A sensational leaked database form the archives of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) revealing rampant doping among elite medal winning athletes elicited little or no reaction from the Indian media. There was not one editorial, not one column and not a single blog on the biggest ever leak of 12000 blood reports done on 5000 international athletes from 2001 to 2012; of which 800 were considered suspicious by independent experts. A large chunk of these were from athletes in Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus while India contributed about 5% of suspect samples. Surprisingly the database suggested that Kenya too suffered from widespread blood doping including administration of synthetic erythropoietin (EPO) besides anabolic steroids. There have been no pre-competition blood tests of all athletes participating in the current Beijing world championships in which the Kenyans lead with 7 gold medals. Despite serious allegations by the London Times and German TV broadcaster ARD, the IAAF for all practical purposes appears to be disinclined to swoop down on drug cheats.
Lightening Bolt confirmed his status as the greatest sprinter of all times by decimating Justin Gatling of the USA in both the 100 and 200 m sprints in the current championships. Usain Bolt has already won the double sprints golds in the last two summer Olympics and is set to retain the title for an incredible third time in the forthcoming Rio Olympics next summer. Bolt’s victories over Gatlin were remarkable for the fact that the latter has been suspended twice for doping in the past; the second time for using an anabolic steroid. Bolt won by a hundredth of a second and the race was hailed as saving both the reputation and soul of athletics.There is scientific evidence in mice that muscle-enhancing effects of steroids persist long after administration of the anabolic steroid is terminated; hence Gatlin probably enjoys the residual effect of the testosterone that he took almost a decade ago. Gatlin has of course retorted that the experiments were done on mice and therefore cannot be applied on humans especially when he allegedly took them as long back as 2006. He has explained his terrific times over the 100 meters this year as culmination of hard work, good nutrition and genetics.
True to form few the titanic clashes between Bolt “ the soul of athletics” and Gatlin “the drug cheat”, has drawn little attention from the Indian TV or press. The insipid Indian-Sri Lankan test series garners more coverage. Few here realize that the world comes to a standstill when the men’s finals 100 meters race is run in the Olympics and during the World Cup football final. The reason probably is that every human on the planet has run or raced as a child and probably most have thrilled themselves kicking a football. Athletics is without doubt the fundamental sport that now however seems to be on a self-destructive path.
Sadly as per the leaked IAAF database at least 25% winners of 34 major city marathons should have been investigated for cheating because of seriously suspicious blood reports. The London and Chicago marathon organizers have gone on record to sate that IAAF failed to inform them that not only were participating athletes had unclean blood scores but were competing with life threatening levels of performance enhancers.
The leaked data was analyzed by 2 doping detection experts from Australia, Michael Anderson and Robin Parisotto, who concluded after careful examination that almost a third of all Olympic and world championships endurance events were won by athletes having suspicious blood results between 2001 and 1012. Both were involved in creating tests for detection of EPO use in sportspersons.
The London marathon had 7 golds, 6 second places and 7 third places achieved by athletes (men and women) with dubious blood score results. Their bloods were tested during competition or off-season. Quite a few athletes had dangerously high levels of red blood cells that could have resulted in death. Red blood cells carry oxygen to muscles to provide energy, and therefore the greater the red cells the better the efficiency of the athlete. The only purpose of a red cell is to carry oxygen from the lungs to the tissues; kind of an oxygen delivery truck. The oxygen is transported attached to a molecule called hemoglobin. There are 4 oxygen sites in each hemoglobin molecule and thus each hemoglobin molecule carries 4 oxygen molecules. There are 250 million hemoglobin molecules in each red cell and therefore each red blood cell transports one billion molecules of oxygen! Remember only red cells can carry oxygen and thus the more the red cells the more the oxygen that can be carried.
Long distance runners bleed themselves; they subsequently in normal course replenish their red cells over a period of few weeks; and then on race days re-transfuse their saved blood to significantly raise their oxygen carrying capacity. Red cells can also be illegally increased by injecting a synthetic blood booster called eryrothopoeitin (EPO); international cyclists extensively employed both methods in the 90’s. The problem is that there is always the danger that too many red blood cells can make the blood sticky; which in turn becomes prone to clotting in the brain or the heart; resulting in an acute myocardial infarction or a cerebro-vascular accident; both can result in death or severe disability.
Lilia Shobhukova of Russia registered extreme blood values for 9 long years before action was taken against her in 2014. She had, by then, won the Chicago marathon 3 times, the London marathon in 2010 and had gone on to collect more than a million pounds. She was to allege that Russian officials extorted almost half a million pounds from her in exchange for concealing her blood scores. The organizers of the Chicago marathon revealed that IAAF never informed them of Shobukhova’s blood scores. The London marathon officials echoed this. There have been manifestly huge gaps in the anti-doping mechanisms of the IAAF all these years, with glaring omissions of out of competition blood tests. Out of competition testing was not performed at all in 2007 and 2008. The inertia by IAAF persisted post introduction of the biological passport in 2009; less than 25% tests were done during off season (out of competition). There were around 500 abnormal blood tests in the IAAF database from 2001 to 2012, but the next blood test was done after 8 months to a year. Almost 25% of abnormal blood tests according to the database had no further checks. Doping is rampant amongst Russian athletes including juniors.
In 2011 top athletes collected in South Korea for the World athletics Championships. A group of independent investigators went around asking if the athletes had indulged in performance enhancing doping in the previous year on condition of strict anonymity. The astounding result was that more than 33% athletes competing at the world championships confessed to cheating (600 of 1800 participants). The conclusion was that doping is rampant in elite athletes despite current biological programs. One must bear in mind that anti-doping procedures conducted by the IAAF are detecting an incidence of 1-2% of doping among top athletes. The IAAF refused to publish the results of the study.
