in Jamaica and, indeed, once again, in track and field.

Eight Jamaicans have tested positive this year, including former 100-meter world-record holder Asafa Powell and two-time Olympic 200-meter champion Veronica Campbell-Brown.

This is not -- repeat, not -- to impugn Bolt or Fraser-Pryce or to assign guilt by association.

Bolt has never tested positive and has consistently proclaimed he runs clean. Fraser-Pryce served a six-month sentence after a positive 2010 test for oxycodone, saying it was for a medicine she took after oral surgery. Oxycodone, a banned narcotic, is not considered a performance-enhancer or a masking agent.

Bolt's award is his fifth in six years. Fraser-Pryce's is her first and, as well, the first for a woman from Jamaica since Merlene Ottey in 1990. She said she was "really excited, of course." Saturday's announcement marked only the third time that athletes from the same country have won both awards; Americans Carl Lewis and Florence Griffith-Joyner won in 1988, Britons Colin Jackson and Sally Gunnell in 1993.

Fraser-Pryce's award also is believed to mark the first time an athlete who has previously served a doping suspension has been named athlete of the year. Again, in fairness, her suspension was for a painkiller, not a steroid or blood-booster. Nonetheless, she served six months.

"Jamaica has had some problems this season," Bolt acknowledged, referring not to Fraser-Pryce but to the failed tests by the others, adding, "But that is not part of my focus."

Some problems, indeed:

The World Anti-Doping Agency is now reviewing the apparent systems breakdown by the Jamaican anti-doping agency, which goes by the acronym JADCO. This summer, former JADCO executive director Renee Anne Shirley claimed in a Sports Illustrated story that the agency had conducted just one out-of-competition test in the five months leading up to the London 2012 Games.

This week, the Wall Street Journal reported that Dr. Herb Elliott, JADCO's head, may not have the medical credentials he claims. It's now not clear whether Elliott will stay in his position.

Dr. Paul Wright, JADCO's senior doping tester, told the BBC the rash of failed tests may be the "tip of the iceberg." His comments came just days after a WADA team visited Jamaica.

In Kenya, meanwhile, WADA and International Olympic Committee authorities are growing increasingly impatient while waiting for confirmation that a task force to investigate allegations of a doping culture there, promised more than a year ago, has been set up.

It was noted at the WADA conference in Johannesburg that this IAAF gala was going on at precisely the same time as the WADA event. The IAAF likes to portray itself as the top dog among all Olympic sports. Usually, it has good reason. But for those IOC members now serving on the IAAF council it was apparent that other IOC members here were scarce. Like, maybe even none.

There's a new world order in the Olympic movement. The Jacques Rogge years are done. It's in the IAAF's keen interest to reach out to the IOC and to be tuned in -- acutely -- to what the new president, Thomas Bach, is saying, where he's saying it and how he's saying it.

Like -- a few days ago in Johannesburg, when he's warning Jamaica and Kenya that if this kind of thing keeps up they might be banned from the Olympics for doping irregularities.

In real life, nobody really believes that is going to happen. But -- it's the tone that matters. Keep in mind, too, that IOC vice president Craig Reedie was just voted in as the incoming WADA president.

Yet, at the news conference Saturday afternoon announcing the athlete of the year winners, IAAF president Lamine Diack took the occasion to assert that WADA was running a "ridiculous" campaign aimed in particular at Jamaica and Kenya. Say what?

“I read in the newspapers and it was like a campaign against Jamaica, and I think it was ridiculous,” Diack said. "They are the most tested athletes in the world.

“And so I read in the newspapers how WADA are going there and they are going to suspend," meaning the two nations from the Olympics. "They cannot suspend anybody!

“It was ridiculous, this campaign. After Jamaica, they went to Kenya because some doctor went there and said the Kenyan athletes are not controlled. They are the most controlled -- 650 or so athletes in Kenya controlled, every time, in and out of competition. They went there. What did they find? Nothing.”

Diack said, "So I think we have to stop all this. We are doing our best in athletics. You will never have an athlete suspended for four years in football," meaning soccer.

He said again a moment later, "Stop all this."

Bolt, who is typically guarded with the press when it comes to volunteering information on sensitive subjects, proved quite forthcoming Saturday. He allowed as the relentless drumbeat of news since mid-summer about whether or not JADCO was -- or was not -- doing its job was now having a meaningful impact.

It was, he said, hitting him in his wallet, with a potential sponsor just this week backing out of a deal.

"It is really costing me money now and I'm not too happy about it," he said.

Perhaps nothing, ladies and gentlemen, is likely to spur change faster in Jamaica than that -- its biggest star is now going to demand it, and for the most elemental of reasons. Always remember: money talks.

Also revealing was this:

In an interview Friday, Fraser-Pryce had suggested that Jamaica's track and field athletes might need the protection of a union to better serve their needs. She even said she would be willing to strike if the occasion warranted.

Different people are of course motivated by different things. Fraser-Pryce's rise from one of Jamaica's hardest neighborhoods and whose desire both to serve and give back is well-documented.

To gain any sort of traction, one would have to believe an athletes' union in Jamaica would need Bolt's support. Then again, he typically gets asked at news conferences either about his next party or about his next sequence of workouts -- not his next public-service campaign, though a fair amount of good work back home actually does get done in his name.

Asked Saturday if he would also be willing to walk a picket line, Bolt said, "Everybody has their own personal idea. Personally, track and field is my job."

In that spirit, he reiterated his new goal is to run under 19 seconds in the 200, if his body holds up. His world record is 19.19, set at the 2009 world championships in Berlin.

He said he had just gotten back to training about two and a half weeks ago. "I'm just getting soreness in my muscles now," he said.

He said he never sets out each year to be athlete of the year. "I just want to run fast. I want to keep my titles," he said, adding a moment later, "I just do my best, show the world I want to be a champion."

That was at the afternoon news conference. Later, at the evening awards show, with the cameras rolling for a broadcast going live around the world, it was back to the doping talk -- if obliquely.

“I know track and field’s been through a lot, but I see a lot of positive things coming out,” Bolt said. Directing his remarks to young athletes, he said, "Show the  world that we can do this, and we can make athletics a better place.”