Alex Rodriguez

Track geeks: you can't rewrite history

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To consider the absurdity of what track and field is considering with regard to its records, let’s turn to baseball. The comparison is apt. Both sports are heaven for stats-freak geeks.

Who holds the Major League Baseball record for most home runs in a career and, as well, most home runs in a season?

Hey, in both categories it’s that guy Barry Bonds. He hit 762 over his career. In the 2001 season, he slammed 73.

Now, does baseball say that Bonds leads the charts for guys whose hat size mysteriously, peculiarly got way, way, way bigger when he played for San Francisco as compared to the years he played in Pittsburgh? Not a chance. Bonds sits there, at No. 1.

Look at No. 4 on the all-time homer list: Alex Rodriguez, with 696. Rodriguez is an admitted user of performance-enhancing drugs. Who’s No. 4? Rodriguez.

People: what happened, happened.

This is the thing about history. It happened. You can’t say in 2017 — whether it’s baseball, track and field, tiddlywinks, whatever — that something didn’t, or arbitrarily propose new rules, like the European Athletics Records Credibility Project Team did on Sunday (the report was made public Monday) in proposing reforms that would wipe out more than half of Olympic-discipline world records from the books.

The European report is being forwarded to track and field's international governing body, the IAAF, which is said to be giving it serious consideration.

To be clear: the contributors to the European committee deserve considered respect for effort. They are good people and they mean well. Officials deserve extra marks for including Gianni Merlo, the longtime Italian sports writer and current president of the International Sports Press Association, in their deliberations. Awesome -- we’re not just running dogs!

As was articulated in the charge to the committee, track and field is purportedly beset by doping issues.

OK.

But that is not track and field’s central problem.

Baseball has had huge doping problems, too, and baseball is thriving. Track and field is wallowing. So that makes for a pretty easy conclusion: doping is not track and field’s central problem

Instead, track and field suffers from a multitude of other issues. This is what the very bright minds on that committee, and others around the world who care about track and field, should be focusing on.

For starters:

— Track and field is a professional sport. But the way it presents itself, by almost every metric, is sorely inconsistent, especially when compared against a wide range of other professional products. It is competing against those other entities for sponsor and audience attention and dollars. Pick it: European soccer, American basketball or football. Whatever. Now, how does track and field stack up?

— The best athletes don’t race against each other enough. Justin Gatlin and Usain Bolt maybe race each other at perhaps one, maybe two, meets each year. Compare: the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees play each other 19 times each season. Why are the NBA playoffs must-see TV? Because the teams play each other every other day for two solid months, April to June. Real Madrid and Barcelona play each other all the time. In NFL football, Dallas and Washington play at least twice each season. This is a no-brainer, people!

— Track and field is sport at its essence: run, jump, throw. Yet for the average spectator, a track meet is bewildering. It’s confusing. There’s too much going on, often at the same time. And this is an awful secret: a lot of very serious track fans make like super-snobs, which is a complete turn-off to the would-be newbie fan, who just wants to know what’s going on, not get lectured about “negative splits” as if it’s Fermi and Einstein and physics at Princeton. Ugh.

— Meet presentation has barely evolved since the 1970s. There are some genuinely good track announcers out there but the PA systems at many fields are high-school quality, if that.

— Music? Lights? Fan-friendly experience? What?

— The world championships, which this year will be held in London, run from August 4-13. This is awesome for the niche of super-committed track fans, and organizers will justly point out that — just like the 2012 Olympics — the event will be sold out. But a 10-day run is a l-o-n-g deal. The U.S. track nationals are only four days. Why do the worlds run to 10?

Why, with all of that, is track and field obsessed with its records?

From the European committee report:

… The power of any record depends on its credibility.

“If there is suspicion that a record was not achieved fairly or the conditions were somehow not correct, people become skeptical or worse they ignore it.”

Look again at baseball.

Here, for easy reference, are baseball’s top 10 single-season home run leaders. For fun, identify how many may have, you know, taken something stronger than an aspirin and those you absolutely, positively, indisputably, unequivocally know with 110 percent certainty are cleaner than Mr. Clean:

1. Bonds, 73, 2001

2. Mark McGwire, 70, 1998

3. Sammy Sosa, 66, 1998

4. McGwire, 65, 1999

5. Sosa, 64, 2001

6. Sosa, 63, 1999

7. Roger Maris, 61, 1961

8. Babe Ruth, 60, 1927

9. Ruth, 59, 1921

10. Jimmie Foxx, 58, 1932

      Hank Greenberg, 58, 1938

      Ryan Howard, 58, 2006

      McGwire, 58, 1997

Also for fun: name the year Bonds gets elected to the Hall of Fame. Bonds landed on 53.8 percent of ballots this year; that’s up from 44.3 percent in 2016; he has five years of balloting left; historical trends suggest that players who get at least 50 percent almost always end up in the Hall by the end of their eligibility.

