It’s almost too difficult to write about – the news of Justin Gatlin’s positive doping test for “testosterone or its precursors,” the links to BALCO-tainted coach Trevor Graham, the fact that the USATF’s poster boy for clean living has failed a drug test. Like Floyd Landis, Gatlin has already been tried and convicted in the press – but there’s a flip side to that tendency, since we’ve been lied to in the past. Really lied to. Lied to with a straight face. Lied to with the athlete’s devastated parents sitting right there. Remember the Kelli White “I have narcolepsy and it’s none of your business” whoppers? Not to mention the Barry Bonds whoppers, and the Ben Johnson “I’ll pay back whoever did this to me” whoppers (like Gatlin now, Johnson’s first defense in Seoul in 1988 was that somebody had set him up).
So we have both reason and sad precedent to doubt every word that comes out of an athlete’s mouth at a time like this.
Bill Moyers, one of my personal heroes in journalism, has said that all journalism is investigative – everything else is just public relations. At the Play the Game conference on good governance in sport, held in Copenhagen, Denmark last November, it was amazingly refreshing to meet European sports journalists like Andrew Jennings, who actually take this idea to heart. In the United States, we still seem to want our heroes too much to ask the hard questions. “I’m the king of the sprints!” Gatlin crowed to the press corps after winning one of his two indivudual gold medals at the 2005 world track and field championships in Helsinki. Not one American journalist in the mixed zone that night asked Gatlin about his association with Trevor Graham. I know…it was done at nationals, how many times can you ask somebody the same question, blah blah blah. Bottom line: I do not believe the American press corps has pushed hard enough to investigate the issue of doping in track and field. Especially at the major championships, especially when an athlete with a tainted coach has just won two world gold medals – that is the time to be asking the hard questions.
The best and most insightful of the Gatlin news clips from the last few days follow below.
Record holder in 100 meters failed a drug test (The New York Times – note that this link will be available free for a week, then becomes part of TimesSelect)
Sprinter Gatlin fails doping test (Los Angeles Times)
Innocence is lost in Gatlin’s positive test (Los Angeles Times – Helene Elliott)
Sprinter’s test deepens doping crisis (Guardian Unlimited, UK)
Poison corrupting U.S. sport (Fox Sports, Australia)
It’s positively mind boggling (Chicago Tribune – Philip Hersh)
Focus turns to coaches (Times Online,UK)
Americans continue to lead the world in mysteriously tainted urine (Deadspin)
Gatlin nailed for doping – Coach, letter link athlete to BALCO (San Francisco Chronicle)
IAAF urges governments to destroy criminal elements (Reuters)
It’s a big news day, both in China and internationally, on the topic of athletes as role models.
In China, table tennis star Kong Linghui was cited for drunk driving. His image rehabilitation is coming courtesy of some very Chinese-style methods: a “self-criticism” that he is expected to offer to his teammates and coaches (essentially, an acknowledgment of wrongdoing), and a renewed examination of team policies that reportedly now includes bans on both drinking alcohol, and driving (with or without alcohol, evidently) during team training.
China team ban driving after Kong scandal (Guardian Unlimited, UK)
Contrast that with Tour de France champion Floyd Landis of the United States, who reportedly failed a drug test after the 17th stage of the tour – the day he took a miracle ride from the back of the pack to return to contention for the overall title. He says he’s innocent (the failed test involves the controversial testosterone/epitestosterone ratio test, which should be around 1:1 for us mere mortals but has a much higher threshold for elite athletes). The “B” urine sample is in the process of being tested, so we’re waiting for more news before commenting further.
Food for thought: why is it that athletes so often plead innocence when presented with positive drug tests, when it’s blatantly obvious that the mixture of untold riches and fame, and the sometimes astonishingly negligent governing bodies overseeing certain sports, leads many athletes to take drugs to increase their chances of success? The double standards are overwhelming here. Do anything you can to win…just don’t get caught. And if you get caught, deny, deny, deny.
Kelli White and Jason Giambi are two athletes who have my respect, because when they were presented with evidence of their drug use, they admitted it. (Admittedly, it took White some time to do the right thing – she started out by presenting a convoluted story of narcolepsy and a family doctor prescribing modafinil on an “as-needed basis,” then let go of the story when the BALCO investigators confronted her with her drug records months later. But she did finally do the right thing – something that no other track and field athlete ensnared in the BALCO scandal has seen fit to do.)
Not only that, but White and Giambi have made good. They pledged to be better people on and off the playing field. White gives speeches about the dangers of drug use in sports. Giambi appears to be trying his hardest to have a decent baseball career.
More food for thought: Brian Alexander writes for Slate.com about why drug testing doesn’t work. He previously wrote a long feature for Outside magazine about drug testing. I’ve included both links below.
Phonak: Landis had positive test after Stage 17 (ESPN.com) – includes video clips to recent ESPN reports on the Landis case
Floyd Landis’ positive test shows why drug testing will never work (Slate.com)
The awful truth about drugs in sport (Outside Magazine, July 2005)
When I got to Beijing two and a half weeks ago I started to notice something I hadn’t seen on previous visits: uniformed officers on the subway platforms. Security, I thought at the time. Then yesterday morning I noticed something wonderful about them: they have foghorns and when a train arrives, they make an announcement that goes something like this: “Please let people exit the subway car before entering. Please make room for exiting passengers.” And it works. Before this week, getting on or off a subway was an exercise in squeezing through a sardine-can of a train car, stuffed to the gills with people, all of whom seemed to be moving with absolutely no regard or recognition for the people around them. Now, people are waiting at the sides of the doors on the platform and letting people get off the subway before they get on. Thanks to the guys in the uniforms with the foghorns.
