No doubt there will be pleasant memories for Caribbean sport fans when they reflect down the road on the year now drawing to a close. However, there will also be a bundle of bitter ones to swallow.
In cricket, the highlight of Shai Hope’s two centuries in the West Indies’ ‘unexpected successful run chase’ at Headingly in England, will be smothered by the near series-tying effort versus a tough Pakistani side in the three Test series in the Caribbean, the debacle presently in progress in New Zealand and the slide down the ICC ODI rankings and the humiliation of having to qualify for the 2019 ICC World Cup against the likes of Papua New Guinea and Hong Kong, virtual cricketing unknowns.
Everyone, even non-sporting fans, will remember this year most of all for the departure of the Rocket Man, Usain Bolt, the unparalleled Jamaican sprinter who was a great source of pride for the Caribbean. The final memory of Bolt writhing in pain on the track after collapsing in the 4 x 100 metre relay at the IAAF World Track and Field Championships in London, in August, will be entwined with him standing in the previously unheard of position on the third step of the podium, following the running of the men’s 100 metre final.
Bolt’s conqueror on that fateful day was the American sprinter Justin Gatlin, a two-time convicted drug cheat, who should not have even been allowed to compete at such prestigious events, much to the consternation of the IAAF President, Sebastian Coe who had to present the medals.
Mr. Justin Gatlin was back in the news again last week Tuesday, for all the wrong reasons, as The Daily Telegraph newspaper of the UK broke a story which has since electrified the athletics world. The Telegraph claims that it had learnt back in the summer that Gatlin was ‘dirty’ again and sent undercover reporters to Gatlin’s training camp in Florida. The journalists posed as representatives of a film company which was making a film about athletics and they were looking for someone to train their star.
The newspaper’s undercover operators spoke to Gatlin’s trainer, Dennis Mitchell, a 1992 Olympic 4 x 100 metre gold medalist and convicted drug cheat, and Gatlin’s occasional athletics agent Robert Wagner, who allegedly offered to “illicitly supply performance-enhancing drugs” to the actor. The publication further alleges that the duo offered to also administer the PEDs, testosterone and human growth hormone, and the fees for the drugs would amount to US$250,000, supplied by an Austrian doctor.
The Telegraph also claims that Wagner boasted that importing illegal drugs was his ‘ field of specialty’ and that everyone was doping. “You think Justin isn’t doing this? Do you think Dennis wasn’t doing this? Everybody does it, “Wagner was quoted as saying, in the newspaper report.
The fallout was immediate and swift. Gatlin, as expected, denied the allegations and issued a statement via Instagram where he declared: “I am not using and have not used PEDs. I was shocked and surprised to learn that my coach would have anything to do with even the appearance of these current accusations. I fired him as soon as I found out about this. All legal options are on the table as I will not allow others to lie about me like this.”
Wagner claims that he knew about the sting operation and was just playing along. Mitchell, who served as a USA Track and Field coach from 2014 to 2016, and had admitted under oath to taking PEDs during his career, denied that his current athletes are using banned substances.
The Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) and the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) have announced that they will coordinate an investigation into the claims. The International Olympic Committee stated, “The IOC has full confidence that WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) will look very carefully into the matter.”
Just when he thought that he had turned the corner, following the banning of the Russian athletes, this problem lands on the doorstep of Coe who has vowed to clean up the sport. Earlier this year, the IAAF president had declared that his biggest problem was to attract new viewers to the sport, now he has to deal with this episode, following the departure of Bolt from the sport.
“Under the IAAF rules, all athlete support personnel—agents, coaches, etc.—are bound by both the IAAF anti-doping code and the IAAF integrity code of conduct,” Coe told CNN in a written statement. “The AIU has investigative powers and the independent Disciplinary Tribunal has sanction powers for those found in breach of these.”
Justin was the King of the Athletic World when he won the gold medal at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece in 2004, following his first infringement in 2001, a two-year suspension for amphetamines in medication he was taking for ADD/ADHD. In 2005 he claimed the IAAF World title and then the 100-metre record.
In May 2006, Gatlin tested positive for testosterone and received an eight-year suspension, later reduced to four years, for his cooperation in the investigation into his former coach Trevor Graham. Gatlin claims that a physiotherapist, whose contract was not going to be renewed, had rubbed the illegal substance into him via a cream, without his knowledge, as an act of vengeance.
As the AIU has conceded in a statement to CNN, “The use of new methodologies and designer drugs has always been a challenge for the anti-doping movement and this continues to this day.
“In this era, we understand that we cannot rely on testing alone to defend the sport against doping and so the AIU is both building its investigations and intelligence capability and implementing an intelligence based re-testing policy to meet such challenges.”
The game between the athletes and the doping control bodies continues on, with the testers seemingly light years behind the cheaters who seem to have access to a limitless supply of money to stay ahead in the battle. Can the AIU, WADA and the IAAF ever catch up? At present, they appear to be a distant second.
Justin Gatlin, now 35 years old is running faster than when he was 23 years of age, as he continues to defy Father Time. Perhaps, he will escape from this imbroglio, his explanations are always seemingly plausible, and will finish on the top of the podium at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. While he is jogging his victory lap draped in his country’s flag, flashing his charming smile, we will wonder, has he really beaten them again?