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Andrew Alderson: Should track and field records be expunged?

Valerie Adams on the London Olympic podium next to Nadzeya Ostapchuk (centre).
Valerie Adams on the London Olympic podium next to Nadzeya Ostapchuk (centre).

The European Athletics Council plan to expunge track and field world records is admirable in theory, but tricky in practice.

The proposal was adopted during the Council's meeting in Paris over the weekend, and president Svein Arne Hansen admitted it was "revolutionary".

In a nod to doping's stain on athletics, he said "performance records that show the limits of human capabilities are one of the great strengths of our sport, but they are meaningless if people don't really believe them".

"It's a radical solution for sure, but those of us who love athletics are tired of the cloud of doubt and innuendo that has hung over our records for too long."

However, the situation is more complicated than putting a load of filthy records in the washing machine with a scoop of public relations powder and cup of moral fabric softener and removing a clean sheet at the end.

Like any garment, only part of it will be dirty. Genuine record-holders will be punished and a new generation subsequently rewarded in a supposedly cleaner era because urine and blood samples can be tested retrospectively.

Dame Valerie Adams is likely to be a beneficiary once a definitive date or erasure is set.

One suggestion is to blank anything before 2005 when samples started getting stored.
Adams' 21.24m shot put best was set at the 2011 world championships in South Korea. Despite access to the wonders of modern sports science, she remains 23rd on the all-time distance list.

The world record of 22.63m, set by Soviet Natalya Lisovskaya at Moscow in June 1987, remains 1.39m beyond her reach.

The doping and records issues have understandably frustrated Adams over her career.

She is the only woman to win four consecutive shot put world championships, yet her best performances rank with the also-rans.

To understand her external demons, look at the London Games podium.

In the centre stands Belarusian Nadzeya Ostapchuk, the cheat who would soon be exposed for using the banned substance metenolone.

To her left is Evgeniia Kolodko. Last year, retrospective tests revealed she submitted a positive doping sample at the same meet.

Adams has always been burdened by that toxic environment. The disqualification of those London rivals hardened her view that the Rio Olympics needed to proceed without Russian participation when the Herald asked her about it last year.

"It is the only way to nip it in the bud," she said. "People say, 'what about the clean Russian athletes?' My response is, 'what about us, the clean athletes worldwide?'

"This Russian regime is bigger than them as individuals. I feel heartbroken for the fourth and fifth place-getters [who would have received medals at London]. Their moment is gone."

Adams knows all about "gone" moments. At Athens, her maiden Games, she missed the top eight and the opportunity for three more puts. Four of those ahead of her have since received doping bans.

"To save our sport and prevent younger athletes from doing such stupid things, they needed to take a stance. That's a good thing.

"If you wring the chicken by the neck, the chicks underneath will not do that."

But is a fresh start for the greater good, given cheats are not reserved to pre-2005?
History tells us whenever a sport thinks it can put its feet up in the lounge of doping complacency, trouble will be doing press-ups - or chemical experiments - in the hallway.

New Zealand's had its share of track and field world record holders: think Jack Lovelock, Sir Peter Snell and Sir John Walker. Their efforts would face eradication.

Followers of track and field accept the sport's reputation has been sullied for generations. There's no way of righting that without significant collateral damage.

Perhaps the only real course of action is pursue athletes' fraudulent earnings and to imprison them for their "crimes". That would likely be met by resistance in the form of human rights defences.

World record holders might be discredited as cheats, but if they wield a dysfunctional moral compass they endure few sleepless nights otherwise. Cynics would suggest athletes gamble on making the most of the glory before the doping police catch up. There must be hundreds, if not thousands, of athletes adversely affected by this cycle since World War II.

But what medal is worth the price of your soul? The incumbent records could be left next to an asterisk; a permanent reminder of the worst the sport and human greed can be.

- NZ Herald

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