Paul Lewis: The problem with wiping world records

By Paul Lewis

FILE - In this Saturday, Aug. 17, 2013 file photo, Russia's Antonina Krivoshapka, right, and United States' Francena Mccorory competes in the women's 4x400-meter relay final. Photo / AP.
FILE - In this Saturday, Aug. 17, 2013 file photo, Russia's Antonina Krivoshapka, right, and United States' Francena Mccorory competes in the women's 4x400-meter relay final. Photo / AP.

There's only one thing wrong with the move to wipe all track and field world records before 2005 - it doesn't go far enough.

The proposal, designed to ditch dubious world records set in an era when drugs cheats prospered, has drawn protests from athletes whose "clean" records stand to be binned along with suspicious ones.

In Olympic events, 11 men's world records date from before 2005, 13 by women. They include the longstanding and, frankly, scarcely believable 30-year-old records in the 100m and 200m of Florence Griffith Joyner and the similarly gobsmacking marks of East Germany's Marita Koch in the 400m (1985) and Jarmila Kratochvilova's 800m world record of 1983.

The latter is the longest standing world record in athletics; a Russian athlete (ironically) said of Krachtovilova's mark in the '90s: "It is impossible for women to run so fast...it will last for 100 years". Shot put and discus records from the former Eastern bloc are also in the gun.

The move intends to restore credibility by expunging all records from before 2005. That's when the IAAF began storing blood and urine samples so they can be tested in later years, when drugs detectives catch up with the cheats' chemists.

All new world records will require athletes to have been tested numerous times beforehand and to have samples taken for re-testing later. Records will be wiped if the athlete later tests positive.

The collateral damage is some records considered above suspicion will also be sacrificed.

Britain's marathon world record holder Paula Radcliffe has been among the most prominent, complaining at being punished along with the cheats, even though marathon world records are a bit of a misnomer as all marathon courses are different and times therefore less relevant.

But there is no other way to rid the sport of the lasting stain of the cheats. Radcliffe's solution was to wipe the records only of those who could be found to have been illegally assisted in a court of law.

Proof is the problem. Krachtovilova, for instance, has never suffered any evidenced against her. Now 66, she has denied drugs use, never tested positive and even when a Czech newspaper found evidence of a government doping programme, there was no link to her.

Proving that in court - if it could be proved at all - would be extremely time-consuming, expensive, not to say prone to the vicissitudes of the law.

So a purge is the only way. Yet is it enough? The chemists may outpace the detectives again. There is a risk athletics could rest on its laurels, happy this bit of stagecraft has done away with the evil past, ushering in a bright new era.

To avoid the move becoming just a bit of posturing without any lasting impact (other than to insult athletes with clean world records prior to 2005), the purge needs to be accompanied by other measures. For example, doing away with the double standard of Therapeutic Use Exemptions where athletes can take banned substances to address a medical condition, with approval - effectively condoning drugs in the sport.

The authorities could simplify the banned substances list (it is not definitively proven some substances on the list actually aid performance); make doctors liable to punishment if their athletes are found doping; make the biological passport stronger and more consistent; and impose lengthier bans for errant athletes - agreed by all sports bodies and enforced by all.

Easier said than done, true, but any purge only works if the offensive matter is flushed out.

The major worry is that, with all this purging, we somehow lose the freakish performance - like Bob Beamon's long jump gold medal at the 1968 Olympics; he broke the world record by jumping over 29 feet when no one else had cracked 28 feet.

His record, set in Mexico's rarefied atmosphere and with the maximum permitted tailwind, stood for 23 years until Mike Powell, another American, broke it in 1991 - a record that still stands today. Neither has ever been even faintly linked with doping and Powell, now 53, was incensed when he heard his record might fall to the pre-2005 purge.

"I was the only one who was clean, it's wrong to penalise me because of the faults of someone else," he said. "That's my life and I stand on that. Are you accusing me then of cheating? Then OK, that means you called me a liar and you're going to call me a liar in my face. I'm a man and you're a man, you are going to have to deal with me."

"Who is this person? Have they ever competed? Do they know anything about athletics? Do they know anything about human genetics? Who are they? Shut up!"

That, right there, is the hurt that comes from cheating. It isn't administrators causing the pain (though they must bear some of the past blame), it's the cheats - and, just like the rest of life, the majority sometimes suffer because of the actions of an errant minority.

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW
Stats provided by

© Copyright 2017, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf04 at 24 May 2017 10:50:08 Processing Time: 719ms