Reality suggests that whatever you believe about Bonds’ hat size, 73 and 762 are the numbers and he’s headed for the Hall of Fame. The relevant audience: for those who are not aware, voters for the Hall are from the baseball writers association, meaning the most skeptical running dogs themselves.

If more than half of the skeptics think those numbers are credible, and those cranky skeptics increasingly are proving willing to vote for the guy’s Hall of Fame enshrinement, he is — and the records themselves are — hardly being ignored, right?

Which holds considerable parallels for track and field, and the errant proposal to get rid of half of track and field’s records.

For one, the committee didn’t do the appropriate due diligence.

They did not, before announcing it to the world, secure the buy-in of athletes. Predictably, some of the world’s biggest stars from prior generations — the long jumper Mike Powell, the marathoner Paula Radcliffe, the middle-distance star Wilson Kipketer — were justifiably outraged. So, too, the families of former stars, including Al Joyner, the husband of U.S. sprint star Florence Griffith-Joyner.

“That’s dishonoring my family,” he told the Wall Street Journal. “I will fight tooth and nail. I will find every legal opportunity that I can find. I will fight it like I am training for an Olympic gold medal.”

Asked after a seminar Wednesday at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Los Angeles if she supported the European proposal, Allyson Felix, the nine-time Olympic medalist, said, "I guess I'm not."

She had said a moment earlier, "You don't want to take away a clean record from a clean athlete. I don't know how you solve that issue."

Further, the basis for the recommendation of this would-be policy rests on a fallacy — that “new” records can be deemed reliable because athletes who set them will be “clean” because they will have passed a certain number of doping tests.

A little background:

Samples are now kept for up to 10 years. The IAAF began storing samples in 2005. Current world records that don’t meet the new guidelines would no longer be called a “world record” but would remain on an “all time” list, according to the European proposal now off to the IAAF.

“Do we really believe,” Radcliffe wrote in a lengthy Twitter post, “a record set in 2015 is totally clean and one in 1995 not?”

Radcliffe’s opposition is particularly notable. She is close to IAAF president Seb Coe.

Indisputably, technology has advanced since October 6, 1985, when East Germany’s Marita Koch set the women’s 400-meter world record, 47.6, running in Lane One in Canberra, Australia.

But this is ever a cat-and-mouse game, and to build on Radcliffe’s notion, who is to say that someone somewhere is not using some 2017 variant of THG — the designer steroid at the core of the BALCO scandal 15 years ago. You can’t test for something if you don’t know it exists. Again, logic.

This is the flaw with reliance on any system that turns to testing. It creates in the public mind the illusion of confidence in that system. But, and this is critical, that confidence is only an illusion. That confidence is wholly false.

Look at Lance Armstrong. Consider Marion Jones. Each passed hundreds of tests.

Tests maybe can deter. But they do not prove with 100 percent certainty that an athlete is innocent of anything.

One final point.

Let’s say that track officials disregard the world’s best athletes and common sense and make this proposal the rule in track and field.

It’s not going to do what officials want. Indeed, it would do exactly the opposite. All it would do is sow confusion, which — right now, when track and field needs to simplify things and find ways to market itself to a new generation of fans — ought to be the very last item on its agenda.

Example:

For reference, Powell’s long-jump world record, set in 1991, is 8.95 meters. That’s 29 feet, 4 1/2 inches.

Let’s say, under this would-be policy, that at some meet somewhere someone jumps 8.90, 29-2 1/2. Let’s also say that’s deemed the new “world record.”

Any report from that meet — indeed, any report going forward about that 8.9 jump — would inevitably include a reference to Powell’s 8.95.

One would thus be called a “world record” when it really isn’t and one would be called a mark from the “all time” list when, in fact, it is the “world record.”

This is what happens when you try to re-write history. It can’t be done.

Track and field, you know, needs smarter thinking under that hat size, whatever it might be.

On the WADA presidency

MOSCOW -- Consider what just these few weeks have brought: A massive scandal in Turkey, with revelations of teenagers being doped. A rash of doping cases in Russia. Allegations that West Germany's government tolerated and covered up a culture of doping among its athletes for decades, and even encouraged it in the 1970s "under the guise of basic research."

Positive tests involving American and Jamaican track stars: Tyson Gay, Asafa Powell, Sherone Simpson and Veronica Campbell-Brown.

