Documents obtained by two international media outlets show that between 2001 and 2012, about 1/3 of the medals awarded in long distance events at the Olympics and World Championships were won by athletes who were probably guilty of blood doping.
Blood doping is a technique to improve the ability of blood to carry oxygen to the muscles. It’s used primarily by long distance runners and cyclists to improve performance.
The extent of the cheating is shocking and a damning indictment of international sports governing bodies who apparently knew of the doping but failed to do anything to stop it.
The Sunday Times and ARD said they were given access to the results of over 12,000 tests of more than 5,000 athletes taken between 2001 and 2012.
Parisotto and another scientist, Michael Ashendon, concluded that more than 800 athletes had recorded one or more “abnormal” results, defined as a result that had less than one chance in 100 of being natural.
Such athletes accounted for 146 medals at top events, including 55 golds, the Sunday Times said. Russia accounted for by far the most, with 415 abnormal tests, followed distantly by Ukraine, Morocco, Spain, Kenya, Turkey and others.
“A remarkable 80 percent of Russia’s medal winners had recorded suspicious scores at some point in their careers,” the Sunday Times said.
Russia’s sports minister, Vitaly Mutko, said the scandal had “nothing to do with Russia”, but reflected a “battle for power” ahead of an upcoming election to lead the IAAF: “Russian athletes are being checked for doping the same way as athletes from other countries are.”
The reports also drew attention to Kenya, a power in distance running. The Sunday Times said Kenyans accounted for 18 of the medals won by athletes with suspicious results.
Athletics Kenya called ARD’s documentary “an attempt to smear our runners with unwarranted suspicion as they prepare to undertake their duty for their country” at the world championships.
While the news organizations did not name the athletes with suspicious tests, The Sunday Times listed some whose results were clean, including Britain’s 2012 Olympic double gold medalist Mo Farah, Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt and British heptathlete Jessica Ennis-Hill.
The IAAF said in a statement the allegations its database of private and confidential medical data had been “obtained without consent.” It reserved the right “to take any follow up action necessary to protect the rights of the IAAF and its athletes”.
Athletics officials spoke in general of the need to fight doping while avoiding direct comment. IAAF Vice President Sergey Bubka said: “There will be zero tolerance, this is clear.”
This is an issue that has been at the forefront of complaints about international athletics for more than 35 years. It’s believed that Soviet bloc athletic programs were among the first to employ blood doping on a massive scale. But it didn’t take long for the rest of the world to catch on. Another huge athletic event, the Tour de France, has been ruined by doping. Seven time Tour winner Lance Armstrong being only the most recent example of cyclists caught cheating.
International athletic governing bodies have swept the problem under the rug for fear of losing all that corporate money. Well, now it has hit the fan and it will be interesting to see how corporations like Nike, Adidas, Coca-Cola, and others react. Do they really want their brand associated with athletes who cheat and organizations who tolerate it?
With billions of dollars at stake, the answer will determine the fate of big-time, spectacle athletic events.