Roger Robinson: Drugs in Running

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  • #12534


    Drugs in Running

    I hate to talk about PEDs in running but it's naive to try to pretend there is no such thing. I found this article very interesting for a few points. I'll start off on a couple of tangential notes, then get into the meat of the issue.

    I love what he said about Lance Armstrong at NYCM. This is what I said at the time also. I hated how this drug-enhanced-cyclist-turned-sub-elite-runner was getting more attention than the true elites, those who should be the stars of the race. It was, in my opinion, a complete disgrace. It's nice to know that someone in the media felt the same way and took some kind of personal stance on it.

    I also like what he had to say about the faux-confession on Oprah. It was attention seeking, self interest at its worst. It's a shame Oprah agreed to the charade but it's not surprising. Let's not forget she is a business person who is, in the end, most concerned about ratings and advertising revenue.

    As for the meat of the story, does anyone actually believe anymore that all elites are clean? I saw recently that someone who should know better was shocked by the accusations by Moses Kiptanui. Now, these are just accusations at this time without hard evidence to back them up but should we be shocked that PEDs might have become widespread in Kenyan running camps? In Ethiopian running camps? Even in professional running camps and training groups in other parts of the world, even here in the United states? I'm not going to insist at this moment that Kiptanui is absolutely right and that every Kenyan is dirty but be honest with yourself. Would you be shocked if hard evidence came out proving him right? As much as I want to believe in the innocence of everyone, I wouldn't be shocked and I'm not shocked by those accusations coming out now. Why did Mathew Kisorio decide to use these drugs?

    The Kenyans are incredibly talented, tenaciously hard working and grow up in a culture and atmosphere that is perfectly suited for developing elite distance runners. Nobody is going to deny that. However, in this current culture where there is quite a bit of money to be made by being among the best in the world, should we be surprised if a few bad actors look for an edge wherever they can get it?

    Is every elite distance runner dirty? I doubt it. Is every elite distance runner clean? I doubt that even more. Is running where cycling was a decade ago? We won't know for another decade but I want to believe drug use is not as widespread in running as it was in cycling at that time.

    So what should be done about this? Well, here's what I'll be doing. I won't be holding these runners up on a pedestal. I'll celebrate great competitions and great performances and I'll support the runners until I'm given reason not to. At the same time, though, I'll celebrate with a bit of skepticism. I won't accuse anyone of being guilty without having ample reason to believe they are guilty but I'll also not be caught off guard if/when an elite runner is caught. I'll support the biological passport (which caught Abderrahim Goumri shortly before he tragically died in a car accident). I will support races and organizations (like NYRR) that take a hard stand on drug cheats. I will support in competition and, just as importantly, random out of competition testing. How much of a difference can I as a single person make? Not much but, if I'm joined by numerous other fans of the sport, we might be able to help push the sport in the right direction.

  • #32742

    Andrew A.

    I do not mind talking about it because the more talk there is the more the code of silence around PED cheats can be threatened.  As with almost any of Robinson's columns, this one is good and goes at least part-way there.  He does come across as an apologist for Western/Anglo runners, with his ironclad faith in Kastor and Radcliffe, among others.  There are reasons to be suspicious of those runners, too, beyond simply their ability to run fast races.  He also seems an apologist for running media, as RW/RT (recall Scott Douglas looking into Goucher at the '08 OT and the Hesch affair) or Competitor — to name just two — certainly could fund investigations if they so chose.  Yet that is simply not where their editorial priorities lie.  For me, that is what it came down to as an impetus with the cycling doping scandals: a vigorous press willing to put the sport under the microscope and make the powers that be look bad.  Running does not have the same and, frankly, I doubt it ever will.  We already know that USATF (f/k/a TAC) has been gladly covering up doping positives for U.S. athletes going at least as far back as 1984.  Where is the evidence that USATF has improved its record in that area and is not as bad if not even worse today?