The London Times who were passed on the leaked IAAF doping database confirmed that between 2001 and 2012 a third of all medals in the endurance events at the Olympics (including 55 golds) were won by athletes recording suspicious blood tests. Finally in August 2015 the IAAF was compelled to suspend 28 athletes based on reanalysis of stored urine samples from the Helsinki (2005) and Osaka (2007) world championships. The 2 Australian anti-doping experts had already concluded from the database that 41 medal winners from Helsinki and Osaka had abnormal blood tests. The other conclusion has been that the IAAF is unwilling or incapable of tackling drug cheats in global championships.
ADR a top German TV broadcasting company teamed up with London times to beam a documentary that declared that doping was rampant amongst Kenyan runners and the Kenyan athletics federation was unwilling to stem the rot. It was revealed that a young marathon Kenyan runner had collapsed with too much EPO inside him. Kenya has long been considered the cradle of distance running world champions because of its altitude and strong genetics. The documentary however reported this to be a myth by exposing a top doctor willing to provide EPO and other performance drug enhancers for a fee. The reporters for the German TV Company while posing as European athletics agents discovered to their great dismay that EPO was openly provided to top Kenyan athletes and numerous foreign athletes came to Kenya for the synthetic blood booster. The doctor claimed that he had some of the top marathon runners of the world as his client besides runners from the U.S., Bahrain, Qatar, and Turkey. Covert filming was done with a hidden camera and microphone. The tip for the doctor came from athletes already convicted for doping offenses. One of the athletes implicated Matthew Kisorio has received a 2 year suspension last year. Kisorio has confessed that he has taken steroids. He also revealed that the average Kenyan athlete comes from a poor socio-economic background and is therefore unable to purchase a performance enhancer like EPO. The doctors however invest in the athlete making it clear that they would take their fees from their winning earnings. Kenyan camps are infested with such dubious doctors.
Kenya is considered a training mecca for endurance athletes because of its altitude and genetics of the local people. There are 14 Kenyans in the first 20 of the best marathoners in the world. The German journalist, Hajo Seppelt who went undercover to Kenya last year has stated that he now believes it is incredulous to believe that only the altitude and the bottomless reservoir account for the Kenyan distance running domination. The other strong factor according to his research is classical blood doping and micro dosing of EPO. Blood doping and EPO usage is easy because few or almost nil anti-doping detection tests in Kenya. The Kenyan Athletics Federation has vehemently denied doping among Kenyan athletes. The IAAF justified its position stating that blood tests are logistically not viable in Kenya because of costs. Seppelt’s report broadcast on German TV created a storm of controversy when beamed in 2014. The documentary “The Doping Secret: The Dark Side of Athletics’’ suggests that its very simple getting performance enhancing drugs in Kenya and talks of a young Kenyan marathon runner who suffered sudden death due to EPO. A Kenyan runner suggests that the national federation conceals drug test results in return for bribes.
The immediate task for the new president of IAAF, Lord Sebastian Coe is clearly cut out, he has to weed out drug cheats on a war footing and at the earliest before athletics loses its preeminent status in world sport. Lord Coe a legendary middle distance running champion with 2 Olympic gold medals, must pursue greater funding for anti-doping measures, with more widespread and consistent anti-doping checks. The excitement, beauty and integrity of athletics are under immense strain and actually in great peril. Lord Coe has made matters rather complicated by not severing his consultancy ties with Nike (around 80,000 pounds a year); he has unflinchingly stated that he sees no conflict of interest when the top IAAF official is on the payroll of one of the biggest sponsors of the world. Nike supports the serial cheat Justin Gatlin as also the highly suspicious long distance running coach Alberto Salazar.
Is what we are seeing in the current Beijing world championships for real? Is it probable that these superbly honed athletes have micro dosed themselves with a stimulant, EPO, or growth hormone? The IAAF has announced (despite the scandalous expose by ADR and the London Times) that it will do target dope tests only; implying that albeit urine tests will be done on all athletes, blood tests will be done in only a few of them. They have not provided any rationale for this protocol. The IAAF is by all accounts flush with money. The Olympics and world athletic championships draw billions of dollars in contracts and so lack of funds cannot be maintained as an excuse.
The Kenyans lead the medal tally at Beijing today with 7 golds; one wonders how many have been tested. The Chinese have won the silver in the 4 X 100 meters relay for men this time, a phenomenal achievement with the last runner racing as if he was on a turbo-jet. Only Usain Bolt looked swifter. Theoretically thymosin beta, a peptide meant for muscle repair and regeneration could have been used. Thymosin has been used by Australian football players to boost strength. One is reminded of how the Nehru stadium erupted with sheer joy when the Indian women quartet thundered to win the 4 X400 meters relay in the Delhi Commonwealth Games, but were later found to have been on dope. The Indian athletics federation despite that humiliation continues to tango with coaches from Ukraine and Belarus, both chief offenders along with Russia as per the leaked IAAF data sheet. The Indian athletes should instead opt for cobalt choride, which is a hypoxia inducible factor (HIF) stimulant, that kicks up EPO production. Cobalt is cheap, taken orally , and undetectable by current methods.
Modern sports today are unequivocally about big bucks and lucrative sponsorships. The abilities to run faster….jump higher …and throw further…alas became side effects decades ago.