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Running and the use of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs): an ongoing dilemma?

By Chris Lewis - posted Friday, 27 June 2014


How extensive is testing for banned PEDs with regard to running, one of the few major individual sports where both rich and poor nations share success at global championships (Olympic Games and World Championships)?

This article discusses recent trends in terms of national medals won, along with allegations made about lax attitudes by some nations to testing for banned PEDs.

As Tables 1 and 2 indicate, it is difficult to win many running medals, albeit that individual medals won by nations are subject to change given that improving technology and intelligence gathering can lead to later disqualification.

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Table 1, which focuses on sprint events (100m to 400m hurdles) from 1993-2013, indicates that few nations win more than a couple of individual medals per championship, although the USA and Jamaica are exceptions.

Table 1: National sprint medals won by males and females at global athletics championships 1993-2013

With regard to longer events (800m to the marathon), Table 2 also indicates that only a few nations regularly win more than 3 medals at a single championship, although Kenya and Ethiopia are exceptions

Table 2: National medals longer distances won at global athletics championships 1993-2013

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There are only a few nations that have significantly improved their medal haul since 1993. For example, Jamaica, which averaged 3.8 sprint medals per global championship in five championships from 1993 to 1999, has averaged 7.8 since 2008. In the longer events, Kenya, which averaged 7 medals during the 1993-99 period, has won an average 13 per medals since 2008. Similarly, Ethiopia's average medal haul per championship has improved from 2.8 to 7.4 for the same periods.

Some may point to a link between banned PED use and recent global success, with IAAF all-time lists (as of June 23, 2014) indicating that Jamaica has produced 5 of the 10 all-time fastest male 100m runners, and Kenya 8 of the fastest 10 marathon performers, all since 2008.

Dick Pound, the former head of WADA, has doubted the ability of the IAAF to test Jamaican athletes adequately as the 'IAAF very seldom go to the island', and on arrival there, it's very hard to find people'.

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About the Author

Chris Lewis has an interest in all economic, social and environmental issues, but believes that the struggle for the ‘right’ policy mix remains an elusive goal in such a complex and competitive world.

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