What Athletics Can Learn From Cycling

Yesterday brought news of a leak of blood values of 5,000 track and field athletes from 2001 to 2012 thanks a joint effort by Britain’s Sunday Times newspaper and German TV channel ARD, whose 55 minute show you watch online for yourself.

Glancing at athletics, the sport seems to be in a similar position to where cycling was some time ago, not so much for the news that doping was widespread a decade ago but because of its response to the claims. The head of the IAAF, athletics’ governing body, called the report “a joke” but nobody has seen the funny side. Can cycling’s experience help?

First, that leak. Who or how doesn’t matter, the leak of athletes private data is bad news. Not the “sweep it under the carpet” aspect but because it undermines the trust: if a system cannot keep data securely then it’s not a great system. Now that it’s out there the story is big:

From the World Championship and Olympic Games in Sydney 2000 medals have been won in at least one of the distance events by an athlete who at some point in their career who had probably engaged in blood doping
-Michael Ashenden, ARD report

Some cycling fans on Twitter seemed to revel in the news of athletics taking a hit. Perhaps there’s relief that other sports get shown up as well. Only the other day the New York Times ran a piece after obscure cyclists Carlos Oyarzun and Fabio Taborre tested positive for the yet to be approved drug FG-4592 which linked cycling to doping.

The article implies cycling is the sport where participants go for experimental drugs. Only it’s appeared in athletics months ago thanks to race walker Bertrand Moulinet of France so for now cycling still rhymes with doping. We can only imagine the headlines if the blood values of 5,000 cyclists from 2001-2012 had leaked out, that period includes many rotten race results, some we know plenty were achieved by doping because of subsequent arrests, confessions and prosecutions. It’s reasonable to suspect many other race results were corrupted too so cycling and athletics have what you could call a shared past. There are even overlaps, for example Spanish runner Marta Dominguez was apparently a client of Eufemiano Fuentes. As for dodgy passports, it wasn’t long ago that UCI President Brian Cookson went public with the claim that Roman Kreuziger’s bio-passport contained “very serious anomalies“.

The UCI dropped its prosecution of Kreuziger and it’s here that the subtly of the the bio-passport and blood values come into play. Tests for banned substances rely on toxicology, the discovery of the banned substance in a sample: positive or negative.The passport program doesn’t bring this binary certainty. Its software rings an alarm bell if an athlete’s numbers deviate from an established patten. An expert with a background in clinical haematology, sports medicine and/or exercise physiology reviews the data from the system. The expert has four options:

  • do nothing because the data look normal to the human eye/brain
  • recommend the athlete is placed on a list for target testing
  • alert the athlete that they could be suffering from a serious illness
  • state improbable natural causes, a likely doping case

In the event of the fourth option, two more experts are asked to evaluate the data and they can each recommend one of the four options above. All three must review the same data set and only if each concludes that, in the words of WADA’s procedural manuals, “it is highly likely that a prohibited substance or prohibited method had been used and unlikely that it is the result of any other cause” will the case proceed. So three experts must agree and only then is the athlete asked to explain themselves and if the answers are not satisfactory a prosecution begins.

Which brings us back to the athletics, a lot of samples might be suspicious but it’s at the one or two expert view stage now, not the prosecution launch point. According to anti-doping specialist journalist Hans-Joachim Seppelt two thirds of the cases in athletics that looked suspicious were not prosecuted. Why not? Who knows but in cycling it’s said only the slam dunk cases are prosecuted because the UCI and WADA cannot afford to lose a case, because of the financial hit but especially the reptutional and jurisprudential aspect of being seen to lose a case.

The screengrab above from the ARD documentary shows the percentage of blood values screened that are deemed suspicious per year. Yellow is Radsport or cycling and green is athletics. You can see the yellow line plunge just as the bio-passport comes in to cycling. This is interesting alone for cycling but in the context of athletics the difference is startling; it’d be great to see other aerobic sports like XC skiiing.

“Athletics is 15 years behind cycling”
Anti-doping expert Robin Parisotto – a name familiar to long term readers of cycling news – says in the ARD report that athletics is “15 years behind cycling” which must be crushing if you’re into running in circles. There are similarities to the worst of the UCI practice from the bad old days with the IAAF today. When a test for EPO derivative CERA emerged and several riders were caught in the 2008 Tour de France former UCI President Pat McQuaid turned down retests of samples from that year’s Giro saying rejigging results would make a mockery of the sport. That’s almost the same as saying you don’t want to catch people in case you have to correct the results. Athletics can’t fall into this trap of saying it won’t revisit the past. But compare and contrast:

UCI President McQuaid   IAAF President Diack
 “If we’re going to start rejigging the podium of every major international race over the past two or three years, by finding new tests for new products… … it makes a complete mockery of sport.”  “They are playing with the idea of a redistribution of medals… …It’s possible, if we prove with the new techniques at our disposal that someone doped. Otherwise, it’s a joke.”
 ESPN, 2008  ESPN, 2015

The good news is that athletics can catch up fast. It’s got a lot more tools at its disposal, especially the passport. Cycling got out of control because the science couldn’t test for a lot of things and there wasn’t the institutional support around, for example we had the Festina scandal long before WADA even existed.

