FOR GOING ON 40 SEASONS NOW, one of the happiest moments of every year for me has been the World Rankings issue of Track & Field News. All those great-great athletes sorted into a logical order, making sense of months and months of varied competitions from all corners of the earth. The good news is that the rush is still there—it thrills me to no end to see a new face like Eliud Kipchoge’s coming out of nowhere to be the best 5K man in the world, to see Kenenisa Bekele confirm on the track the talent we had so admired in cross country, to see a true gentleman like Allen Johnson return as the world’s best hurdler, and to see a veteran like Gail Devers still be the best at age 36.
But then there’s the 500lb gorilla looming in the background. A gorilla with big ugly fingerprints… drugs. Drugs have plagued our sport—indeed, all sports—for years. Now they’re threatening to become the whole story, rather than just a small part of it. T&FN—to the admitted displeasure of some readers—has always tried to put as fair and factual a face as possible on this plague rather than succumbing to any lynch-mob mentality. But as the chicanery—and stupidity—of a small group of athletes and their handlers reaches new heights, we think perhaps it’s time to be breaking out the pitchforks and torches and storming the castle. The first step in the battle is creating an atmosphere where athletes believe that the playing field can be leveled without resorting to drugs (“We Think,” p. 61).
Throughout this year’s Rankings you’ll find notations on people whose status might change pending the outcome of the testing and retesting that’s going on. We’ve had to do that in past years, but obviously not to the level we are this time around. As I write, it’s important to note—as clarified by the timeline we provide on p. 53—that not a single athlete has been completely suspended in all the THG/Modafinil testing. We have no doubt that some/many will, but until then, we’re observing due process, just as the testing and governing bodies do.
Here’s the way the potentially affected athletes are treated in the Rankings:
Athletes with a ¶ sign after their names (Dwain Chambers, Kevin Toth, John McEwen, Damu Cherry) have had either their federation or their lawyer acknowledge that there is a 2-year steroid-based suspension in the works. If they are suspended, T&FN will take away their whole season and de-rank them. To give you advance notice, should that be necessary, we have listed an 11th person who would move into the Rankings in their stead. Since Regina Jacobs has only been “identified” by newspaper reports, we have not coded her, but the event analysis does note who the 11th Ranker would be. It’s unknown at this point if the one other USATF-retest that showed a THG positive is a person of Ranking caliber.
You will find three Modafinil-positive athletes with a # sign after their name in the U.S. Rankings and a # after some marks in the World Rankings: Calvin Harrison, Chris Phillips & Kelli White. Harrison’s Modafinil could mutate into a 2-year sentence because of a previous stimulant violation. Note that the normal penalty for Modafinil is elimination from the meet in question only. The removal of that meet (either USATF or World Champs), as it turns out, did nothing to affect the status of any the three positively identified users in the Rankings, nor would the removal of the USATF Champs from newspaper-leak potential positives Eric Thomas, Chryste Gaines or Sandra Glover change their status.
If that’s as bad as it gets, the disruption to our Rankings will be minimal, but a lot more than our Rankings is at stake here. The damage to the sport as whole is almost incalculable.
It’s not a happy end of year for this cowboy.