Meanwhile, the election for the presidency of cycling's governing body, the UCI, is, after years and years of the sport's drug-ridden history -- and to describe it this way is perhaps even too gentle -- fractious.

In the United States, Major League Baseball moved to suspend more than a dozen players because of doping violations but the biggest star of all, Alex Rodriguez, with $95 million at stake, is fighting the matter vigorously.

IAAF Centenary Gala Show

The reason Edwin Moses, the two-time Olympic gold medalist, is now in the running for the presidency of the World Anti-Doping Agency, is elemental: "I believe I am the right person to help protect clean athletes' right to compete. That," he said, "is what it is about, ultimately."

Moses, 57, entered the race to become the next WADA president in late July, becoming the third -- and final -- candidate for the job. Also in the contest: International Olympic Committee vice president Craig Reedie of Great Britain and former IOC medical director Patrick Schamasch of France.

Moses is indisputably one of the greatest track and field stars of all time. He won the 400-meter high hurdles at both the 1976 and 1984 Summer Games. He won 122 consecutive races from 1977-87.

Since his retirement from competitive running, he has been especially active in the anti-doping movement, serving since September, 2012, as chairman of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

The three would-be WADA presidents had until Tuesday to submit position papers to the IOC; it's now the Olympic movement's turn to nominate a successor to former Australian government minister John Fahey, who has been in the job for six years.

At a meeting here Friday in Moscow, the IOC's policy-making executive board is due to nominate one of the three. That nominee will be put up for formal election at the World Conference on Doping in Sport in Johannesburg Nov. 12-15.

Schamasch -- no one doubts for a second his technical expertise -- is considered a long-shot.

Moses got a late start. He knows that. Even so, if the anti-doping campaign is supposed to be all about athletes, who better than one of the most superb athletes of all time -- who since has virtually done it all -- looking out for athletes?

Moses earned an M.B.A. from Pepperdine University in Malibu, California. His undergraduate degree, from Morehouse College in Atlanta, is in physics. He serves now as director of the Laureus World Sports Academy, the association of sports starts that seeks to use the positive influence of sport as a tool for social change worldwide. He has served the IOC on its athlete, medical and ethics commissions and on various U.S. Olympic Committee panels as well.

"I think the position needs a person of strong will," Moses said in his first public comments since the IOC announced he was in the race, adding a moment later, "There aren't a lot of people with the experience I have had at every level."

Even so, to know the IOC is to recognize the subtle if unmistakeable signs that Reedie -- himself accomplished, sophisticated, experienced, and particularly in the ways of international sports politics and diplomacy -- may have the nomination all but sewn up.

Within the IOC, there is considerable feeling that it -- the IOC -- should play a more direct role in its dealings with WADA.

Ser Miang Ng of Singapore, currently the IOC's senior vice president, said at a press briefing Monday in London, "I feel there needs to be a shift in the IOC's stance with WADA. Perhaps the IOC should fund a higher percentage of the finance, say two-thirds, which would then justify WADA being more directly led by sport, by the IOC and by the IFs," that is, the international federations.

The IOC set up WADA in 1999. The IOC and the federations currently provide 50 percent of WADA's annual budget. Governments fund the other half. WADA's 2013 budget: $26 million.

In recent months, the federations in particular have intensified their criticisms of WADA, saying it spends millions of dollars annually on drug-testing but doesn't routinely catch the most serious cheaters. The return rate has for years hovered at about 1 percent given the usual test methods.

A more-expensive test, the carbon-isotope test, catches cheaters at a rate of about 5 percent, statistics WADA made public at the end of July suggested. But each carbon-isotope test costs about $400. Where such funding would come from is uncertain.

Moses said he understands fully and fundamentally what is what.

"I'm optimistic about it," he said. "That's the approach I'm taking …

"What I can do is lay out a philosophy: to give the athletes the confidence that the war against doping in sport is the most important aspect of competition and all the resources are being put to the task; to give these athletes the assurance that when you compete, no matter who you are, no matter what country you come from, that if you are using illegal substances you are going to be caught and sanctioned heavily."

 

Turkey's awful doping scandal

LONDON -- Most of the news accounts about the 31 Turkish track and field athletes hit Monday with two-year bans for doping have centered on four main points: One: Istanbul is in the race for the 2020 Summer Games, along with Madrid and Tokyo. The International Olympic Committee will choose the winner Sept. 7. To be blunt, the timing for Istanbul is not good. Lamine Diack, the president of track and field's international governing body, which goes by the acronym IAAF, has said, "They cannot bid for the Olympics if they cannot control their athletes. They need to clean their house."