Cycling lessons: can athletics learn much from cycling?
Cycling isn’t in a great place to give lessons but having been dragged kicking and screaming to confront the doping problems there are some similarities:

  • For athletics right now the suspicion risks being worse than reality, if experts cast doubt on so many past performances don’t expect the public to credit today’s performances. This is really damaging, the culture of suspicion risks turning every track PB into a problem
  • Going to the ARD report, if two thirds of the cases were not prosecuted, why not? If the IAAF doesn’t answer this then others will with tales of cronyism, cover-ups and conspiracy just as we saw in cycling with talk of protected riders
  • According to The Sunday Times the IAAF was looking at legal means to prevent publication of the piece. While it can be argued that this is private medical data it’s this kind of move that reeks of the bunker mentality seen in the UCI in the past. Athletics needs to be seen to go after the cheats, not the media
  • Leadership matters and a credible figure at the top of the IAAF doubles as the public spokesman for the fight against anti-doping. Anyone who ducks the issue is going to cause problems. Calling the Sunday Times/ARD report a joke isn’t helping anyone
  • Be ready to re-test samples and open up the books, explain the stats. The UCI has gone all out in some areas, for example setting up an “independent” anti-doping body that’s at arms length from the governing body.

The idea of people doping and winning aerobic contests shouldn’t be a surprise to long term followers of cycling, what works for the Tour de France or Milan-Sanremo is equally effective for running 800m or a marathon. The weekend’s report casts a lot of suspicion over the past and there probably were many cheats who got away with it. This suspicion is toxic.

Only athletics isn’t waking up to the problem, it’s prosecuted more runners and race walkers than cycling. But it’s got to be careful with the perception and presentation of this, especially when it comes to the top brass at the IAAF. It’s here that lessons can be learned and ideas imported, whether leadership or institutional matters. Just as cycling can never clean up, the IAAF can only hope to contain the problem but being seen to do this would be a start. With elections looming for the IAAF Presidency, both candidates need some cycling lessons.

107 thoughts on “What Athletics Can Learn From Cycling”

  1. Nice work as usual.

    Your right, athletics does prosecute, frequently… The task now as you rightly state is how they handle this big leak.

    Sweep it under the carpet, and be forever judged, or dive right into it and come out smelling nasty, just like cycling, but also safe in the knowledge that the sport is trying.

    I,know which option I prefer.

  2. Thanks for the review. Typo alert. Shows not shoes in the paragraph with the screen grab.

    I am not certain, but suspect that the data was reviewed by amongst others Ashenden and those you have referenced. If the complete review was only undertaken by one competent person, the ‘wriggle room’ for the IAAF will mirror the position taken by the UCI under the previous two presidents. It will be interesting if this report ‘runs’ or is conveniently ignored by the media.

  3. So three experts must agree and only then is the athlete asked to explain themselves and if the answers are not satisfactory a prosecution begins.

    It’s like this:
    >Test results uploaded,
    > statistical analysis performed on longitudinal tests.
    >Federation administrator responsible for forwarding suspicious results to experts. NO CASE OPENED
    >WADA does the part you describe. If the panel of 3 agrees a sanction is possible, NO CASE IS OPENED.
    >Federation sends request for an explanation to the athlete. NO CASE IS OPEN.
    >WADA’s specialists reconvene, consider explanation. If WADA’s specialists recommend a sanction, that is all they can do. They can only recommend. STILL NO CASE OPENED.
    >Federation decides if they want to sanction.

    As Seppelt’s latest report confirms, the federation is not required to open a case in any positive situation. Doping is permitted until it isn’t. Who knows when that is.

    • You seem to explain WHY the UCI/ASO have had 3 TDF without sanctions , after 99 years of REPEATED DOPING ?

      Had the latest US Doper , been at Le tour 2015 , he would still be enjoying making monkeys of the tifosi ! It appears that the ” Deep Test ” costs $600+ each , so who will spend that money unless certain of the result ?

      • Skippy,

        It’s not just the UCI, all the IOC recognized federations follow this standard. We know for sure the IAAF is not sanctioning athletes thanks to Seppelt’s latest work. We know the UCI has large numbers of irregular values and does nothing. Until the federations get consistent and much more transparent about the integrity of their sports, it isn’t going to get any better.

        At this point in my life, it’s the elite junior athletes I worry about the most. See Rupp/Nike/Salazar. Salazar testing androgel on his kid so his teenage athlete Rupp never tests positive.

  4. As always a very well written and balanced article.

    You write that athletics has prosecuted more runners and walkers than cycling. Is this an absolute statement or proportional to what I assume would be a much higher athlete population in athletics?

    I remember reading that e.g. soccer does only a fraction of testing compared to cycling if you factor in the number of professional athletes.

      • Look up the name of Viktor Chegin. At the last count the number of race walkers coached by him and who’ve tested positive, is around 18. Maybe 19. It’s difficult to keep count tbh

        • Chegin makes Ferrari look like Mary Poppins. He’s currently banned from coaching, been removed from his post, and under investigation by WADA and IAAF. Dictate recently issued to the effect that no athletes trained at his Russian race-walking training centre in Saransk will be allowed to compete in the Russian squad at the forthcoming Worlds in Beijing. Decision pending over whether to allow any other Russian race-walkers coached elsewhere to attend.

          That’s how bad it is, thanks to Chegin and all the enablers in Russia, from the Russian Fed to the very top of Russian politics. Untold damage to the sport.

  5. Good piece, many thanks and very timely.
    I’ve been a big Athletics fan for many years and can recall what were the real ‘bad old’ days of the Eastern Bloc’s athletes, who set many incredible world records, quite a lot of which still exist bizarrely. East German Marita Koch’s 400m Women world record was set in 1985 and still stands !
    So in that regard athletics has never properly gone through the pains that cycling has.
    And yet is clearly should have. It is a tainted sport, I am afraid, and that hurts me to say. This report has been a very long time coming.

    For all the negative publicity that the UCI has attracted, it could be said it has at least tried to act. By comparison the IAAF and IOC have never seriously attempted to get a determined and cohesive approach to doping.

