The CHill Zone of T&F: Conway's View From the Finish Line

World Records and the State of the Sport

Jan 18th, 2016
2:17 pm PDT

Sprinter ShadowBritish Track and Field has released a manifesto on the status of the sport – changes it feels are necessary to "clean up" the sport of track and field. Among these is the matter of the sports records and what it sees as a full scale revision of track and field’s world records. Lord Coe – a Brit and the current head of the IAAF – has stated that he favors the removal of selected world records.

This is not the first time the issue of "record revision" has been brought up. Most recently it was a topic of discussion at the turn of the century. The thought of those in favor was to simply leave the old records behind and begin a new set of records for The New Millennium. Simple, easy, clean.

The question is, why the need at all? To whit the answer is simple – we know that doping has been prevalent in the sport for decades and that some, no many records have been tainted by "dopers". And with the recent revelations via the WADA investigation that individuals as high up in the sport as IAAF officials have been involved in the covering up of doping, the collective consciousness of many in track and field is looking for a way to "make right" the records of a sport which would like to consider itself "clean and natural".

Let me say before I go further, that I have insisted for well over a decade that doping has been rampant and that cover ups have been taking place. To whit I’ve been called "a hater" and much worse. Let the record show that I have been correct and that there is more to be uncovered. There are those calling for investigations into Kenyan athletes and the Kenyan federation, and I will say that any nation that has had questionable testing procedures should be fully investigated – including several Eastern European and Caribbean nations. And sure, point at the US, we’ve had microscopes up our collective tushes for about a decade and a half thanks to Victor Conte, BALCO, and the athletes involved in designer drugs! May the sport be as thorough with EVERYONE and then perhaps, just perhaps, we will truly clean this sport up!

That said, I agree that our world record books need a thorough cleaning. And frankly, just having mentioned BALCO and designer drugs, the idea of a set of New Millennium records would be meaningless knowing that "undetectable drugs were on the scene in 2002 and beyond. So, what do we do? Well I think the first thing we do is ensure that the ratification standard includes the most stringent testing available with a provision to store blood samples on all record holders with the proviso to retest if/when new standards are developed. This should remain open ended so that we do not end up a decade or more later finding out that someone was way ahead of the testing curve and we "missed it" at the time. That also means that anyone that performs, let’s say in the top 10 all time in an event should also have their blood taken and stored in the event that athletes ahead of them eventually "fail" and there is a need to move them up on the all time list, including possibly into the WR spot.

I think that we need to be prepared for records to possibly be "fluid" as testing methods get better, because I don’t think that we are ahead of the "cheats" just yet. We WILL catch up and surpass them. But it will take a dedication and emphasis on doing so – just as much as the cheaters are focused on, well, cheating. When that happens, we will see the numbers of cheaters decrease dramatically. In large part because a big part of the mentality of cheating is that others are getting away with it, therefore I must also so that I can contend. When no one is getting away with it, there is no need to join the fray. When the testing and punishment is sufficient, we will win the war on cheating!

As for the current records, while I believe that "tainted" records should be removed, the "wipe the books clean" approach punishes the good along with the bad. After all, EVERYONE that holds a record wasn’t dirty! And I’m not in favor of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I think we’re smart enough, and have enough information/knowledge to take a more intelligent approach than that.

That said I think we should start with what we already know. For example, we know that the Eastern Bloc were committed dopers – THEY’VE TOLD US SO! I don’t care that they "didn’t fail tests" we know WHY THEY DIDN’T. That means that most of the women’s marks from Russia and East Germany from the 80’s need to be removed. The same goes for several men’s field event marks from the same time period from the same countries. In other words, where we know that doping occurred, let’s be up front and say, "gotta go" to those marks – which we’ve all known all along!

While we’re discussing the 80’s, let’s talk about FloJo, because she presents a difficult case. Here we have an athlete that was good throughout her career, then suddenly went into the "Twilight Zone" for one unbelievable,untouchable season setting records that to date have been unreachable. Again, let’s talk about what we know. We know that FloJo’s 100 record was windy at best. Yes, the anemometer read 0.0, but if you were in the stadium you know the wind was blowing – and strongly. That’s just the reality of nature – that and the fact that all the other events taking place in the stadium at the same time were windy! Yes, the anemometer was checked later and found to be working fine. But how many times have you had an appliance, car, or other item fail you only to test "perfect" when you took it to the shop? Come on, we knew in 1988 that that mark was wrong. Fix it!

