After the layers of Lance Armstrong’s legend had been peeled away by the overwhelming facts of doping, it only seemed fitting to question whether performance-enhancing drugs were widespread within endurance running circles.
We’ve seen many world class athletes stripped of their world and Olympic titles, suspended or banned from track and field sports for decades. Almost without exception, that type of punishment hasn’t involved endurance athletes. That is, until recently.
Two of the world’s most dominant women marathoners, Rita Jeptoo and Liliya Shobukhova, were suspended late last year for positive tests related to doping. Combined they had won 5 of the past 6 Chicago Marathon races. Jeptoo also has won 3 Boston Marathon crowns. Both have appealed the suspensions.
At one time, I simply marveled at all the fast times being clocked within an ever-increasing field of fast marathoners.
In 2010, after reading the magazine article titled The Confessions of Eddy Hellebuyck, my perspective changed.
A few years later, the evidence from the Lance Armstrong saga, which continues to play out in federal court, provides Exhibit A that performance-enhancing drug use and sophisticated cheating methods permeate endurance sports, too. It is sad, if not abundantly clear, that sophisticated and stringent drug testing is required in the world of elite cycling and running.
Earlier this week, Propublica and BBC Panorama partnered to report claims against Alberto Salazar, who coaches elite runners for Nike’s Oregon Project. Salazar refutes the claims.
But, if you follow the world of elite running, something is clearly going on here.
Kara Goucher, the Minnesota-born runner with NCAA titles and one of America’s best female distance runners, is among the athletes and associates who talked to investigative reporters. She and others bring significant credibility to questions about Salazar pressuring athletes to take medications, including to improve performance or lose weight.
In unrelated allegations, this scathing piece accuses Salazar of using his status — he won the New York City Marathon three times and edged Dick Beardsley at Boston in the famed “Duel in the Sun” race — and influence to pressure judges in appeals against athletes.
There is an ugly side to running.
Nearly all runners participate in the sport for the right reasons. Many of the world’s best athletes, concerned about the sport’s reputation and their own, want drug cheats and strong-armed tactics out of the sport. Unfortunately, I suspect we hear more suspensions and stripped titles. We’ll hear more about the claims against Salazar, and the athletes he’s coached must now defend themselves and their performances.
They are all innocent until proven guilty. But accusations rise to suspicions in the arena of public opinion.
Hopefully, the allegations won’t tarnish those athletes who compete cleanly. On the other hand, athletes who have skirted the laws of good sportsmanship must be caught and punished. All the more reason for comprehensive and sophisticated testing for all world-class running and cycling events.