    Cycling is largely Europe-centric, whereas athletics is a more global sport with its own national bodies. There are completely differing approaches across the globe ; some strict, some lax.
    Parts of the globe, such as Africa and Caribbean, do not have the funding to provide a proper testing regime. Corruption is said to be rife, and the national bodies do not want to discover the awful truth.
    The sport is in an awful mess, believe me.

    Seb Coe or Sergey Bubka have an enormous task on their hands, and I cannot see how they can hope to provide anything like a uniform approach. There is no money in the grass roots of the sport anywhere. Meetings in the UK are a pale shadow of what they were 30/40 years ago and numbers of kids participating has fallen dramatically. The US collegiate system still churns out world beaters, but how many of those are clean ?
    And when the biggest athletics nation on the planet hands out 1 or 2 year bans to its dopers (Justin Gatlin, Tyson Gay are recent examples) who can return and carry on regardless, it just makes a nonsense of enforcement.

    Worst of all, the thousands of people in the Olympic Stadium at Stratford were cheated. What is the real legacy left behind ?

    • +1 you raise the same points I was about to write.

      OT IR writes “Anti-doping expert Robin Parisotto – a name familiar to long term readers of cycling news – says in the ARD report that athletics is “15 years behind cycling” which must be crushing if you’re into running in circles.” So what is track cycling? A perceived bias perhaps as if a track environment is a lesser pursuit? Many middle/distance track runners also run road and cross country just as track endurance cyclists often ride the road.

      • INRNG is just being tongue-in-cheek and snarky. Like those who say F1 “is just driving around in circles” or “golf is a good walk ruined”.

    • In the 19080s, the US was just as dirty as the Eastern Bloc – many just choose to ignore that and believe the cold war propaganda we were fed at the time.

      Athletics has has this problem for decades and ignored it for decades – and they’ll continue to do so as long as they can.

      The olympics was a very expensive joke – as many of us were saying at the time.

      • +1

        What came out about Western Germany some time ago is significant, too. Doping is just endemic in pro sport. Everywhere or about. Big countries founding big national programs, or just leaving the big money flow in that direction from sponsor (esp. pharma, always keen to make experiments) to institutions (schools, teams…). Little/poorer countries can’t run expensive test programs, and probably really wouldn’t do that given the huge impact of some specific sports on their image.
        Doping is simply too useful for lots of people (very marginally, the athletes).
        When doping tales (I’m calling them “tales” not because they’re *false*, but because they usually imply some narrative, remarking this or that aspect to stress some key meaning for readers) reach the wider public, it’s usually because of political conflicts in the sport.
        Reaction or covering of other scandals, especially covering the doping practice in your own country underlining someone else as the archetype doper, *distraction* within the same sport or from a different (more “important”) sport, arm wrestle between top level institutions (with FIFA vs. COI as a titan clash), the very classical power fights inside COI and so on. As Martial wrote: “cuius vulturis hoc erit cadaver?” – What vulture will get this corpse?
        Anyway, I hope something good comes for the athletes in the middle term. Not very sure about that.

        PS The prevalence of female sports in the Eastern bloc until the effects of the change in the political system became effective (beginning of the ’90s) were vastly due to the fact that most of those societies were more equal genderwise than Western ones. Feel assured, female sports in the ’80s had all the doping they may need in the Western countries, too.

        • So far as your PS is concerned, it’s perhaps a slightly different point, namely that a woman’s medal had as much value as a man’s in the overall medal table (and so for determining which political system had “won” the Olympics), whereas it had less value in terms of obtaining endorsements. So the more systematised polity paid relatively more attention than the more market-driven ones (where you had to buy your own PEDs). So there may have been more of a focus on improving women’s performances illicitly in the East than in the West, irrespective of gender equality outside athletics.

          And also, clearly, testosterone has much more of an impact on women’s performance sport, so that athletics will be stuck with those pre-testing records until it decides to scrub them all.

          • It’s a bit naif to believe that you didn’t have State doping in Western States or that they didn’t pay huge attention to the medal tables.
            USA, Western Germany, Italy ans so on didn’t rely on “market” alone, feel assured. They all had top-level doping programmes for women, too.
            The problem was just that in those societies the image and role of the women correlative to sport practice was different. Recruiting wasn’t as easy, and recruiting is paramount for sport results – much more than doping.

            About testosterone… well it’s a long and complicated story, but not everything looking *evident* is that evident. The effects of culturalised thought is on selective memory: many people have forgotten some data disclosed by Fuentes’ papers, for example. Women were using testosterone as a typical doping no doubt, but *how much* that was effective in terms of pure result is object of debate.

      • +1 J Evans,

        In ESPN’s ‘9.79*’ documentary Don Catlin of UCLA Berkeley revealed that the USOC hired his lab to pre-screen US athletes before 1984 Olympics to eliminate any chance of athletes testing positive at the games… and their were large numbers of positives… athletes were shown their results without sanction… a sort of a get yourself sorted out before the games…

        The IOC through the USOC had to threaten to de-certify the USATF to reveal Jerome Young’s name after they decided to basically throw his positive in the garbage can… like whistle-blower (forgot his name) said they had done on so countless occasions…

        western counties have been just as guilty and complicit of doping as the east… that is clear..

