On Monday, it was announced that several athletes — including former 100m world record holder Asafa Powell and American 100m record holder Tyson Gay — have tested positive for banned substances.
For those of you who don’t follow sprinting, Powell and Gay are both right at the very top of the sprinting world. Together, these two athletes have run the 100m in under 10 seconds a total of 116 times and under 9.8 seconds 17 times. Gay current has the fourth-fastest (and fastest non-Usain Bolt) time ever, at 9.69 seconds, with Powell tied for seventh (fourth-fastest non-Usain Bolt time) at 9.72 seconds.
This news also comes a few years after other prominent sprinters tested positive. In 2004, former 100m world record holder Tim Montgomery was banned from sprinting for two years for his involvement in the famous BALCO scandal; Montgomery decided to retire. In 2006, Justlin Gatlin was banned from competing for four years; he returned to sprinting in 2010 and was one of three sprinters (including Bolt and Yohan Blake) to run under 9.8 seconds in the 2012 Olympic Final. In 2007, Tim Montgomery’s former partner, Marion Jones, admitted to taking banned substances and was stripped off her records and medals.
We should not be surprised that top sprinters are testing positive for banned substances. This has happened in the past and will continue to do so, as doping bans don’t work. To quote myself:
…a ban on Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) achieves the following:
- Makes the competition less fair, not more
- Has harmful health consequences, instead of improving health
- Much like the swimsuit ban, removes potentially beneficial technology, seemingly inconsistent with the Olympic philosophy
- Reduces the entertainment value of sport
- Costs too much
- Like that other War on Drugs, I believe that the PED ban is futile and doomed to fail.
Eventually, lists of banned substances will become irrelevant, as gene therapy and human genetic engineering become feasible. In the meantime, get used to prominent athletes testing positive for banned substances, and never forget that the Olympics are a business.