“So, Nicole, what does that have to do with the Olympics?”
Funny you should ask. The press has covered the issue of “manners” in China fairly extensively in the last few months and the ways in which local officials are training Beijing residents to be more polite. It’s true that lining up is not necessarily expected, that public spitting, um, happens, and that cashiers sometimes just about throw your change at you. But the foghorns made my day because they worked. And it makes life easier for everyone, and makes me feel like we don’t have to push our way through life just to be able to live and work here. So thanks to 2008, I had a nice commute this morning. Hats off to the foghorns.
Olympics: USOC working to improve its image (USA Today); Morning swims could be even more golden for Phelps (IndyStar.com)
Track and Field: Ca$hing in on Liu Xiang’s feat (The Star, Malaysia); Chinese Olympic medalist turns rock star (Pacific Epoch)
Doping: Weightlifting doping cases are “tip of iceberg” (Associated Press, via the Globe and Mail)
Cricket in China: China enters cricket arena (NDTV, New Delhi)
Football scandals in China: Soccer fraud not limited (Shanghai Daily)
Basketball: Wang’s injury adds to Chinese troubles
2008 Olympics: Beijing Olympic volunteer recruitment to kick off (People’s Daily Online); Composers in theme tune contest (Xinhua); Olympic tower sports “Beijing 2008″ logo (People’s Daily Online); BOB [Beijing Olympic Broadcasting] busy building teams (China Daily)
2007 Special Olympics World Games: Special Olympics launches public service announcements (China CSR). Editor’s note: This article states that 170 countries are slated to compete in this event, which will make it the largest international sports event to date held in China.
Table Tennis: Kong Linghui detained in drunk-driving incident
Random Notes: Verizon Holds Carnival at Dragon Boat Festival. Editor’s note: It’s a press release and it’s not about stuff in China, but it’s about Chinese sports in the United States and attracting Chinese customers to a major U.S. company through the use of sports…so I say, relevant to the blog.
Fox Sports Australia: Beijing TV Warfare
People’s Daily Online: Yao on track for early return to team
It’s about time somebody started seriously writing about the risks Liu Xiang now faces as China’s superstar – god – fastest – man – ever – fill – in – the – blank – here – with – the – superlative – of – your – choice athletic hero. On Wangfujing Dajie in Beijing – the main tourist shopping street a few blocks east of Tiananmen Square – Nike had huge advertisements up by the weekend that said, simply, “12.88.” The Daily Telegraph has written an article on Liu and what they’re calling “the Beckham factor” – the risk of overexposure and pressure to succeed that comes with having the perfect storm of athletic success and personal qualities that make an athlete an icon for an entire nation. Add in the Olympics being in your home country in two years’ time, and being the only Asian man ever to win a sprint gold at the Olympics, and the photogenic smile and the hordes of fans, and you’ve got a recipe for either ultimate triumph or ultimate disaster on your hands. My wish for Liu is to have the lowest of profiles for a good long time so that he can train and rest, now that he’s satisfied the world-record seekers…but given his immense popularity in China that’s not likely to happen soon.
Titan Sports is China’s pre-eminent sports newspaper. In Beijing it’s available at every newsstand, and of course it’s been full of headlines about Liu Xiang’s world record and his return to Beijing late last week. The sports headlines over the last few days have been too numerous to count – below, a smattering of the best and most timely pieces I’ve seen since the end of last week.
People’s Daily Online: China cheers Liu Xiang as Superman returns
IAAF.org: Day 3 update from the Asian junior track and field championships – the world championships will be held in Beijing next month. Other news ahead of the worlds – Omar prepping for Beijing (Saipan Tribune); Jamaicans celebrate with junior CAC triumph (Jamaica Observer)
BBC.com: Scoring on China’s sports fields – sports marketing in China
ABC News (USA): U.S. ousts China in World Cup of Softball
The Standard (Hong Kong): Dirty Politics on Two Legs – a commentary on sports and corruption in China and abroad
Pacific Epoch: CityTV tackles Olympic media center
The Observer (London): Broadcasters at war over “mad” Olympic start times
From the IAAF: a fascinating interview with former 110-meter hurdles star Renaldo Nehemiah on the excellence of Liu Xiang’s racing technique. If you’re wondering what makes Liu so good, here it is. Seeing Liu race live at the 2004 Olympic Games solidified my view that he’s the most technically proficient hurdler out there. To paraphrase Nehemiah: it’s not all about speed. A great read for up-and-coming athletes and anyone else who hasn’t yet had their fill of Liu Xiang-related news in the past 36 hours…
An article crossed my desk today from the February 2006 issue of EuroBiz magazine, the journal of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China. Check it out – “Sporting Chance” is an excellent read on the state of sports marketing today, especially regarding Liu Xiang, arguably the country’s most marketable sports star.
The coverage of Liu’s world record triumph in Lausanne on Tuesday night continues. Today (July 13), by the way, is Liu’s 23rd birthday. Another important moment in Chinese sports history came on July 13 as well…it was July 13, 2001 when the 2008 Olympics were awarded to Beijing at the IOC meeting in Moscow. Lucky number 13? For China, it just might be.
Guardian Unlimited: Liu’s record warms China’s weary World Cup hearts
Philadelphia Inquirer: China’s Liu breaks world record
People’s Daily Online: 12.88, Liu Xiang breaks world record; On eve of birthday, a perfect day; Liu Xiang’s world record storm sweeps across China; Liu Xiang’s parents have sleepless night; Liu heat would hinder his future; Zhu Jianhua stays away from Liu Xiang hoopla
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