        Cycling is on the right track here.. you can’t expect the Federations to be un-bias… let them pay a fee to have a separate, independent organization do the testing, arbitration of cases and sanctioning…

  6. The worst of this, from a British perspective at least, is that many Olympians and athletes are funded from public money.
    There is no suggestion that they are wrong-doing, but what will be the longer-term public and commercial sponsors view on the sport ?
    Is it the best way to spend our money, to participate in a tainted arena ?
    (Sorry to post at length. I was a keen athlete as a schoolboy, and recall clearly going to the English Schools Champs and seeing a young Steve Ovett’s name and records all over the programmes, and to International Meetings to see the likes of Foster, Coe, Ovett, Moses, Yifter, Wells etc etc. It never rained of course, but it feels like the sun has gone down on my childhood memories) 🙁

    • Why should the British public support the careers of sports people? In my view, we have a lot better ways to spend our money.
      And you say – about British athletes:
      ‘There is no suggestion that they are wrong-doing’
      From http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/athletics/33749208
      ‘A top UK athlete is among seven Britons with suspicious blood scores.’
      This is a massive problem and it’s everywhere – not just the Russians. Only an acceptance of that will lead to any change.

      • “Why should the British public support the careers of sports people? In my view, we have a lot better ways to spend our money.”

        It should be noted that the elite funding for sportspeople in Olympic disciplines comes from the National Lottery fund, not the public purse from general taxation, so no-one is being forced to contribute to it.

  7. “it’s said only the slam dunk cases are prosecuted because the UCI and WADA cannot afford to lose a case, because of the financial hit but especially the reptutional and jurisprudential aspect of being seen to lose a case.”

    That is so bad.

  8. I’ll be very interested to see how this story developes. I’m also waiting for the dopping in football scandal to break; given the money involved I frankly don’t believe that there is not a huge can of worms waiting to open….

    • Keep waiting for that one. That will never be allowed to happen. There’s probably a good reason why the other 140 sportsmen/women in Operacion Puerto weren’t named.

    • Different sports have different measures. Take swimming where top names serve short bans and it takes time to announce them, eg Sun Yang who served a ban which was only announced when it was over. People would go beserk if this happened in cycling. Tennis got people talking in France with Richard Gasquet saying “thankfully injections exist” so he could carry on playing, the same quote from a cyclist would have generated doping headlines.

    • Soccer? That is money making entertainment not sport… The time I heard the head of premier league refs had warned his subordinates not to send the stars off early unless absolutely unavoidable, because a lot of people had paid a lot of money to watch them, that became obvious to me. They want spectacle, they want the big teams to do well, they want stars, and they have no interest whatsoever in rocking the boat if it disturbs the path of the gravy train. All those talking of maximising revenue in cycling would do well to remember that… Look after the events with tradition and history and the riders will come, they need to earn a living, but they don’t need to be millionaires, because money is the start of it…

        • Maybe in 20 or 25 years we will see that the learning process on how to deal with doping was ours as a society-and not that of sport? It could well be, that in the future the common consensus is, that professional sport is defined solely as entertainment and words like ethics and fair play will get replaced with words like ratings and excitement. If there’s no expectation for ethics or fair play, doping isn’t offending anymore. It could become part of the entertainment, a tool like the bike. Doping is dangerous for your health? Well, so is racing down a descent at highspeed. Imagine this: a race where the riders don’t race each other, they ride alone and not the fastest one wins, but the one with the highest ratings. The competition could one day not be about the sporting result, but for the most profitable/popular result. Stranger things happened.

          • The descent comparison is absolute nonsense.

            1) It’s quite hard to imagine road racing without descents, it would completely change the nature of the sport (no more multi-climb stages? No more classics?). Even neutralising them would be hugely complicated. Whereas the sport was held, and in a pretty similar fashion in terms of courses and so, when the science couldn’t provide this effective a doping. Hence the sport could *theoretically* do without blood doping, hormones doping etc., not as easily without descents.

            2) The degree of personal responsibility, knowledge and management of risk, margin of decision and so involved in the two situations is *hugely* different.
            We can’t speak of the present, since someone believes that things have changed a lot and there aren’t (undeniable) proofs of the contrary, but in the recent past you couldn’t race in pro cycling without taking significant risks for your health because of doping, very often without knowing the details of the potential risks itself (medicine didn’t or doesn’t know the full extent, imagine the cyclist!), very often without even being informed about the exact practices you were into, very often being literally forced to accept them by *prepared* and *authoritative* figures you were used to trust (trainer, DS, doctor).
            On the contrary, you can and could race with the pros going down the descents reducing the risk, managing it personally and knowing exactly what you’re doing (most of the time): you’ll lose some time, maybe it will prevent you from winning, or winning big, or winning bigger, but it won’t throw you out of the elite sport. Most of the time. Yes, exception are there to be seen (Soler et al.), but the general characteristics of that aspect of *risk in cycling* are immensely different from doping.

  9. Coe’s defence of Salazaar is deeply troubling on a number of levels.

    Fair play to the journalists asking the questions few seem to want answered.

    • Is there a connection between this leak and Salazaar? That is, because he denied it and the story seems to have died down someone has thought, No, this needs to come out

      • Salazar is very small beer in the great scheme of things, compared to the story here, also including the Russian angle and the Kenyan expose.

        I think its much more likely a straightforward follow-on from Seppelt and ARD’s first doco on doping in Russian sports, broadcast last December.

  10. Coe was and is a Nike employee. But no conflict of interest. Nope.


    He was also FIFA’s first chair of it’s ethics committee.


    Also balls deep in globals sport marketing, promotion and athlete management through his chairmanship of CSM group


    Also maybe Conconi linked

  11. Diack was quoted as saying that athletics spend $2 million a year on anti doping, or less than a Christiano Ronaldo wedding present, and seemed to think this showed the seriousness that the IAAF showed in catching dopers.

    Until someone comes up with a way that shows that increased anti doping funding increases revenue, unfortunately nothing much will change.

