Friday, 30 June 2017 14:05

Doug Robinson: The big reset: Track might erase the record book and start over

Performance-enhancing drugs have cast cynicism and doubt on sports ranging from baseball and cycling to track and field and swimming. They have rendered the record books almost meaningless, especially in sports whose fans revel in the statistics.

Now track and field officials are considering drastic action: They might tear up the record book and start over. They might pretend some performances never happened.

The IAAF — track and field’s international governing body — is considering a proposal that would erase any record that was set before 2005. Why 2005? That’s when the IAAF began to store blood and urine samples that could be retested years later as new, more advanced tests are developed.

Of the 42 men’s and women’s records for Olympic events (plus the mile), the reset would wipe out 28 of them — about two-thirds. This includes Hicham El Guerrouj’s 1,500-meter mark (1998), Mike Powell’s long jump record (1991), Paula Radcliffe’s marathon record (2003), Jackie Joyner Kersee’s heptathlon mark (1988), and the highly suspicious marks produced by the late Florence Griffith Joyner in the 100- and 200-meter dashes (1988). It also would erase history’s only 8-foot high jump, by Javier Sotomayor (1993), and history’s only 60-foot triple jump, by Jonathan Edwards (1995).

With the constant advancement of drug-testing techniques (made necessary by the constant advancement of protocols to beat the tests and the development of new drugs), athletes are being busted years after their offense. About two dozen athletes from five sports have been caught after their frozen blood and urine samples were retested during the four years since the London Olympics.

The IOC reported this year that 31 athletes from the 2008 Beijing Olympics have tested positive through retesting. One of them was Nesta Carter, who tested positive for using a banned substance in the 2008 Olympics, costing Jamaica (and teammate Usain Bolt) a gold medal in the 4 x 100 relay.

The retesting procedures mean cheaters will never rest easy; they’ll always wonder if and when their deception will be discovered.

Besides the record erasure, the IAAF also will apply more stringent standards for world records in the future, including multiple drug tests in the buildup to their record performance.

It’s not fair to athletes’ whose records were set without the use of PEDs, but it’s probably something necessary for the health of the sport. Times and distances are a huge part of track and field, but no one knows what to believe anymore in the drug era. Every great performance is met with speculation, many of them deservedly so.

The women’s records for the 100, 200, 400, 800, high jump, long jump, shot put, discus and heptathlon, were set in the 1980s, before Ben Johnson was infamously busted the day after winning gold in the 1988 Olympic 100-meter dash. Griffith Joyner’s marks, set in that same competition, are from another planet; no woman has come even close to them in three decades.

Of the top six fastest men in history, five have been busted for using banned substances. That’s not even counting Johnson and Tim Montgomery, who were world record holders before they became drug casualties.

The IAAF could approve the plan to erase the records next month.

The proposal reportedly has the support of IAAF president Sebastian Coe as well as European Athletics Council president Svein Arne, who told reporters, “performance records that show the limits of human capabilities are one of the great strengths of our sport, but they are meaningless if people don’t really believe them. What we are proposing is revolutionary … we want to change the concept of a record and raise the standards for recognition (to) a point where everyone can be confident that everything is fair and above board.”

Baseball should consider a similar reset. As I noted years ago, for four decades nobody made a serious threat to Roger Maris' single-season home run record of 61 set in 1961. Then from 1997 to 2001, Bonds, Sosa and McGwire broke the record six times, and three other players came close. Until the so-called Steroid Era, every entry on the top-10 list for most homers in a single season occurred between 1920 and 1961. From 1997 to 2001, three players cracked the top 10 a total of seven times.

The all-time home run list features Barry Bonds (first), Alex Rodriguez (fourth), Sosa (eighth), McGwire (11th), Rafael Palmeiro (13th) and Manny Ramirez (15th). All of the above either failed drug tests, admitted drug use later, or were connected to the BALCO scandal.

Things were a lot simpler when Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth topped the lists.

Something needs to be done to preserve decades of meticulous record keeping and honest performances.