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Wise up BBC journos, Bolt versus Gatlin is not a case of 'good versus evil'

By Chris Lewis - posted Monday, 31 August 2015


According to some BBC commentators, the recent sprint clash between Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin at the 2015 world athletics championships was a case of 'good versus evil' as they openly expressed their preference for Bolt to win.

For example, Tom Fordyce (BBC) warned that 'should Justin Gatlin be crowned world champion after two doping bans, in the highest profile of all its finals, it would encapsulate for many what has gone wrong and is still going wrong with the sport".

Not surprisingly, after BBC commentator Steve Cram stated of Bolt winning the 100m 'he may have even saved his sport', and footage posted on Twitter showed Brendan Foster and other BBC commentators celebrating as Bolt crossed the line, Gatlin berated the BBC for styling the showdown as a battle of good and evil.

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But such biased BBC commentary is indeed over the top and makes a simplistic assumption that one is bad or good merely on the basis of having been caught taking illegal performance enhancing drugs (PEDs).

In an era where exposed dopers have never failed drug tests (including Marion Jones and Lance Armstrong), it is simplistic to make such assumptions.

What should be important with regard to the Bolt and Gatlin clashes, at least in terms of media scrutiny with regard to efforts to encourage cleaner sport, is their level of performance and what it may tell readers about the testing regimes of both Jamaica and the USA.

After all, the examples of the Jamaica Anti-Doping Commission (JADCO) and the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) provide prime examples of the drug testing regimes in both developed and poor nations at a time when national testing remains the most important means of producing drug free sport. In 2014, of the 25,830 total tests conducted for the sport of athletics, only 3841 were conducted by the International Association of Athletics Federations with just 28 by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). Of the total 9714 out-of-competitions tests, only 1808 were conducted by the IAAF and 16 by WADA.

With Bolt and Gatlin being the best male sprinters of Jamaica and the USA, the very nations that have dominated the 100m and 200m global championships in recent times, it is worth examining the performance of both for possible answers about the effectiveness of national drug testing programs.

For example, Gatlin, who has won three global 100m medals since his comeback from 2010 following his four year ban for testosterone use, has clearly outperformed other men who made the 2015 100m final who have served doping bans (Tyson Gay, Mike Rodgers and Asafa Powell). Whereas Gatlin has improved his personal bests in recent years, fellow American Tyson Gay ran 10.00 in the 2015 final (9.96 in his semi-final) after running 9.71 at the 2009 World Championships when finishing 2nd to Bolt.

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Similarly, what of Bolt? While he continues to win global gold medals, is there a story behind the much slower times he has run since his personal bests of 9.58 and 19.19 at the 2009 world Championships given his 2015 times of 9.79 ad 19.55? Or do we simply accept his lesser form because of less preparation from injuries?

By taking such factors into account, interesting questions and answers may arise which would complicate any simplistic notion of good versus evil, while possibly explaining the current state of affairs with regard to the effectiveness of drug testing.

First of all, one cannot simply guarantee that any champion is clean, not Bolt, not anyone. As one French study found, the microdosing of synthetic versions of natural hormones overnight is both highly effective and hardly traceable, thus leading to the conclusion that more testing was needed between 11pm and 6am, despite the WADA 'only mandating testing during those hours if specially justified'.

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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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