  12. It’s a classic conflict of interest, the governing bodies are responsible for both selling the sport to a wider audience and exposing/prosecuting the cheats…

  13. Go through the list of Athletics Track World Records, particularly for Women, and see how many were set in the 1980’s or 1990’s. It’s actually quite shocking :
    100m Florence Griffith-Joyner, 1988
    200m ditto
    400m Marita Koch, 1985
    800m Jarmila Kratochvolova, 1983
    10,000m Wang Junxia, 1993
    100m Hurdles Donkova, 1988
    High Jump Kostadinova, 1987
    Long Jump Chistyakova, 1988
    Triple Jump Kravets, 1995
    Shot Put Lisovskaya, 1987
    Discus Reinsch, 1988
    Heptathlon Jackie Joyner-Kersee, 1988

    The records for the Men’s events are not so dated, though the longer-standing records are in the distance and field events.
    It’s a huge shame really, that the sport’s ultimate measure of excellence is so tainted.
    But it has long been a shrug of the shoulders issue for athletics.

    • It’s funny how all those names suggest doper to me. I would have sh*t myself if i’d ever have met Kratochvolova in a dark alley.

    • There really should be two sets of records: pre-random testing and post-. From those dates, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if athletics brought in random testing after the 1988 Olympics. Then possibly another cut-off period for endurance events pre- and post-a test for EPO.

      • this is an understandable proposal, but it would not necessarily represent doped vs. clean records, but just a change in testing and therefore a change in cheating. I think.

        • I think it’s fair to describe the introduction of random testing as a step-change, as the absence of random testing is really the absence of testing. Given how many records remain from that era, it is also plain that whatever cheating has taken place since has been less effective.

    • What about these lists?

      Tour de France winners from 2001 onwards. The number after their name is their highest recorded watts figure as per the chronoswatts website (only figures of big climbs were used, 35+ minute duration).

      1991-1995: Indurain (459)
      1996: Riis (448)
      1997: Ullrich (456)
      1998: Pantani (468)
      1999-2005: Armstrong (456)
      2006: Landis (442)
      2007,2009-2010: Contador (431)
      2008: Sastre (421)
      2011: Evans (410)
      2012: Wiggins (407)
      2013,2015: Froome (419)
      2014: Nibali (428)

      Average of above numbers over 5 years.

      1991-1995: 459
      1992-1996: 457
      1993-1997: 456
      1994-1998: 458
      1995-1999: 457
      1996-2000: 457
      1997-2001: 458
      1998-2002: 458
      1999-2003: 456
      2000-2004: 456
      2001-2005: 456
      2002-2006: 453
      2003-2007: 448
      2004-2008: 441
      2005-2009: 436
      2006-2010: 431
      2007-2011: 425
      2008-2012: 420
      2009-2013: 420
      2010-2014: 419
      2011-2015: 417


      Average watts of winner up to and after last disqualified winner (Contador 2010).

      1991-2010: 451
      2011-2015: 417

      Suggests something similar to the list of women’s athletics world records.

        • PH,
          Very interesting, and there is a shocking similarity when the information is presented like that.
          Whereas cycling has confronted its dubious past, athletics has not.
          On the contrary, in 2014 the IAAF inducted Marita Koch and Heike Dreschler (an East German long jumper / sprinter) into its Hall of Fame.

          Both women were superb athletes, and the best products of a State system that nurtured its sporting talent from childhood in the most comprehensive and intense methods possible.
          How far those methods went….?

          • @ Special Eyes

            East Germany had ZDKL which was a laboratory accredited by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and used it to great effect:

            “Therefore, after the positive doping case of shot-put star Ilona Slupianek in 1977, every GDR athlete was required to provide a urine sample a few days before departing to an international competition at which doping controls would be performed; these precompetition samples were taken by a special delivery system to the ZDKL and analyzed. The results were transmitted, in coded fashion, first by telephone and then in written form to Höppner and the sports officials, and athletes testing positive were excluded from participation (for cases involving misuse of testosterone, however, see below). This screening system, commonly called Ausreisekontrolle (“departure control”), was apparently effective and resulted in a number of last-minute exclusions, including some prominent athletes. ”

            Check out the full article here:

      • Another very good example of why it’s so optimistic to hope that publishig power data will help much the debate. As any set of data, they aren’t easy to use properly, and in this specific case, people really look to struggle to understand how that works.

        I’m not denying the underlying facts you imply or suggest (which should be analysed and verified, anyway), but it’s totally absurd to provide this statistics without the weight of the athletes, especially if you’re speaking of climbs.

        Hiding that variable exaggerates hugely the phenomenon you pretend to be showing.
        Data doping?

        • My knowledge consists of what I’ve read off the chronoswatts website. From what I can see all the watts numbers are standardized to a 78kg standard for easy comparison.

          • Hadn’t read your last comment. You’ll easily understand that such a watt calculation doesn’t make sense, when we’re speaking of riders whose total weight (bike and equipment included) was 68 kg, don’t you? And even we’re around (a total of) 72 kg, the distorsion is quite big.

          • Besides, as I said, if you wished to elaborate about doping, you’d had to look at W/kg figures, not pure power. Guess what? I didn’t even start to make calculations, but I *suspect* that the average weight of TdF winners was quite higher until 2006, and it probably stays like that even if you extend the time lapse to 2010. It’s no science sport mystery that an heavier rider produces more power, even if lighter riders should anyway have a better power/weigh ratio (to a certain extent).

          • @Gabriele, my understanding (which is limited) is that the numbers are standardised to *avoid* the problems caused by differing weights.