    As for the Armstrong/Winfrey thing, that was obviously spin control before it ever took place.  Winfrey has little journalistic credibility at all, she just has a lot of good will with a sizable audience.  With the reversal of his vow to testify under oath to USADA to help their investigation, it is more clear than ever that Armstrong is all about Armstrong and could not care less about the sport or society or anything else.  I wonder when his kids will realize that pretty much everything they see around them was gained as a result of lies and bullying.  Anyway, there are enough people willing to demonize Armstrong, and he likely brought much of that onto himself.  I have come to a point, especially after reading a really good book that framed well the MLB steroids of the Bonds/McGwire/Sosa era, that I place only a sliver of the blame on the athletes.  Athletes' job is to compete with their peers to win, using any means allowed, and they are simply individual agents within the culture of the system.  It really is up to the administrators and officials who run the sport to ensure that there is indeed integrity in the final product, that should be at the forefront of their jobs.  Ultimately, if they do a poor job protecting the integrity of the competition then the athletes are put into a highly compromised position and are all but forced to take the shortcuts that many others have taken just to compete for victory.  On the other hand, if the athletes truly want to take their sport back from the dopers then they need to unionize to demand that take place, to make the officials and administrators comply with that demand.  As it is, they are apparently only wanting to unionize to get more/bigger sponsor logos on their uniforms.  So, they just continue to endorse and enable a system that penalizes clean athletes, though the people most responsible for that system are the officials and administrators.

    On a personal note, it so happens that one of the training groups I frequent saw Tyler Hamilton show up for runs a handful of times a couple years ago.  I guess he had just launched some endurance training business and came along to check out this running group – one of our regulars is a former pro cyclist, so he may have extended the invite.  I am unsure if this was prior to the “60 Minutes” interview but it was definitely prior to the tell-all book.  I do know that the instant I saw him I had made up my mind to not be among those offering him a genial welcome, in fact I really had nothing at all to say to him.  Another of the regulars in that group – a masters runner older than Armstrong – beat Armstrong in a trail half-marathon in Steamboat Springs last summer and, being friendly almost to a fault, chatted up Armstrong a little at the finish.  I think I would have been tempted to throw a snot rocket his way, at best.

  • #32743


    Yes, I agree the more light on the issue the better. I guess I'm uncomfortable talking about doping in sport. I don't like to think about it. That said, sometimes you have to do what's uncomfortable for the best of the sport. I won't accuse anyone individually without evidence but pretending there isn't a systemic problem would be naive at best. That's why I posted this. I think it needs to be talked about, like you stated, in order to get it out in the open so it can be dealt with.

    I actually hold little of the blame on the athletes. They are caught in a very difficult situation. They are told essentially get better, in any way possible, or get out of the sport. When doing it the right way isn't enough, what are they left to do? They may feel they don't have a choice. Sponsors are telling them their incomes are on the line, races are telling them they aren't wanted, coaches and various other members of their inner circles might be whispering in their ears that the only way they can accomplish what they need to continue making a living is to take the drugs. Having never been in this position, I can't imagine the pressure one would feel. I'd like to think I'd say no but how can any of us really know what we would say if we've never been in that position?

    That said, as you point out, the athletes through their unions could take a stronger stand if they want a clean sport. The TFAA does seem solely focused on sponsorship. Now, I agree with them in many aspects on the sponsorship topic but they could also take a stand that organizations need to take a tougher stand on cleaning up the sport in order to protect the clean athletes. I was just reading an article last night about the NFL and the NFLPA fighting over human growth hormone (HGH) testing. The NFLPA is dragging its feet on HGH testing to the point this writer basically said he can envision a generation of fans growing up between the time an agreement was made to perform HGH testing and testing actually begins to happen. Why? Not because the NFL is dragging its feet. Why is the NFLPA dragging its feet so much if it's concerned about protecting clean athletes? Is it concerned about protecting clean athletes? I don't want to make assumptions but it doesn't look good.

    Your story of Hamilton reminds me of what I read recently from Steve Magness about Armstrong. He, of course, was working with Salazar/Nike when Armstrong was doing his running thing and he was tasked by Nike to help Armstrong, which he stated was a very difficult feeling to have. Later, after he moved on to college coach, his team was at a cross country meet where Armstrong would be running. He said he thought about introducing his runners to Armstrong and being the “cool guy” who knows him. Instead, he told them Armstrong was going to be in the race and this was their chance to beat him. They made a pretty big deal of that and were pumped to beat him.

  • #32744


    I pay little attention to T&F.  Cycling was never my thing.  I love baseball and I've been let down so many times.
    Stats are my thing and baseball has a ton.  I just don't put much in what has taken place the last 20 years.  I have
    about 120,000 baseball cards and I've been thinking about just pairing back to pre 1985.  I just collect for me, no other
    reason.  Really have spent no time the past 10 years or so with them.

    In my work, your work, reputation is everything.  I blame the athletes, though I am not unforgiving.  I cannot grasp how
    you can make all this money by cheating and it doesn't work on you.  You stole from others.  Granted, the big Corps were
    fine with it and share blame.  I wouldn't walk across the street to get a free pair of Nikes if they were handing out $20 bills.

