Been an interesting few days in the land of Rant. Thursday evening, I attended a book signing by Johan Bruyneel, who was in Milwaukee to promote We Might As Well Win. I’ll write that up in my next post, after I’m done going through my tape of Bruyneel’s comments. There’s a number of other things to catch up on, however.
First, is that Justin Gatlin appears set to run in the US Olympic trials later this week. Gatlin was granted a temporary restraining order, barring the US Olympic Committee and USA Track and Field from preventing the sprinter’s participation in the trials to determine who will represent the United States in the 100 meter event. Tomorrow, Judge Lacey A. Collier will hold a hearing into whether the first anti-doping violation on Gatlin’s record, related to his use of a medication for ADD, and the subsequent use of that violation to increase Gatlin’s suspension for a 2006 positive test for testosterone violates the Americans with Disabilities Act. As a Washington Post/Reuters article reports:
“In a nutshell, plaintiff’s first violation occurred despite the fact that the substance found in plaintiff’s system was and is clearly recognized as proper for his diagnosed condition, Attention Deficit Disorder, and that by all accounts, it is undisputed that plaintiff completely followed the protocol established at the time for managing his intake of medication before competing,” the judge said.
“There is little to perceive in the way of harm to defendants should plaintiff be allowed to participate in the trials.
“The country, indeed the world, would be wrongfully excluded from watching one of its great athletes perform.”
Not everyone, was satisfied with this initial outcome, however.
“Mr. Gatlin’s defenses to his steroid doping violation have already been fully considered and rejected by the Court of Arbitration for Sport which he agreed has exclusive jurisdiction over this matter,” USADA spokeswoman Erin Hannan said in a statement.
“We appreciate having our first opportunity to provide this court with the facts as to why that arbitration decision was in the best interest of clean athletes.”
The national federation governing track and field is pledging to respect the current process. As the BBC reports:
USATF spokesperson Jill Geer said: “We respect and will participate in the process. Our general counsel (Lamont) Jones will be in Florida on Monday to be part of the hearing.”
Gatlin is far from guaranteed a spot on the team. To win a chance to compete in Beijing, he would have to finish in the top three at the trials. Not impossible to do for a man who was once the owner of the world record in the distance, but with a two-year hiatus from competition, it’s a challenge.
Should Gatlin win a spot on the team, there would be the question of whether he would be allowed to compete in Beijing. Would the IAAF and the IOC respect the judge’s rulings? I rather doubt it. What power could force them to do so? They are not American-based organizations, after all. Still, Gatlin’s case will be interesting to watch over the next week — and, if he should earn a spot on the US Olympic Team, perhaps for some time to come.
Speaking of the Beijing Olympics, it appears that China has recently taken steps to shut down a number of suppliers of performance-enhancing drugs. CyclingNews.com reports that:
With the Olympic Games less than two months away, the Chinese government has taken steps to clean up its pharmaceutical industry, which the United States claims has been a source for much of the world’s performance enhancing drugs production. The Chinese authorities revoked manufacturing licenses for three companies and punished 125 more for producing, selling or distributing banned drugs.
According to a statement by the Chinese news agency Xinhua, most of the businesses which were punished were retail pharmacies, but did not list the names of the companies. Officials also said one person had been imprisoned for illegally distributing drugs.
Does the phrase, “It’s about time.” resonate here? And yet, 2 months before the games, wouldn’t most hard-core doping efforts already have all the drugs they need and plans in place for how to circumvent testing positive. Surely this isn’t about casting the games in a positive light.
Just down the page from that article is another article that suggests that (at least for some) the benefits of using human growth hormone might just be in the mind, rather than the body. It’s called the placebo effect, and a study presented at the Endocrine Society last week indicates that such an effect can be found in regard to HGH.
Previous studies have shown little performance benefit with human growth hormone, a drug which has been banned by WADA. The drug also has some dangerous side effects which include diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, high blood pressure and heart problems, abnormal growth of organs and a hastening of osteoarthritis. But neither dangers, the ineffectiveness nor the fact that the drug is banned has stopped some athletes from using HGH to try to boost performance.
In a nutshell, if certain types of people believe something will work, nothing’s going to stop them from using it — health effect, actual effectiveness and other things be damned. Where this study gets interesting is that it was a so-called “double-blind” study, meaning that neither the researchers administering the drug nor the athletes receiving it knew for sure whether they were getting HGH or a placebo. At the end of the study, the participants were asked to guess whether they had been part of the placebo group or not.
The men were more likely to guess that they had received HGH than women, and the ones who were “incorrect guessers” who were given placebo but thought they had received the drug not only believed their performance improved, but also showed some actual improvement in jump height, a measure of power.
The researchers concluded, “The results of this study suggest that the placebo effect may be responsible, at least in part, for the perceived athletic benefit of doping with growth hormone for some people.”
So, the question becomes, how do we define performance-enhancing drugs? Should only those drugs that can be demonstrated to be performance-enhancing be banned? Or should drugs that people believe to be performance-enhancing, but for which there is scant evidence to that effect, also be banned? Where do we draw the lines between legal efforts to improve athletic ability, and illegal methods to do so? Tricky questions with no easy answers, I’m afraid.
Switching gears a bit to the fearless leader of USADA, there’s an article profiling Travis Tygart in the Denver Post. Tygart gets in some interesting quotes, one of which is:
“If there’s anybody out there that has the sophistication and the wherewithal to defeat the testing system, it would be Floyd Landis or a Justin Gatlin, and they’re not,” Tygart says.
I’m not really sure what he means with this statement. Victor Conte figured out how to defeat the testing system, not Landis or Gatlin. If those two were cheating and trying to get away with it, then the didn’t do a very good job (which is not to say that either was, that’s an entirely separate issue). Victor Conte had the sophistication and the wherewithal to figure out how to defeat the system — and athletes using BALCO’s products did for a number of years. Dragging Landis’ and Gatlin’s names through the mud is a cheap shot.
About his job, Tygart says this:
“My job,” Tygart says, “is to not let a skilled advocate like Howard [Jacobs] or anyone else use smoke-and-mirrors and technicalities to let a cheater like Tim Montgomery go free.”
Unfortunately, most anti-doping cases revolve around technicalities, which is a technicality that Mr. Tygart might choose to overlook. But it’s in all of those technicalities that the truth — or the probable truth — lies. And whether an athlete was cheating or a lab tech misinterpreted a test’s results is something that the overall system needs to be able to decide clearly. Unfortunately, it involves the interpretation of technical data most of the time. Tygart’s job is to ensure that USADA’s lawyers present its case against an athlete fairly — and without any unnecessary collateral damage.
Which brings me to Outside Magazine’s article on Joe Papp, which is now online. I read the article when it first appeared in the print version of the magazine, and was struck by a number of things — not the least of which is how little USADA has done for Papp since he testified last year in the Landis hearings. I failed to see the significance of Papp’s testimony at the hearings, beyond being a statement that some athletes use various drugs in various ways because they believe or experience various performance-enhancing effects. The problem with presenting Papp as a witness — and this was even noted by the majority in their opinion — is that his testimony wasn’t directly tied to the case of whether Floyd Landis had used testosterone on Stage 17 of the 2006 tour.
USADA used Papp, arranged for a speaking engagement or two, and then pretty much kicked him to the curb. At least, as far as I can tell. They’ve got the perfect poster boy for someone who’s experienced the dark side of doping and lived to tell (some haven’t been so lucky). The only thing he doesn’t have is a highly-recognizable name. If he hadn’t participated in the Landis case, just how many of us would ever have heard of him? It’s a sad story, Joe Papp’s. It’s worth the read for those who haven’t already done so.