            If, say, Pantani and Induran both climb a hill at the same speed, each producing 6 w/kg to do so. If Pantani + bike = 68kg, and Indurain + bike = 88kg, then we know that 6 w/kg for Pantani amounts to 408w, but for Indurain it amounts to 528w. But if we say that Indurain produced 528w during a climb and Pantani only produced 408w, it obscures the fact that they would have climbed at the same speed.

            So if we express their power by reference to a standardised weight (in this case 78kg), we get the same score for both: 468w. Using a standardised weight for both actually corrects for the fact that they are different weights (and therefore need to produce different power to achieve the same performance).

            Another way of thinking of it is watts/78kg = 78 * w/kg. In other words, watts per 78kg is just as much of a power/weight ratio as w/kg.

            But, as said at the top, I may have misunderstood how this works.

          • @Nick
            You got it more or less right, indeed. Whereas I hadn’t really got their point (well, to say the truth, I still can’t understand why they bona fide should produce such a misrepresentation).

            I find it *very* confusing to publish the figures this way. If anything, they should simply use (hypothetic) W/Kg.
            You’re totally right in that I tried to express that in too simplistic a way, but let’s try again. IMHO, it’s not transparent to give out unreal, conventional data in an apparently physical, commonly used, measure unit… even more so since, say, Froome’s data really *look like* the *true* data (same goes for, dunno, Wiggo, Landis or Riis, that is, everyone more or less around 70 kgs), whereas there’s a huge difference when other athletes are concerned, those whose weight is further from the model athlete.
            We’ve recently read Froome’s “measured” data which broadly correspond to what we read here, but what happens when you associate different, totally fictitious numbers to the names of specific people?
            Pantani obviously never produced anything near to 468 W, even if his power/weight ratio was all the same extraordinary. They’re fictitious watts, okay, but it’s a problem when you mix that up with Froome’s – equally fictitious but corresponding to what he puts out according to his SRM.

            It is important to keep the watts as “true” watts and not starting to call watts the imaginary phantom rider watts, among other reasons, also because the energy you’re *really* producing depends on physical data which don’t change in a linear way along with the weight, such as the pulmonary volume, blood volume, heart pump volume and so on.
            This way they also indirectly obscure the fact that it’s quite common and perfectly normal that lighter athletes have better W/Kg ratios, every sort of doping considerations apart. The discussion by the authors (the articles linked) on this point is rather ambiguous, too.

            What is more, I don’t like the fact that this way they end up hiding the basic and supposedly near-real data they used (the watts they indeed calculated and the weight they indeed supposed), thus making it very hard to check the results.

            The confusion that has been generated this way is very apparent in your example:
            “If, say, Pantani and Indurain both climb a hill at the same speed, each producing 6 w/kg to do so”. Uhmm, I think this wouldn’t work according to the authors (and me, accidentally): to start with, I’d say that if they’re both on 6 W/Kg, Indurain is probably climbing faster. The authors, in fact, would add say that the “model rider” correspond to different W/Kg ratios depending on the inclination of the climb and the weight of the rider. Indurain should be expressing less W/Kg when climbing together with the “model rider” (like a ghost, you know) and Pantani more or less on any climb over 6%.
            What kind of scientist would introduce a significant margin of error – added to those you can’t control, which are a good deal – just to make the data look more “simple” and impacting? Well, quite a lot, I know, but it shouldn’t be like that 😉

            And I’m not even starting to discuss if it makes sense to ascribe to a single rider, maybe for multiple years (which are then used to make averages), his “best performance”, without any context. But that’s another story.
            However, I don’t think it’s useful to go in much detail, when it’s really difficult to use data in a proper way.
            Please note that I don’t disagree at all with the underlying idea that we may have had different doping situations along the years, I just don’t believe we should try to prove that with a set of data which have been quite “built up” introducing any kind of distortion along the process.
            We live in a world who loves data because they look like “facts”, but they aren’t. It could be seen during this Tour with Froome’s data on LPSM. There were a lot of blind spots (starting with the climbing time which was slightly different from what I believe I saw in the recorded video of the climb, going on with the weight etc.), and, at the end of the day, it was really very difficult to elaborate any evaluation of what happened also because the big difference was made where the slopes had a reduced gradient, making calculations way more complicated and more prone to errors.

        • Not to speak of the fact that using chronoswatts data when you’re imagining a 78 kg bike + rider system, it works very well for a 65-70 kg riders, but it produces huge distorsions when heavier or lighter riders are concerned. Lighter riders look like they’re producing an higher amount of watts than they really are, quite the contrary for heavier riders. In the extreme case of Pantani, you’re probably introducing a distorsion greater than 10%.

          • PH / Gabriele
            Without wishing to get debate the wattage / kg issue, this running blog gives a take from the athletics side of the fence :


            What it does show is that the riders noted in PH’s list prior to 2010 (Indurain excepted) have been banned for doping. So the assumption between the performance and the riders has some basis.
            The blog was written 9 months ago, and the latest leaked report only adds to the case against athletics.

            GeorgeY, that is a startling article.
            The issue of doping in athletics seems to have come about directly through the Cold War.
            I agree with J Evans, the West (USA) certainly produced their equivalent in time.
            Did the Eastern Bloc’s programme begin this ‘arms’ race ?

          • @Special Eyes
            Please, let’s try to care about logic. You’re doing some sort of petitio principii. They’ve been banned for doping, hence it gives room to supporting nonsense data?
            You expect present riders to be cleaner than those we know were on doping, so if you produce bad data to show that, they must be fine.
            Though, what if, let’s say (I haven’t checked but, ok, I will), the data show that there’s little difference between today’s riders and those we know to be dopers? Ops.
            And I’m not even starting to expose the sheer nonsense of the new hobby of “barring” top-ten TdF classification with very arbitrary criteria. I’d put a proven cross on some more faces, there, but what does that mean?
            Besides, athletes can start and/or stop doping at some point in time (this is something we know some of them actually do or did). How can we relate that to performance?

