So now they’ve all been tainted.
Anybody who has had a hand in the progression of the men’s 100-metre record between Donovan Bailey and Usain Bolt – anybody who has been the fastest man in the world between Bailey’s 9.84 seconds at the 1996 Atlanta Games and Bolt’s 9.58 set in August of 2009 in Berlin – has either failed a drug test or been connected to performance-enhancing substances.
Bailey and Bolt are the only two men’s 100-metre Olympic champions since 1984 who have not tested positive for drugs at some point in their careers.
Of the 10 fastest men’s 100 metres, seven have been turned in by runners who tested positive, including Canada’s Ben Johnson.
News last weekend that sprinters Tyson Gay of the United States and Asafa Powell of Jamaica have tested positive for oxilofrine, a banned stimulant that increases the production of adrenalin, comes just two weeks before Bolt and 28 other medalists from the 2012 London Games will compete in an anniversary meet at Olympic Stadium ahead of the world track and field championships next month in Moscow.
Jamaican female sprinter Sherone Simpson also failed a test at the Jamaican championships last month (the same time as Powell and two other athletes).
It is news that will be felt the harshest in Jamaica, the spiritual home of sprinting, which is already reeling from the suspension last month of two-time women’s 200-metre champion Veronica Campbell-Brown after she tested positive for a banned diuretic.
Know why American sprinting has been dirty for so many years? In Kingston, they’ll tell you it’s because the greatest power in the world can’t beat Jamaicans cleanly.
No wonder, then, that Bailey said on Monday that any sense of pride he felt at having an untarnished time was tempered by sadness.
“Actually, I found it shocking,” Bailey said in a telephone interview.
“Sad, shocking, disappointed … these are both really good guys and they’ve been ambassadors for the sport. I guess I respect them, in some way, for acknowledging what’s happened even before the results of the B tests are in.”
The news reinforces the importance of Bolt to sprinting.
Since Bailey won Olympic gold at Atlanta, the record has been advanced by American Maurice Greene (who never failed a drug test, but was connected to attempts to purchase drugs for teammates), American Tim Montgomery (suspended for two years in 2005,) Powell (who along with Gay has turned in the fastest 100-metre times in the world this year while Bolt bides his time for 2016), and American Justin Gatlin (originally banned for eight years in 2006, commuted to four years in 2007).
Bolt protégé Yohan Blake was given a three-month suspension in 2009 when he tested positive for a stimulant that was not on the banned list of the World Anti-Doping Agency.
Gay lost Adidas as a sponsor on Monday even though he has yet to have his follow-up B sample tested.
Why do athletes continue to cheat? “Money, gaining an edge … and insecurity,” Bailey said. “Any time there’s contracts and titles and money involved, insecure people will cheat.”
It was suggested to Bailey that maybe this is a sign of just how superior Bolt is to the rest of the field. Bailey thought that view simplistic, noting that Powell was most likely going to run in only the 4x100 relay in Moscow, and that Gay’s best time of 9.69 seconds is still a tenth slower than Bolt’s, and that Gay is likely smart enough to understand the reality of the situation.
“Tyson, from all appearances, looked like he was capable of making a competition out of it … for at least 80 metres in Moscow,” Bailey said.
There was a touch of weariness in Bailey’s voice. He said he will continue to tell young athletes that “there is no short-cut to success.” But much like the rest of us who marvel at Bolt and his ability to deliver the most fun 10 seconds in the history of humankind, he must surely worry what the morrow will bring.