    I fine myself watching and attending more HS and College events.  I love watching HS T&F and Cross.  I've gotten back
    into watching hockey.  Going to the Blackhawks game Sunday with Woody.  Honestly, football doesn't do it for me anymore.
    I never thought I would say the NBA is more entertaining than the NFL, but it is.  Notice I said entertaining.  There are some ferocious guys in the NBA.  The athleticism is phenomenal.
    I love sports in general.  I can't believe how much I got into women's US Soccer.  I run, but I don't feel or necessarily like being lumped in or called a runner.  Some off you probably know what I mean by this.  I'd have much rather been a football or baseball player in HS, but running was simple.  No politics, just go beat people.  Ron Daws once said something along the lines one time that if he improved in baseball by swinging and only missing the pitch by 1″ rather than 3″s who would notice?

  • #32745

    Andrew A.

    I hear ya, Double.  I have long considered cycling to be a rather weenie sport, with a huge focus on ever more specialized and lighter gear – at least the sport it had become in the past decade or two.  I do recognize that there are great, tough athletes in the sport — the former pro cyclist I mentioned earlier has a remarkable ability to push himself into deep wells of pain in training (though that can often be a liability) — I am referring more to the overall culture of it.  I can also recognize that the culture that embraces Alter-G and underwater treadmills, breathe-rite strips, and who knows what else brings more of a wuss/weenie tinge to running.  Guys working full-time jobs in Japan can run faster in the marathon than Ritz and many other talented U.S. runners can, there seems to be a huge emphasis on the physio aspect of developing talent and too little on psychological and U.S. elites are being coddled more and more.

    Regarding making money by cheating and not having it keep you up at night, it appears to me that the common refrain is one of presumption that everyone else in the same position is doing similar things and a rationalization that if most others are doing it and getting away with it then it must not be wrong.  I recall George Malley analogizing in defense of his own doping the concept of seeing a worn path inside of a cone on a race course, you know that many if not all of the runners ahead of you took a shortcut so you tell yourself you are gaining no undue advantage by following suit.  Of course, I know that if I saw that I would go around the cone, regardless, but then maybe I am just not as sophisticated or as savvy as a lot of other people.  I know, it is a very slippery slope of situational ethics, yet when your prime focus in life is to win races then you can wind up with unchecked ambition that can blind you to all of the drawbacks of your behavior.  It may not be right or excuse the behavior one iota, it is simply an explanation.  I can understand the situation to a decent degree yet I still cannot condone it. 

    I am also with you on scholastic and collegiate running, I love getting to watch them compete.  (I am pretty dang excited that CU will host the PAC 12 CC meet this coming fall.)  There is a certain purity of purpose to what they do on that level, though I have seen what looks to me like some taint creep in via NXN.  You are right about the NBA, they get some of the best athletes – great, skilled athletes will simply get to have longer careers and roughly equivalent (if not better) income levels in the NBA and not have the constant threat of career-ending injury from getting hit by opponents that NFL players face.  Even a decently talented athlete can make a nice living as a sub in the NBA and not be exposed to ferocious hits like he would in the NFL.  Of course, basketball was my first sports love, so I love the college game the best and wish the NBA would drop its silly age requirement to let guys who are talented and developed enough for NBA teams to draft them not be forced to pretend to be college student-athletes for a year.  Of course, the NCAA tourney looks pretty wide-open with all of the parity this year and the one-and-done heavy teams do not enjoy much advantage over teams like Butler or Kansas, so it should be an exciting one to watch.

    Anyway, a big issue in T&F is that the union is fairly new and thus lacks much clout.  Another is that there is no league with singular leadership, so it is faced with negotiating with multiple organizations to gain concessions and that costs way more than their likely level of funding.  I was thinking of the NFL/NFLPA (and MLB) issues when I read Robinson's column.  The NFLPA has the unique issue of being liable to the players they represent, not just current but also past.  There is significant liability they open themselves up to if they implicitly admit that not taking a harder line on steroids, hGH, and the rest could lead to health problems in later years, it would make them look negligent with respect to past players.  Plus, big hits sell the game.  You would think that a player in the prime of his career committing murder and then committing suicide in front of his team's leaders would finally get enough of the league/player leadership to find the will to address the real causes of these very real problems players, both past and present, are having and do more to protect their best interests.  It is complicated and often puzzling to me.

