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The Monday Morning Run

The Monday Morning Run

| On 15, Jul 2013

I know we aren’t supposed to be surprised by positive drug tests anymore. We are supposed to say that in 2013 nobody is above suspicion. The mantra comes with being a sports fan in tune with the realities of this century–assume the best, but question everyone. Regardless of their nationality, their event, their flawless drug testing record and their public pronouncements, anyone and everyone could be cheating. Even your family member who posted an abnormally fast time at your local Turkey Trot deserves a second look.

It makes for a challenging sports experience. Express shock and you are rightfully labeled as being somewhere between naïve and delusional. Like all followers of track and field, the pile of drug scandals have forced me to somehow separate the ethics of those competing from the competition itself.  After the past 15 years, how could we think any other way?

Still, when I woke up on Sunday morning and saw the headline that Tyson Gay had failed a drug test I was, admittedly, surprised.

In the abstract, “anyone could be cheating” makes perfect sense.  It becomes a little more startling when a specific name and performances are attached.  On Sunday, the disbelief was only momentary, but it existed.

It lasted until I reexamined the plausibility of Gay having a breakout season at the age of 30. Or when I remembered that one of his training partners received a lifetime ban for doping just two years ago. Or when I realized his new diet and lighter racing schedule, which were supposedly the driving forces behind his best season in years, probably weren’t the only explanation for his world-leading time in the 100.

All of it was there, which is why we can say we shouldn’t be surprised.

Now there is deflation.  There will be no match-up with Usain Bolt  in Moscow.  Gay’s American record will be called into question by most and outright dismissed by others.   In retrospect, his past associations look suspicious, but he didn’t leave nearly the same breadcrumbs of vindictiveness that Lance Armstrong did throughout his career. It is hard to see Gay turning into that sort of villain. His famous humility shaped his image on the track, but will it carryover post-positive test when lawyers are involved and sponsorships are lost?

Already, he has been more forthright than others. Justin Gatlin still insists he was sabotaged. Dwain Chambers honed up during the BALCO investigation, but only after he initially denied taking anything illicit. Gay’s admission on Sunday came with a caveat, “I basically put my trust in someone and I was let down,” he told the Associated Press.  But he also said that he was ready to talk “about everything, everybody I’ve been with, every supplement I’ve ever taken, every company I’ve ever dealt with, everything.


Back in 2010, I watched the Marion Jones documentary on ESPN and waited 50 minutes for an explanation of why she doped. I wanted her to provide some context, not just to fess up to the drugs and the lying, but also to give the public an idea of what drives athletes to make these decisions. She didn’t owe me anything.  Still, I was ready to listen.  

Before I realized that the film was essentially an infomercial for her comeback and her fledgling WNBA career, I hoped she would say, “I wanted to win and I cut a bunch of corners, I’m sorry, but let me explain the realities of elite track and field to you….”

I wouldn’t have even minded if she claimed she still would have won gold medals. All I hoped was to see her perspective and for her to perhaps say something that would lead to more credibility in the sport.

She never did.

We don’t yet know all the specifics of Gay’s case, but maybe he will be the person that Jones wasn’t and provide an honest look at the underside of professional track and field. At present I’m not sure what that is– coaches? Training groups? Shady doctors? BALCO-esque clinics? Perhaps his willingness to speak out will lead to some clarity on how clean the sport is and if we can ever move beyond assuming guilt.


Track and field world reacts

A small sample of the response to Gay’s positive drug test….

David Epstein is a senior writer for Sports Illustrated


Wallace Spearmon was teammates with Gay at the University of Arkansas. He finished fourth behind Gay in the 200 at the US Championships.


In Gay’s absence, Mike Rodgers will be the third member of the US 100-meter team in the World Championships.


Isiah Young finished second to Gay at the US Championships in the 200.


Jason Richardson is the reigning world champion in the men’s 110-meter hurdles


Allen Johnson is an Olympic champion in the 110-meter hurdles


Mary Wittenberg is the CEO of the New York Road Runners


Ato Boldon learned of Veronica Campbell’s Brown positive after seeing the film, “This is the End.” His choice this week?

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