Now, the question of her physical status – i.e. was she on drugs – that’s more difficult to say/prove. Unlike the Eastern Bloc she never admitted to doping, and to my knowledge we have no samples to retest. I know most suspect that she was doped, but unlike the 100, we have nothing to go on to say her 200 record should be removed – and the 100 record will stay with FloJo just greatly reduced. If we’re going to clean up the record books this is the approach we must take – only remove what can be proven – or risk taking records from athletes like Mike Powell (29′ 4.5" LJ), Jonathan Edwards (60′ TJ), and Javier Sotomayor (8′ 0.25" HJ). Sensational marks, set by some of the greatest gentlemen the sport has seen. These must be preserved in the process – period.

Speaking of the 90’s however (the decade of Powell, Edwards, and Sotomayor), we do have some records/marks that are still on the books from individuals that at some point tested positive for drugs. I think for those individuals, we may have to make the assumption ( and it is an assumption) that because catching cheats was difficult, that if you were caught, you were "probably" using outside the timeframe that we caught you and therefore everything you did is suspect. I’m going to make another "judgment call here, and that’s with respect to the distance marks made by the Chinese members of "Ma’s Army". To come out of no where and obliterate everything, then "fall off" and just disappear when the accusations were made, says that those marks were tainted in my humble opinion. Those marks also need to be removed! Sidebar here, some will say "sounds like FloJo", but there is an important distinction, FloJo was world class for a decade, and an Olympic and World Championships medalist – silver at both, as well as sub 22 in the 200. The members of Ma’s Army were unknowns prior to their magical season. Critical distinction.

The New Millennium becomes an even more difficult matter, because as I said previously, we know that designer drugs have been available. We also know that there have been countries/federations that have NOT utilized proper doping protocols – including in some cases not even having testing facilities in force. Yes, we know that the IAAF has "stepped in" in certain cases and taken over testing. But as I said at the time, and WADA is now confirming, this was a) a conflict of interest, and b) an easy set up for violations by the IAAF! I would suggest that any samples taken and submitted by the IAAF be taken and resubmitted to WADA for retesting by an independent testing facility. The IAAF shouldn’t have been involved and these tests should’ve been done in this manner to begin with!

I think this is a very crucial step because it’s the out of competition testing that is critical as it’s this use of drugs – during the heavy training period – where the true results are derived. I think the fact that Ben Johnson was busted in Seoul has lead individuals to focus on testing/drug use during competition. Ben and those others caught during major competitions are either careless or stupid. The main benefit of drug use is in enabling athletes to train harder and build muscle/strength during this period of time – not some last minute rush to speed days before competition.

So, I suggest a retest of samples taken under the "watch" of the IAAF, with the proviso that further cases in the future will disqualify both the individuals and federations as if positive tests had occurred. WADA exists for a reason, utilize them as such. If we haven’t learned anything, it should be how easy it is for power to corrupt, and the need for independence in the testing process – ergo the existence of WADA and it’s affiliates.

That said, WADA becomes the ultimate arbiter of the sports records process! They will determine the "cleanliness" of records now and into the future. We’ll depend on their expertise and ability to at least stay even with the sports cheats – negating the need to wipe away everything and everyone from the record books. The records books should therefore remain largely intact. The greatest change occurring with the women’s running events, where wholesale changes would take place. Following is what I think this section of the record book should look like. More of a true representation of how the sport is on the distaff side.

Next, I have some thoughts on the 200/400 double that was recently made possible in Rio!

100 10.61 +1.2 Florence Griffith Joyner Indianapolis 7/16/88
200 21.64 +1.3 Florence Griffith Joyner Seoul 9/29/88
400 48.25   Marie Jose Perec Atlanta 7/29/96
800 1:54.01   Pamela Jelimo Zurich 8/29/08
1500 3:50.07   Ginzebe Dibaba Monaco 7/17/15
Mile 4:16.71   Mary Slaney
Faith Kipyegon
3000 8:20.68   Helen Obiri Ad-Dawah 5/9/14
5000 14:11.15   Tirunesh Dibaba Oslo 6/6/08
10000 29:53.80   Meselech Melkamu Utrect 6/14/09
100H 12.26 +1.2 Brianna Rollins Des Moines 6/22/13
400H 52.37   Yulia Pechonika Tulu 8/8/03
3000st 8:58.81   Gulnara Galkina Beijing 8/17/08

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