    I remember reading that bit by Magness and I found myself questioning why he would willingly work with a guy he was sure was dirty.  Were I in that position, at the very least I would schedule vacation or call in sick on the days that Armstrong had scheduled to be there, even if it might mean lack of praise or even a reprimand from the people I report to.  Yes, he ultimately made the right call when he was coaching the Cougs, but that seemed a remarkably easy decision to make.  It is not the same as going along to get along, being part and parcel of the Nike machine that made significant contributions to building the smokescreen of lies around the Armstrong legend.

    Tangentially, Rupp's 3000m AR means little to me beyond some obvious commentary on the choice to travel over to Europe to do it in a weekday meet rather than be part of (and his handlers presume would be lost within?) the wonderful spectacle that was the Millrose Games last Saturday.  Maybe he did it clean, I cannot be too certain, though the other aspects of the record run are at least a little questionable and imply significant manipulation by those who are guiding Rupp.

  • #32746


    I miss the days in the late 70s/80s when I T&F and RW just to read the articles on guys racing every damn weekend almost.
    Just a pile of guys bashing each other week after freakin' week on the roads.  I was always amazed how well Rodgers competed against everyone.  Those guys were warriors in my eyes.  There were great runners maybe getting in the top 5.  You just don't see that anymore.  We had a local kid run the local 10k one year in 33:30 at 14 and I don't think he broke the top 20.  Sammy Bair and Malcolm East battling it out with a couple other guys from the area all Summer.  The HS and College guys came out and you just lit it up.  Henry Winger, Jack Fultz, Carl Hatfield and anyone they could convince to come run were there.  Heck, Fultz won Boston that one hot year.  The ranks were deep locally as I'm sure they were everywhere.  You just fed of of that.  I don't see this any longer.  Those guys weren't doping, they were training all week and racing.  Similar to Nolan Ryan in Baseball.  He's pitch every 4th game and go deep or complete the game week after week, year after year.

    I run with a guy who's 44, we put in 18 today and he is really getting back into it now.  He had good speed in the day at D3 and was a mid 14 5000 guy.  I told him just for grins to go back and look how Jim Ryun trained in HS.  I said it would blow him away.  Obviously Ryun was a rare breed, but there has to be guys out there who if not moddle collied could break through.  Your right…they didn't have all this sophisticated training stuff to worry about; they just went out an ran and let the chips fall were they may.  I mean today…right now people think if you can run 6 flat pace over any distance your something special.  Hell, guys like Pre and Scott and a bunch of others ran easy at 5:30 pace for maintenance/bread and butter runs.  For me I just run for the heck of it.  I run about everyday and some of my circle claim 4-5 key days would be better and maybe I should consider a 2 hour bike one of those days.  Huh?  I tell them they are just afraid to train. 
    I don't pay attention to any union stuff or who's doing what.  Like Bill Parcell once said, “Just show me the baby.”  You every read the book, A Cool Clear Day  the Buddy Edelen story?  Great read.  I don't think many people realize he held the world record in the marathon.  He just worked and trained.  No different for you and me as you alluded to earlier.
    HS running is awesome.  I'd have loved to coach.  We have several sub 4:10 mile guys here who just beat on each other.  One would get sick, another injured, but on race day they put all that aside and bashed.  Sometimes it worked and sometimes they failed, but it was awesome watching these guys try and break the field.  A couple of these guys are seniors this year and I can't wait for track.  They are work horses, running 2-3 races a meet because it means points.  You know the deal.
    My buddy and I talked today about people we run against.  I have a running alter ego just like most people and sometimes the rub on me is you don't race much.  My standard reply is I'm always in shape.  I really don't need to prove to myself I'm fast everyday.  That's the difference.  When they fire me up enough, I swing out of the trees and show up.  I don't always beat them, but they damn well felt me. 
    Totally off subject, but I don't get the Pre bashing or sometimes lack of respect.  Sure he was cocky, but he brought it.  This…his times wouldn't stack up today, or should have raced differently.  It wasn't like that for him.  Everyone in the building knew that.  How many guys like him show up on the boards at Madison Square Garden and beat guys like Liquori?  It seemed Bowerman didn't quite figure him for a miler, but Pre fed of that stuff.  Say what you want about him at Munich in '72, I'm in awe everytime I watch it.  Those guys were hardly sand baggers.

  • #32747

    Andrew A.

    For Double:
    [html]W/'76 #BostonMarathon winner Jack Fultz at the finish line. on Twitpic[/html]

  • #32748


    Looks younger than I do.

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