            However, I don’t want to make this too complex.

            The problem with PH data is that they’re utterly useless, unless otherwise elaborated.
            As they are here they can’t show anything at all. Athletes who were heavier tended to produce more watts. Wow.
            Not to speak of the crazy way they were produced. Ok, we can’t know the exact weight of a rider, but why didn’t they even try to produce something a bit more accurate? Even with an approximate weight you would have had something nearer to reality than an arbitrary weight. Just having *STRAVA* (!!!) you can notice how if two rider climb at the same speed and one of them is lighter, his or her power output (“same speed”, “same climbing time”) is lower.
            In fact, even they themselves, when checking the efficacy of the methode (with Horner), use his *real* weight, not that of the “model rider” which would be some 7 kgs heavier.
            This people are creating data for a fictitious rider, then they end up attributing them to real riders, as if Pantani was going around with some 10 kgs of stones in a backpack. Yeah, he was heavy-hearted but I just don’t think that the culpability feelings weighted that much. And, guess what?, it would be really incredible if he could ride like that with that sort of backpack.

            However, all this just proves my main point. Let’s keep the data very far away from the part of the public which hasn’t got the minimal requirements to understand them.

          • Yes, I fully accept and understand your point Gabriele.
            Athletics produces an easily quantifiable result – a time for a measured distance within wind speed / metres confines, for instance – that can be compared over time.
            Cycling does not have this.

          • @ Special Eyes
            Personally I couldn’t care less who started the doping race of East versus West. My concern is that lives were lost, young people were destroyed by having their mental/physical health compromised (even to the point of undergoing involuntary sex change, or having genetically deformed offspring). Many people were in the know but chose to bury their heads in the sand. When stories broke out in the news they (the ostriches) were terribly shocked; their hypocrisy is enraging! This is the eternal bleak tale of doping in all sports, which of course includes cycling.

            Of course I must add, that I totally agree with J Evans that the western countries are equally guilty (Florence Griffith Joyner’s death at 38 due to an “epileptic seizure” is a well known infamous case), however one must note that state sponsored/funded doping was the “privilege” of the Eastern block and because of the East German thoroughness we have detailed evidence of the heinous crimes committed.

            P.S. Sorry for my off topic rant.

          • @GeorgeY
            Agreeing on everything else (should be reminded from time to time to those saying “let’s just legalise it all”), I must note that this: “state sponsored/funded doping was the “privilege” of the Eastern block” is just false, as long as I know.
            Public universities and hospitals played a major role both in Italy and in Western Germany.
            And in the USA, besides what could be said about the role of antidoping authorities covering the positive tests and public institutions sponsoring (“…without knowing anything…” – sure) big doping structures, I’ve been passed some first hand information about colleges (not private ones) involved in doping programmes.

  14. Although it’s true that athletics has more prosecutions than cycling (running and walking as mentioned by Inrng), I’d be more interested to see the number of prosecutions per 1,000 athletes and how that stacks up against cycling.

    It may be a naive assumption to make but I would think there were far more pro athletes than cyclists and so a meaningful comparison would be doing the above and then “playing in” the number of drug tests per 1,000 athletes/cyclists too.

    As someone who has been a professional sportsman (albeit some time ago) I am sure drugs are rife across all sports and have been for decades. It’s just that some sports are able to “manage” the outputs better than others (see tennis, football and rugby as good examples – incidentally, all sports with much more money available to “manage situations” than cycling).

    It is really disappointing it goes on but the real problem for the authorities is, as Inrng points out, the cost of proving a case and the reputational damage a failed prosecution causes. Assuming 7.5% of the 5,000 cases would go to prosecution (looking at the graph above) and a cost of 100,000 euros per prosecution, the cost alone for those 375 cases would be 37.5m euros (that doesn’t factor in appeals, CAS etc). Now assume 10% of the 7.5% get off, that’s 37 cases being unsuccessful, thus a significant undermining of both the testing process and governing bodies as a whole.

    This whole report demonstrates the problem with drugs in sport. Very few people can be prosecuted as, to quote a certain Lance Armstrong, “extraordinary allegations require extraordinary proof”. The fact that the process doesn’t have extraordinary proof in most cases makes the whole situation difficult to manage. With no smoking gun, allied with the fact athletes and their coaches know the system inside out, they know how to push the boundaries to their advantage and to minimise the risk to them. Put that together with the cost of prosecutions and the situation will never change any time soon!

    • I just want to add – and I think, you meant it that way anyway: Sports with money can manage doping scandals going public and their general public image better. Of course this is in no way an indication, if there is doping in that sport or not

  15. I’m one of those cycling fans. And one of the people who is disgusted by the cost of the olympics.
    They all knew – as the everyone in cycling did – that this was happening.
    I couldn’t care less about athletics, but I’m glad that maybe cycling will no longer be the whipping boy.

    • It’s hard not to feel like that, when you have statements like this coming out from retired athletes:

      Jonathan Edwards ‏@JDE66 · 28 Oct 2012
      Read Tyler Hamilton’s The Secret Race in a sitting. At once, utterly compelling and depressing. Thankful my sport didn’t demand such choices

      But in fairness, the Olympics is so much more than Athletics, no matter how much Steve Cram et al think differently.

