Athletics is in the spotlight at the moment for all of the wrong reasons, with recently leaked test data from the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) revealing the alleged extent of blood doping in the sport.
The Sunday Times and German broadcaster ARD/WDR were able to access to the results of 12,000 blood tests from 5,000 athletes between 2001 and 2012, and the leaked information made headlines for a number of negative reasons, as the Sunday Times report made numerous scathing claims of the sport and the IAAF alongside a number of experts that they consulted.
In response to this test data leak, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) revealed its alarm concerning these new allegations of suspected doping. The newspaper stated that the leak can be interpreted as clear evidence of the “extraordinary extent of cheating” by athletes at the world’s biggest events.
We look at 10 revelations which emerged as a result of the leaked tests.
Sources: Sunday Times, ARD/WDR, BBC.
This leak is likely to be a catalyst for protests and calls for countries to be banned from international competition, with more scrutiny directed at traditional athletics powers such as Kenya. In January, marathon champion Rita Jeptoo became the 45th Kenyan to fail a doping test, and this unwelcome association with doping will damage the reputation of Kenya as a producer of long distance running champions.
According to the leaked test data in the Sunday Times report, more than 800 athletes, which equates to one in seven of those named in the files, have registered blood tests described by blood doping experts as “highly suggestive of doping or at the very least abnormal”. There can be various reasons for abnormal blood samples other than performance-enhancing drugs, such as illness, altitude training and pregnancy, but such a high number of atypical results is a concern from a potential doping point of view.
The report suggests that a third of medals (146 in total, which includes 55 gold medals) in endurance events at the Olympics and World Championships between the years of 2001 and 2012 were earned by athletes who recorded tests that were described as suspicious by experts employed by the newspaper. The Sunday Times believes that not a single one of these athletes have been stripped of their medals.
Ten medals at the most recent edition of the Summer Olympic games in London 2012 were won by athletes with test results that were considered dubious, according to the leaked tests obtained by the Sunday Times. London 2012’s reputation as the cleanest Olympic competition in 50 years will now be questioned as a result of this leak.
The leaked files go on to suggest that in some finals, every athlete in the three medal positions had recorded a suspicious blood test, sending a message that blood doping could potentially be rife amongst some of the top athletes who produce medal-winning performances.
The findings in the Sunday Times report show that Russia is the “the blood testing epicentre of the world” with more than 80 per cent of the country’s medals won by suspicious athletes. A surprise to many is the fact that Kenya allegedly won 18 medals which were described as earned by suspicious athletes due to their blood test results.
The man that many people think of when the conversation turns to athletics is the almost super human sprinter from Jamaica, Usain Bolt. But despite the fact that he often seems to be head and shoulders above his competition, he is not implicated as a possible blood doper, as the Jamaican has recorded no abnormal results.
Athletes are increasingly using blood transfusions and EPO micro-doses to boost the red cell count, in order for them to naturally boost their own performances. The jury is still out on whether blood transfusions of ones own blood should be legal or not, as the athletes use their own blood which they have previously drawn, but some believe that this should not be allowed at all, as it is an unregulated practice which technically provides an advantage over other who do not use this method.
The IAAF says it conducts approximately 3,500 in and out-of-competition anti-doping tests every year, meaning that the athletes are under scrutiny throughout the season according to the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). This number may need to increase if this leaked test data is to be believed, as athletics will suffer the same knock to their reputation as cycling has endured over the last decade with countless performance enhancing claims suspected and many verified.
The IAAF says that before the introduction of the biological passport six years ago, its testers had “systematically pursued” all results that were deemed “atypical” with immediate urine tests for EPO before target-testing those athletes in and out of competition through the season. The passport monitors longitudinal blood values over a longer period of time, to provide a benchmark for anaylists. Since the introduction of the passport, the IAAF says it has “pursued more cases under the passport system than all other anti-doping organisations together”, with $2 million a year spent on combating cheating. The IAAF defends itself by pointing out in a statement that, “As a percentage of overall annual budget this is the highest of any sport.”