Two: three of the 31 athletes competed at the 2012 London Games.

Three: one of those three, Esref Apak, is also the 2004 Athens silver medalist in the hammer throw.

Four: The bans came five days after the IAAF confirmed nine other Turkish athletes got two-year suspensions for using anabolic steroids.

Those are, of course, all relevant and material.

But here are the two central points in what is perhaps one of the biggest doping scandals in track and field history -- and, even given everything that has happened in the sport, that assertion may prove not to be an overstatement.

One: of the 31, 20 are 23 or younger.

Two: eight are teenagers.

Ebru Yurddaş, a hammer thrower with a top-10 result this year in her category, is 16.

For emphasis: she is just a teenage girl.

Thus the fair question: who is doping teenagers -- nearly a quarter of those who were named -- and on what authority?

Or did Ebru Yurddaş, at 16, have the wits, the will and the cash to obtain performance-enhancing drugs herself?

This is on a level completely and profoundly different than the headlines involving sprint stars Tyson Gay of the United States or Asafa Powell and Sherone Simpson of Jamaica, all of whom recently confessing to failed drug tests.

Two-time Olympic 200-meter champion Veronica Campbell-Brown tested positive for a stimulant a few weeks back. This is way different than that as well.

Those cases represent, if you will, individual choice.

So, too, the Biogenesis matter -- which led Monday to the sanctions from Major League Baseball. It is of course an absurd joke that Alex Rodriguez can be "banned" for 211 games but then start that very same night at third base for the New York Yankees, and if you want evidence about why the rest of the world looks at the U.S. professional sports leagues and thinks something is askew -- it does not understand collective-bargaining agreements and does not necessarily care to -- that is Example A.

To be clear:

The point is not that doping is a Turkish problem. There have been plenty of doping cases in, for instance, the United States. See, for example: Armstrong, Lance. Or, Jones, Marion.

The point is that in Olympic sport the doping cases in United States have almost exclusively involved young adults, some well into their 20s and 30s, making choices -- bad choices, surely -- in, again, the exercise of individual self-determination.

This, though -- to be doping teenagers?

The news in Turkey erupted on the same day it was disclosed that West Germany's government encouraged and covered up a culture of doping among its athletes for decades, participation "conspicuously similar to the systematic doping system of [East Germany]," according to a comprehensive report.

Last week, the chairman of the Turkish track and field federation, Mehmet Terzi, resigned. He had been in office for nine years.

The IOC, or IAAF, or the World Anti-Doping Agency -- some entity -- should find him when he's out of Turkey, if he ever is allowed out again, and ask: what did he know, and when did he know it?

The president of the Turkish Olympic Committee, Ugur Erdener, who is also an IOC member, issued a statement Monday saying that the 31 suspensions should be taken as a "clear signal" of how seriously the country is responding.

He also said in that statement, "Led by the Turkish government, Turkey has zero tolerance for doping and it is our intention to have clean, young athletes competing on the international stage in the future."

Note it's his statement that invoked the government.

Thus the obvious, and reasonable, question: what, exactly, is the government's involvement in all of this?

Further, all high-level sports officials have to issue a public-relations statement that says something like that at a moment like this.

Reality check: this is not a "clear signal."

How do you know? Because the list of the 31 names provided by the Turkish track and field federation provided no other details: what kind of drugs are at issue or the dates of the suspensions.

That is simply not transparency at work. There is more, much more, to come.

For instance, those nine Turkish athletes who got the two-year bans for using anabolic steroids? Two were teenagers, a 17-year-old discus thrower and an 18-year-old hammer thrower.

Those anabolic steroids?

Six cases, according to the IAAF, involved stanozolol. That is the same substance that Ben Johnson used at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

Among those six, the IAAF says, three also tested positive for oral turinabol. That's the steroid that was used in the state-sponsored East German doping programs in the 1970s and 1980s.

Beyond which, two of the country's most successful athletes are still awaiting disciplinary proceedings.

Asli Cakir Alptekin, the London 1500-meter champion, could lose that gold medal and be banned for life; abnormalities purportedly were detected in her biological passport. Meanwhile, two-time European 100-meter hurdles champion Nevin Yanit, fifth in the event in London, allegedly failed a doping test.

The 31 suspensions announced Monday stem from tests ordered by the IAAF in and out of competition amid the Mediterranean Games, an Olympic-style competition held June 20-30 in the Turkish city of Mersin.

In a neat bit of irony, the track and field events there were staged at the "Nevin Yanit Athletics Complex."