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Glenn Tucker: Expunge those shady records

Published:Sunday | August 30, 2015 | 8:00 AM
Glenn Tucker
In this February 5, 2010 file photo, a laboratory technician prepares samples of urine for doping tests during a media open day at the King's College London Drug Control Centre, London.
Despite winning a treasure chest of gold medals at the Olympic Games and the World Championships, including the Beijing edition which ends today, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce will never have a shot at the uncatchable record of 10.49, says Glenn Tucker.
Sanya Richards-Ross, an American quarter-miler who has been a dominant force in the 400m, hasn't got a chance in hell to reel in Marita Koch's world record of 47.60.
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Spirits were lifted in the country this past week. That is usually the case when the topic is track athletics. I must confess that I was not as confident of the usual Bolt/Shelly-Ann successes.

On the men's side, my fears stemmed from the fact that Justin Gatlin is the first sprinter in history who seemed to have learned to peak permanently. On the female side, I have wondered for years what motivates them. The excitement is waning.

With the men, there is always the possibility of a world record. Not so with the women. Our own Veronica Campbell-Brown, who, at that time, had run the fastest 200m of the 21st century at the Beijing Olympics, said, "I really believe men get more attention in this sport. It's based on the fact that the world record in the 100m and 200m for men is reachable ... . It is hard for me to even think about the world record." And therein lies the problem.

RISE OF DRUG USE

The 1980s heralded a period of significant increase in the use of performance-enhancing drugs. The result is that a number of incredible world records were set that have absolutely little chance of being equalled. In Eastern Europe, it was a government decision to use drugs in sports. Consider these:

In 1983, a 32-year-old Czech woman with a history of mediocre performances re-emerged on the athletic scene looking vastly different. She was Jamila Kratochvilova. She now had broad shoulders, a flat chest, and a booming voice. She stepped on the track and completed the 800m in 1:54.68. Los Angeles chiropractor Leroy Perry declared to Sports Illustrated, on seeing her, "I've never seen a body like that. I think there is something chemically different about her physiological makeup. And I am sure it didn't come from weightlifting." Before Kratochvilova's run, the 800m record had fallen 23 times since WWII. It has not been broken since, and now stands as the oldest world record in track and field.

The 400m record is held by Marita Koch. Suffice it to say that the East German police files contain a letter in which Koch complains that her performance-enhancing drugs "aren't potent enough". In 1985, she left the rest of the runners in her race miles behind in a blistering sprint to the finish line, creating a world record of 47.60. Thirty years later, that record remains as safe as a bank vault.

Closer home, in the early 1980s, I was struck by an unusually fashionable female athlete: Florence Griffiths-Joyner. Her running was quite ordinary, but her outfits and her nails were out of this world. In 1988, she shocked her former running mates - all of whom were far more talented than she. Looking decidedly more masculine, she won at the Olympic trials and went on to blow away our beloved heroes like Ottey, Jackson and Cuthbert to create some fantastic world records. She knocked .47 seconds and .62 seconds off the 100m and 200m, respectively. This is not possible in humans. Horses maybe, but not humans.

The use of anabolic steroids usually results in users assuming a more masculine appearance. Women develop acne, enlarged clitoris, deep voice, increased muscularity, among other things.

There were whispers that she, like Ben Johnson, had failed a drug test in South Korea. Dr Park Jong Sei, director of the Doping Control Centre in Seoul, revealed after the Games that 20 athletes who failed had not been punished because of split votes among International Olympic Committee (IOC) members and an understanding that Flo-Jo would not run again, thus sparing the US the embarrassment Canada was feeling. In fairness to her, however, the chairman of the IOC's medical commission denied that she failed the test.

SHATTERING AN ILLUSION

I had an opportunity to meet her not long afterwards, and the meeting shattered an illusion. She was wearing tons of makeup, and even that did not hide what looked like a serious outbreak of acne - a rare affliction in persons her age. But the surprises did not end there, or even with her bulging muscles.

When she spoke, she sounded like Jeff Barnes. At the height of her career, she shocked the world again by suddenly announcing her retirement from athletics. It may be pure coincidence that this came about the same time that the introduction of random testing in athletics was announced.

Two years before her untimely death at 38, she suffered a seizure. Professor Werner Franke, the man who revealed the doping programme in East Germany, claimed that the seizure was symptomatic of the abuse of anabolic steroids. Mystery and speculation still surround the circumstances of her death.

So why is it that men's sprint records improve, but not to the extent that women's do? This is because when men take steroids, a pituitary-gonadal reaction limits the production of testosterone. Women, however, take on male characteristics and start performing like males. Victor Conte, the BALCO founder and the living, breathing Bible on doping agrees, adding that drugs can help a man lower his 100m time by two-tenths of a second compared to four-tenths of a second for women.

I have a problem with the JAAA, and I really hope I can be proven wrong. I see that body as simply basking in the glory of our athletics stars and not making things happen. The exploits of our athletes have made us royalty in sprinting. When Bolt false-started, hundreds of persons left the stadium. We have talented athletes and coaches coming out of our ears. This places the JAAA in a powerful position.

Power is the ability to influence. How have they been using this power? Who have they influenced? There are two areas of concern that affect Jamaican athletes more than any others.

The first is the cruel false-start rule, which denies athletes after a lifetime of training and deprivation the opportunity to progress, if they twitch. It also short-changes patrons - who pay to see complete races. The rule was not changed to enhance track and field. It was changed by television executives who felt that valuable time/money was lost by restarting a race.

RUNNING IN VAIN

Then there is the retention of these questionable world records executed by these 'half-men'. In both cases, the athletes most affected are sprinters. Which country has the best sprinters for the past many years? Which country has the best inter-school championships? There are Class Two athletes who are producing times that would be national records in other countries. Consider these Games without Jamaicans. Well, what is the JAAA doing to make things better for them?

Maybe it's only me, but it pains the hell out of me to see video clips of Grace Jackson and Merlene Ottey - honourable women - running out their 'soul case' in a vain attempt to catch these 'men'. At the time Flo-Jo 'broke' the 100m record, the world record was 10.76. Fraser-Pryce did 10.75 years ago. But that effort won't really matter.

Nothing can be more disconcerting than to realise one has talent and makes sacrifices in an attempt to be the best, but all the time realising that the ultimate prize is out of reach. This could eventually damage the sport.

We need to have the false-start rule reversed to one false start, then disqualification for the next offender. We also need to have these questionable world records expunged.

Who else thinks so?

- Glenn Tucker is a former coach at Holmwood Technical High School. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and glenntucker2011@gmail.com.