The small numbers came from all over the world and covered almost every distance from 100 meters to marathon. The reasons for all the improvements in the sport of track and field were equally diverse: better shoe technology, better running surfaces, less wear and tear on bodies during the coronavirus pandemic and just a good old-fashioned itch. to start running. real again.
Another possibility: For nearly three months during the pandemic, testing of performance-enhancing drugs virtually came to a halt around the world. It is only in the last few months that he has started to return to normal.
This is one of the uncomfortable realities of the Tokyo Olympics. Not a single one of the nearly 11,000 athletes competing over the next 17 days has been subjected to the highest standards of the World Anti-Doping Code in the critical 16-month period leading up to the Games.
Statistics provided by the World Anti-Doping Agency indicated a steady improvement in the situation as the Olympic Games approach, but they do not mask the reality that in 2020 there was a 45% reduction in testing in the Olympic Games. world compared to 2019 – a non-Olympic country. year in which the numbers would not normally be that high anyway. In the first quarter of 2021, there was an approximately 20% reduction in overall testing compared to the same three months of 2019.
âUnless you’re a jerk, you have to worry,â said Travis Tygart, CEO of the US Anti-Doping Agency.
The idea of ââdropping testing altogether for any period runs counter to one of the central tenets of the anti-doping system – the prospect that any athlete can be tested anywhere and at any time.
The uncertainties and danger presented by the coronavirus, particularly during the first months of the pandemic, resulted in not only the suspension of leagues across the world and ultimately the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics themselves, but also the shutdown. virtual drug testing programs that are designed to enhance competitive balance in sport.
In April and May 2020, when the status quo was interrupted in almost every aspect of the world, WADA reported a total of 3,203 checks. There were 52,365 during those months in 2019.
USADA, along with the anti-doping agencies in Norway and Denmark, were among the agencies that tried to close the gap. They started pilot programs in which they sent athletes home drug tests, asking them to give urine samples and small, dried blood samples while collection officers watched via Zoom. But these programs, while notable for their ingenuity, covered only a small fraction of athletes in a small segment of the globe.
“We would be naive to think that no one has sought to take advantage of this lull to break anti-doping rules,” WADA Director General Oliver Niggli told The Associated Press. “However, there are a number of factors that mitigate this risk.”
Among them, according to Niggli:
u The requirement for athletes to indicate their whereabouts remained in full force during the pandemic, which at least raised the possibility of a check even in times when they were not performed frequently.
u The most effective doping programs work in conjunction with intensive training and targeted competition on site; many training centers have been closed and sporting events have been canceled during much of the pandemic.
u The anti-doping system has other deterrents, including long-term storage of samples, investigations and athlete biological passports, all of which can lead to positive results over time.
u Although the greatest attention is paid to those who violate anti-doping protocols, the vast majority of athletes do not break the rules.
Still, some athletes were well aware of the breaks in testing and said it was hard to just ignore.
“It’s always a concern for an athlete,” said American steeplecher Emma Coburn, who won bronze in Rio de Janeiro.
The concern is also outside of running.
“I would definitely say that some of the countries that haven’t been so trustworthy are probably taking advantage of the time they had without testing,” said swimmer Lilly King, who spoke openly about the shadow cast. doping in his sport. “Personally, I know I have been tested over 20 times in the past year so I know Americans are well taken care of and myself in particular.”
USADA is one of the few anti-doping agencies that keeps track of the number of tests performed for each athlete, and Edwin Moses, two-time Olympic 400-meter hurdles champion and USADA President Emeritus, is among those who believe that WADA and others must strive for the same transparency.
“Without transparency on the test numbers, we have to ask ourselves if these Games will be clean, as the IOC promises,” Moses said in anti-doping testimony before Congress this week.
Independent observers that WADA commissioned to review screening protocols prior to the Rio 2016 Games found that of the 11,470 participants, 4,125 had no screening records prior to those Olympics, and 1,913 of those athletes participated in high risk sports. It was, the observers wrote, a set of data “which highlights the [in]the adequacy of the planning of the distribution of tests by IFs and NADOs in these sports.
âYou were starting in a place that was totally unacceptable to athletes who were held to the highest standards, and the meanness only got worse due to the reduction in testing due to COVID,â Tygart said.
There are several plausible explanations for the wide array of personal bests, national and NCAA records, and world records that have spread in athletics over the past year and more.
Among the possibilities set out in a recent Runners World were ideal racing conditions which in some cases included time trials, where riders ran alone and against the clock, to avoid the person-to-person contact that can occur under crowded conditions.
There were the very controversial benefits of shoes, the technology of which has improved for both long-distance runners and sprinters. And then there were the possible benefits of long periods of training uninterrupted by the demands of a sports program that requires a peak at the right time.
By the time this story went to print in February, there were no less than a dozen examples of revealing moments that had been produced during the pandemic, at a time and pretty much that sport had ended. to its normal operations. The trend continued throughout the spring and continued as the Olympic season approached – a time when one would expect more athletes to maximize their performance.