European Athletics chief Pierce O’Callagahan wants to erase all records that have been achieved prior to 2006 from the record books, so that they can be sure that they had been achieved ‘clean’. From a non-sporting perspective it appears to be a logical idea, as it has only been since 2006 that 2nd samples were kept to be checked retrospectively when new performing enhancing drugs were discovered. I always thought that WADA were always a step behind the cheats as there are laboratories that could develop new drugs that would be performance enhancing, that the testers wouldn’t be checking for. This is not a slight on WADA, as they can only test for drugs that they are aware of. The use of EPO was prevalent before it was discovered, and a subsequent test was developed. However, it does create, as O’Callaghan stated ‘collateral damage’, effectively erasing the achievements of clean athletes, most of whom have never been suspected of cheating.
When you look at the World Records (WR) that would be erased, there is some anecdotal evidence that would give substance to the belief they were achieved by illegal means. In the women’s events, all the shorter track records still stand from pre-2006. The most notable being the 100/200m held by Florence Griffiths-Joyner. Flo-Jo who passed away in 1998 through a seizure set these standards at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. These WRs, especially the 100m of 10.49, athletes haven’t got close to. The nearest being 10.64 in 2009. Her progression from 1984 LA Olympics is very similar to that of Ben Johnson. Decent in 1984, but world beater in 1988. There have been stories that the reason Flo Jo announced her retirement when still only 27 was due to the introduction of mandatory out of season testing the next year.
This is the main argument that Paula Radcliffe has for not removing the records. She had more testing than many countries do now, so why should her achievements be erased.
As for the women’s 800m WR, the evidence again suggests that it may not be completely genuine. Only 2 of the Top 20 times of all time in the event have been done since 2006! In the men’s events 7 / 8 field events haven’t been beaten, and that includes the long and triple jumps. Neither of these athletes have been questioned, as they do not require the strength and explosive power that the throwing events do. Mike Powell, who has held the Long Jump WR since 1991 has already stated that he has taken legal advice on the matter.
The main issue is that you may have been an exceptional athlete and a one in a generation, but you are tarred with the same brush as those who have had their performance illegally enhanced.
A possible way forward may be to have 2 WRs, but that may cause controversy by inferring illegality when there is none. Also if the NGBs don’t follow the suggestion, there may be national records that are better than the WRs.
The one part of the discussion that I fully endorse is that if an athlete is found guilty of a drug offence, and that includes missing 3 out of season tests, all their records should be expunged from the record books. I feel that this would be a deterrent to gifted athletes, from crossing into illegality, if they know that their performances while clean would be erased if they were caught cheating.
However, I wouldn’t be surprised if O’Callaghan’s idea becomes fact, and the clean athletes become “collateral” damage. The IAAF have already shown that they are willing to do this. They banned all Russian athletes (unless they can prove they were clean) from all athletic events. The pre-2006 can’t prove they are any cleaner as they had passed all tests that they faced. I feel that they will make this sweeping decision as it wouldn’t be the first time they punished the good in the same way as the bad in athletics.