Friday, May 18, 2007

On Doping, Speculation and Redemption

A reader of Finish Line Pundit has asked a question in reply to my post from 5/15/07 titled, "One In, One Out." Click here to read his comment and question. Here's my reply:

Thanks for the question, Fred. Your question is not easy to answer, but let's go ahead and explore it: both Hezekiel Sepeng and Lyubov Denisova failed "out-of-competition" tests in accordance with the IAAF's anti-doping rules, which are perhaps the most stringent of any sport except maybe for cycling. Because neither athlete failed any "in-competition" tests, there is no sure way of knowing for sure when (or if) Sepeng and Denisova ever actually competed while "hot-blooded."

Prior to his suspension, Sepeng was a stud, at least in the 1990s:

  • 1996: Olympic 800m, silver medal
  • 1998: Commonwealth Games 800m, silver medal
  • 1999: World Championships 800m, silver medal

In the new millennium, Sepeng – having lost a step or two – was finding himself further and further away from the Olympic hardware:

  • 2000: Olympic 800m, 4th place
  • 2004: Olympic 800m, 6th place

This may have prompted him to take some desperate measures. For his part, Sepeng has denied ever cheating intentionally. Since he has been reinstated just in time for the 2007 World Championships in Osaka, Japan, it's a good time to find out what he can actually do. I would guess that Sepeng's body fluid samples will be treated like they were radioactive and will be given the scrutiny they deserve when he competes in Osaka. I doubt he would be able to cheat. As for his chances in the championships, he'll be 33 by then. That's not too old, but his relatively advanced age will certainly not be an advantage in Osaka. Neither has he had the benefit of the fire of competition for the past two years, so I'd have to say he's a longshot, and not just because of the doping issue.

    Denisova, who set a record at last December's Honolulu Marathon, seems to have gotten away with cheating. According to

    "Jim Barahal, the president of the Honolulu Marathon Association, told The Honolulu Advertiser that he was upset to hear that last year's champion tested positive. 'We can't go back in time and take back the money and the title,
    but it's a reasonable conclusion that if she was cheating in February and March, it's likely that she was under the influence in December," Barahal said. "I can't prove it, unfortunately.'"

    By the time Denisova returns from her suspension she'll be 37. My guess is that she won't return and we'll never know if she can successfully compete unenhanced. We could speculate that they both probably did compete "enhanced," and you know what they say about speculation: it's always right, but it comes with an asterisk every time, so I won't do it. Come to think of it suspected performances come with asterisks, too, which should be enough to make people think twice before cheating. I'm a believer in redemption, so I'm rooting for Sepeng to do well this summer. If Denisova can return to the sport at age 37 and do it without cheating, I'll root for her, too. Does that answer your question?

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