          • Since when did a person’s religious beliefs (or in Jonathan Edwards’s case, lack of them) justify abuse? Edwards is a keen cyclist who completed the RideLondon 100 in a very respectable time, then stood at the roadside presenting coverage of the pro race. That’s his job and he’s pretty good at it, IMO.

            I don’t believe JE was doping when he set the triple jump world record in 1995. His event may have been a rare niche in the wider athletics spectrum where winning clean was a viable option, though.

          • Since when did a person’s religious beliefs (or in Jonathan Edwards’s case, lack of them) justify abuse? Edwards is a keen cyclist who completed the RideLondon 100 in a very respectable time, then stood at the roadside presenting coverage of the pro race. That’s his job and he’s pretty good at it, IMO.

            I don’t believe JE was doping when he set the triple jump world record in 1995. His event may have been a rare niche in the wider athletics spectrum where winning clean was a viable option, though.

          • “I don’t believe JE was doping when he set the triple jump world record in 1995.”
            I first read that as JC and thought, did Jesus Christ really set the triple jump world record in 1995??

          • Andrew you are quite right, JE doesn’t deserve stick for any beliefs he may have.
            I do hate it when Gatlin grabs the mike and thanks god for his God given talents though, I really hate that…

  16. I suppose the question is how many of these suspicious results are “Kreuzigers”, i.e., unusual looking but not enough to prove doping.

    Also, it’s not really “an argument” that the constitution of your blood is private medical data: it plainly is, but that doesn’t stop the IAAF from looking like they’re trying to cover things up when they rely on that.

  17. Clearly, the olympic authorities are going to McQuaid this and keep on trying to bluff it out until it all finally comes crashing down around them.
    They want the cash to keep flowing in – that’s all that matters.

    • two things matter to the people in control…

      a) keep the cash flowing (preferably into their own pockets)…
      b) consolidating even more control…

      there’s zero chance of the ioc outing itself… but as an american citizen, i’d surd be glad if “we” went after the ioc the way we seem to being going after fifa…

  18. The Olympic movement is in serious danger of dying a slow lingering death.

    They are so expensive to host that nations are pulling out of bidding processes for Summer and Winter Games, either under pressure from their voting populace or of their own volition, leaving the only nations willing to host them totalitarian states.

    Not good.

      • yup… just as obvious as sochi was… i know the ioc guys are old and everything, but you would think “snow” would be a pretty obvious requirement in “winter” games…

        meanwhile, in rio, who is up for some raw sewage (amoungst many other things)?

        the ioc, like fifa, cannot die soon enough… the out and out corruption is sickening…

        it really makes the uci look “only somewhat incompetent and somewhat corrupt”, which takes a considerable amount of doing…

        • I love it when other sports governing body’s look worse than the UCI, like you say they must be putting in a lot of hard work to be that incompetent.

    • Interesting, thanks. It makes Presidential candidate Seb Coe’s claims about “so called experts” and “a declaration of war” look even more McQuaid/Verbruggen like, as he shooting the messenger in the classic bunker mentality style.

    • This 2011 journal report highlights, amongst other things, the stark differences in blood doping tests of some countries (not named).
      But would I be correct to assume that, since then, follow up action was pinpointed on Kenyan and Caribbean athletes, with the inevitable bans that followed ?
      Was this report a presage to action against those countries ?

      • Focus on Jamaica was nothing to do with IAAF following up on their tests. It first came about thanks to the world being made aware of the massive holes in the AD process in-country thanks to the whistleblower Renee Anne Shirley, the former exec director of the Jamaican Anti-Doping Commission, and then Dr Paul Wright, also of JADCO.


        As for Kenya, this again was the media reporting allegations by athletes in-country from 2012 onwards –

        All reasons why the ludicrous accusations by Coe that the media have ‘declared war on athletics’ is an absolute joke.

        Media reports including allegations from credible sources, has led to WADA, for one, turning their gaze on certain countries. The IAAF…not so much.

        • Thanks again Sam.
          I listened to an excerpt from a radio interview that Seb Coe gave this morning, and he clearly suggests that there was targeted action against certain countries.
          But if IAAF and WADA had this information (they share the blood passport data) back in 2011, why did it take whistleblowers’ actions to force the issue ?

          • Good question.

            Like everyone else, no idea what what seen in the files for the Jamaican athletes, for example. But what Renee Anne Shirley blew the whistle on was the complete vacuum of in-country blood tests – and woeful tests of ANY type – by JADCO, on Jamaican athletes living and training on the island, in the many months leading up to London 2012. And many of them are based on the island, training under coaches like Glen Mills. She described boxes and boxes of blood testing kits lying unopened and undisturbed.

            Now these athletes would have been tested in-comp off the island at major champs like the Olympics, the Worlds etc – if they won or made the podium, or were subject to random controls. And there’s the old Dick Pound saying that an athlete failing an in-comp test is also failing an IQ test.

            But they spend the lions share of the time on the island rather than overseas for comps.

            Btw, Richard Moore’s new book ‘The Bolt Supremacy’ is a great read.

          • That’s the problem summed up completely.
            IAAF / IOC cover their backs by testing at competitions, but the out-of-competition testing is patchy at best.
            There seems to be limited desire on the IOC / IAAF’s behalf to follow up, and, in the case of some countries, barely a testing presence to do so.

  19. As a huge athletics fan my heart sinks again. Feel for the testing authorities as there is no way they could target test so many athletes on their budget

    Don’t get the cyclists who sneer at athletics when things like this come out, and vice versa. Sport as a whole has this issue to tackle, and at least the two main endurance sports are open(ish) compared to football (soccer), tennis, rugby etc which I feel have serious problems. Particularly football with the £ sloshing about

    Ultimately when one race can change a poor athletes whole life there will always be risk takers

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