The effect of doping scandals on an aspiring athlete

800-metre runner Henry Tufnell on his sport's battle for its soul

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The Independent Online

Watching the 100m heats at the World Championship in Beijing, the casual observer might be forced to agree with Justin Gatlin’s comments that moral judgments of track athletes might best be left on the sidelines.

Both Asafa Powell and Tyson Gay, who have both been subjected to bans, are in their 30s and, like Gatlin, still stand at the very pinnacle of Athletics’ blue ribbon event. They won their heats handily and looked to be a class above the rest in terms of their ability.

Increasingly every 100m competitor comes with an asterisk of a doping violation and realistically, if it’s entertainment we’re looking for, cheats are simply going to have be accepted for now because any direct challenge to the phenomenon that is Usain Bolt comes almost exclusively those with shady pasts.

As a young, aspiring athlete, I find the state of affairs particularly bleak. Whenever I tell anyone about what it is that I do, without fail they will ask without whether I’ve taken, or have been offered performance enhancing drugs.

Of course the answer to both is a categorical no and doping, at least amongst young athletes, is viewed as the cardinal sin. The problem is that I don’t think that I’ll ever be able to do my job without friends making perhaps good-natured but needling comments. While this is obviously fine amongst people I know, it just says so much about the general public’s view of a sport.

The inability to establish trust between athletes and spectators has resulted in a bleak picture for my sport, one that offers so much from its innate rawness of human physical capability.

Indeed, not many sports are blessed with their ability to relate to every human worldwide – whether we recognize it or not the fact remains that whether we are running for a bus or trying to decrease our waistlines running is a core part of our existence. The luxury of having two great athletes in the same era and the same event would inspire many, but they have been simply refusing to race each other.

Gatlin’s 26-race unbeaten run and a plethora of sub 10-second performances have been faced with a cameo appearance on Copacabana beach in 2014 by Bolt. Even when Bolt posted an impressive performance at the London Anniversary Games, Gatlin was conveniently absent to allow the full focus of the media to rest on his adversary. While sports such as tennis flourish on the constant meetings between their superstars and the uncertainty of the outcome, athletics appears to be stuck in the 1980s where Coe and Ovett created a precedent for the kind of competition dodging that we see now between Bolt and Gatlin.

These two critical points, of needing a zero-tolerance to doping and tennis-like titanic duels, is where Gatlin has appeared, in the words of Lt. James Gordon in the film Dark Knight, “the hero that [athletics] deserves, but not the one it needs right now.” The IAAF view Gatlin with a high level of embarrassment, particularly in the wake of the election of Lord Coe and his “zero-tolerance” towards doping.

As such, for Gatlin to win the 100m final at the IAAF World Championships this afternoon and defeat the golden boy of Athletics would be considered a defeat for the carefully constructed PR machine of the IAAF. However, it would force them to tackle this problem of wide spread doping violations and make them invest heavily in their anti-doping procedures.

Such investment is absolutely critical, for as well as reaffirming the trust for the spectators, young and aspiring athletes like myself need to be given hope that success can be achieved through hard work and dedication rather than trying to find the right doctor.

Therefore a victory for Gatlin throw the spotlight firmly on those in the higher echelons of the sport and prevent statements from Lord Coe on how athletics was under attack in the wake of the ARD and Sunday Times investigations, which allude to the extent of the doping problem. Such statements from Coe bring fear that these core issues will not be dealt with and that younger athletes or those thinking about entering the sport through their local athletics club will be dissuaded by the lack of integrity and honesty in the sport. There would be nowhere to hide for the IAAF as a two time convicted offender claims the sports most prized medal.

Furthermore, in terms of competition dodging it appears that Gatlin would welcome a more consistent program of head to heads. After his victory on the diamond league circuit in Eugene Oregon he looked directly in the camera and said, “Where are you?” I for one will be hoping that Gatlin is doing the same thing to Bolt in the final tomorrow. Such an outcome appears the only way to prevent athletics from falling into the abyss.