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

Dai Greene and the Drug Issue

Mar 6th, 2012
4:44 pm PST

It’s “Championship Week” for the indoor season, and I’m going to spend the rest of the week talking about the upcoming NCAA and World Championships. But I feel compelled today to comment on an issue that continues to destroy our sport – DRUGS – because one of the potential headliners in London has brought this topic to the forefront in a not so flattering light.

D GreeneDai Greene (GBR) as the winner of last year’s World Championships 400 meter hurdles, is one of Britain’s “hometown” favorites to win a medal in London this summer. But while most of the stars of the sport are quietly going about the business of putting in hard work this winter in preparation of the wars that will ensue on the track later this spring and summer, Mr. Greene has begun his war early. Greene’s war however, is a war of words against American sprinter LaShawn Merritt whom he deems to be a “drug cheat” for his recent ban – and apparently he wants everyone in the world to know how he feels about it.

Now I do believe in freedom of speech, and Mr. Greene has the right to both feel the way he does, as well as to voice those feelings. But personally I think that Greene is a bit misguided in both his feelings as well as his current verbal assault.

For starters, while Merritt did serve time for a drug suspension, it was determined by all parties involved (WADA, CAS, etc.) that his drug use was inadvertent and that he gained NO advantage from the substance that was in his system. I’m not sure that makes Merritt a “cheat”, any more than many others who have been found with substances in their systems from foods, drinks, or others items that have been ingested over the years. A bit different from Ben Johnson, for example, who deliberately put foreign substances into his system with the intent to improve his performances AND beat the system – now THAT is cheating!

Sort of like Mr. Greene’s good friend Dwain Chambers, who as part of the “BALCO Bunch” put himself on a program of surreptitious drug use designed specifically to IMPROVE his performances and CHEAT the system by using synthetic drugs that were undetectable! Of course Mr. Greene has decided that Chambers is “OK” in his book because he’s gotten to know him and he feels he has shown “remorse” for his actions! Well, when one has intentionally broken the law we in society do hope to see remorse for their actions. It’s a bit more difficult to look for “remorse” from those that have had “accidents”. Embarrassment and shame perhaps – and Merritt has shown plenty of both during his “case”. But to expect “remorse” for an act that was neither committed deliberately, nor provided Merritt with any assistance in his performances is asking a bit much, and rather sets Greene up as the arbiter of truth and justice in the sport.

That’s a rather slippery slope to head down, because if he considers Merritt to be a “cheat” for his inadvertent use, how does he feel about Shelly Ann Fraser (World & Olympic champion) and Yohan Blake (World champion) who also received drug suspensions for illegal products that were found in their systems inadvertently via other products. Does he also consider them to be “drug cheats”; and will he be approaching them in London (should they qualify for their teams) to tell them to their faces that they are “cheats”? If not, why not. And if so, why are they and Merritt more of a problem for the sport than Chambers who knowingly and willfully played a role in the biggest drug scandal the sport has ever seen? Makes his comments rather hypocritical when out of one side of his mouth he wants to castigate someone for inadvertent use, but out of the other side pat an admitted cheat on the back and say, “he’s ok, because he’s shown that he’s sorry”!

Personally I would submit that Greene choosing now to cleanse his conscience at the expense of Merritt is a bigger problem for the sport than either of the above named athletes! Why? Because this is an Olympic year, which by default means that it is the one year in a four year cycle where the world actually pays attention to what goes on in the world of track and field. It’s our time; our big stage; our quadrennial moment in the sun. And before the lights can even get focused Greene takes this opportunity to scream out to the world that the defending Olympic 400 champion is in his opinion a drug cheat and he wants everyone to know it! As the old folk would say, that’s cutting off his nose to spite his face!

The LAST thing this sport needs in an Olympic year is to be the focus of talk about drugs! We don’t need any scandals. We don’t need to have fingers pointed. We don’t need to open the Discussion – especially by highlighting well known, highly visible, potential medalists. To do so while the sport is essentially “auditioning” as advertisers are evaluating track and field to determine if they want to put their money into it is not the brightest move that one can make. His statements may assuage his ego, but they also affect the earning power of the sport as a whole – including those individuals looking for additional sponsorships.

Nothing good happens in this sport when the topic of drugs is the talking point. And the real irony of it all, IMHO, is that Merritt is the least of Greene’s worries. For one, he won the 400 hurdles last year in the slowest winning time in the history of the World Championships – the only winning mark ever above 48.00! I doubt that we will see anything that slow win in London, so Greene might well want to focus his efforts on getting down to 47.65 or better – because the slowest winning time in the Olympics since the US boycotted Moscow Games was Felix Sanchez’ 47.63 in ’04, with the the other winners at 47.54 or faster! Making it highly unlikely that another Hemery like performance will garner gold this year.

The greater irony however, is that Greene’s anger or fear should not be focused on Merritt, or Blake, or Fraser or any other athlete that has served a ban. Instead he should be worried about those that haven’t been caught! Because as his good friend Dwain can attest, the devil that you don’t know can do you more harm than the devil that you do know! Until this sport strengthens its testing program, it’s the uncaught “true cheats” that are the real enemy! And if Greene is truly concerned about the drug issue, then instead of railing against those that have done their time for whatever reason, perhaps his time and energy would be better served lobbying the IAAF, WADA and others to implement a true blood testing program so that we can all sleep better at night!

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