Athletics suffered one of its darkest days on Sunday with the news that two of the world’s leading sprinters, Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell, were among six athletes to have tested positive for banned substances.
Gay, the one-time poster boy for clean athletics, revealed he was found to have an illegal product in his system in a drugs test in May, while Powell produced a positive sample for the banned stimulant oxilofrine during the Jamaican national trials.
Fellow sprinter Sherone Simpson, part of the gold medal-winning Jamaican relay team at the Athens Olympics and a silver medallist in the same event at the London Games last year, also announced in a statement that traces of the same substance had been found in her system during those trials last month.
A month out from the World Championships, the news casts a monstrous shadow over a sport already rocked by recent doping scandals emanating from Russia and Turkey.
News of Gay’s positive test, of which he was notified on Friday, is particularly galling. The American, who once signed up to Project Believe, a US Anti-Doping Agency initiative paving the way for extra drug testing, boasted the fastest three times in the world this year, with a best of 9.75sec in June.
But it transpired that an out-of-competition test on 16 May had come back positive for an, as yet, unnamed illegal substance.
His B sample has yet to be tested but that could be done as early as this week. Regardless of the outcome, he has already said that he plans to withdraw from the World Championships, ruling out a potential showdown with Usain Bolt, the Olympic champion.
Gay, three times a world champion and the second-fastest man of all time, said: “My career and my name have always been better than medals or records or anything like that. I’ve always wanted a clean name with anything. Unfortunately, I have to break this news, that I have a positive A sample.
“I don’t have a sabotage story. I don’t have any lies. I don’t have anything to say to make this seem like it was a mistake or it was on USADA’s hands, someone playing games. I don’t have any of those stories, I basically put my trust in someone and was let down.
“They [USADA] already know it is some type of accident... but I can’t discuss it right now. I’m going to be honest with USADA about everything, everybody I’ve been with, every supplement I’ve ever taken, every company I’ve ever dealt with, everything.
“I will take whatever punishment I get like a man. I do realise and respect what I put in my body and it is my responsibility.”
Gay has since been dropped by his sponsor's Adidas in response to the latest scandal to rock the sport.
As news of Gay’s positive test broke, fresh reports from Jamaica emanated almost immediately that five athletes in total – two throwers and three runners – had all tested positive at their national trials.
There was conjecture that the five positive tests – all thought to be for the same stimulant – were the result of a new dietary supplement, and that one of the athletes in question was considering legal action against the supplier.
Powell was the most high-profile name as one of the quickest men both this year and of all time, although he missed out on qualifying for the World Championships. But the 30-year-old insisted he was dumbfounded by the result.
“I have never knowingly or wilfully taken any supplements or substances that break any rules,” he said. “I am not now – nor have I ever been – a cheat. The result has left me completely devastated. I am reeling from this genuinely surprising result.
“My fault is not cheating but instead not being more vigilant. I want to reiterate that in my entire career as an athlete I have never sought to enhance my performance with any substance. It is not a part of who I am or what I believe in.”
Like Gay, Powell insisted he would cooperate with the authorities and has launched an investigation, while Simpson said her team were already looking into how the positive test came about.
She added: “I would never intentionally take an illegal substance of any form into my system.”
Athletics had already been reeling from reports of wholesale doping in Turkey, which had led to suggestions the country could be banned from the World Championships, and suggestions of wrongdoing in an anti-doping laboratory in Russia. It is also just a month since the former Olympic champion Veronica Campbell-Brown tested positive for a banned diuretic.
Yesterday’s news overshadowed events at the British Championships, which reached their conclusion in Birmingham. Among the event winners were James Ellington in the 200m, who had potentially been due to face Gay in that event at the World Championships.
“You have to take a serious attitude to what you put in your body,” said the Briton. “Being an athlete and competing, especially at international meets, representing your country, you need to be responsible for what you put in your body and you have to know what you are doing.”
The former 110m hurdler Colin Jackson described the news of Gay’s positive test, in particular, as “absolutely awful for the sport” but admitted his surprise at the announcement. “What’s very disappointing for me is that he’s a real global star,” he said. “It has a huge effect on the sport. You can imagine it takes away faith from the general public, which we are building nicely.
“It’s frustrating. We were believing that these guys running super-fast times were clean. The good side is at least our sport is still testing hard. It doesn’t matter what level you’re at, if you’r e taking drugs, you will get caught.”
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