Monday 15 July 2013

Tyson Gay, Asafa Powell and drugs in US and Jamaican 100m sprinting

Not surprisingly, I have just been doing a round of media interviews on Sky TV and CNN. It is difficult to say too much because of the early state of these doping stories; as readers will know I am all about the science, not the unsubstantiated mud throwing. Still some things are clear. First Tyson Gay seems to have a clear idea of what has happened, although he is not making this public at present. This makes it unlikely he took a drug by mistake as a contaminant in a reputable nutritional supplement (as Powell seems to be implying could be what happened to him). Secondly all drugs are not the same. I am always amazed that sprinters take stimulants. Most notably in the early years of this century there seemed to be a plague of sleeping disorders in the sprinting community, as evidenced by a spate of positive tests for the anti narcolepsy drug modafinil. There is no evidence, that I know of, that stimulants will increase the speed of a 100m runner. The only area I can think of is the reaction time in response to the starting gun. In which case why not just take caffeine, which can also decrease reaction time, but is not banned?

So I would need pretty strong convincing that Powell’s record number of sub-10s 100m sprints were anything to do with a stimulant such as the oxilofrine that appeared in his “A” drug test sample. Of course, some people will draw the conclusion that if he has one banned substance in his system he must have been a systematic doper. We are all Lance Armstrong’s now. I was struck by this analogy when I saw many newspaper articles going through all the sprinters with the fastest times and tarring nearly all of them with a broad doping brush, no matter what the offence. This is a shame, because I think one of the good things the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) has done is to allow for a degree of leniency in the punishment depending on how the drug into an athlete’s system, thus distinguishing the athlete clearly trying to gain an edge, from the recreational drug user or the athlete who took a contaminated supplement by mistake. My book indicates a number of these instances.

Personally, if I were an elite athlete I wouldn’t take any fancy supplements; the evidence is just too weak that they are anything but placebos. If I did use something, for sure I would never throw away the last pill in the bottle, just in case some contaminant had appeared in the batch of samples I had used. I could then at least offer the explanation that I was not deliberately trying to cheat.

I will write again, when the full details of these cases become clear. In the meantime I will carry on celebrating England’s great win over Australia in the first cricket test match of the Ashes series. It will be nice to turn my thoughts to a sport where no one cheats or is accused of behaving against the spirit of sport [1].


  1. Unfortunately cricket isn't completely clean either with the interference of gambling causing deliberate wides to be bowled and allegations of match fixing
    - is any sport clean apart from maybe tiddly-winks or pooh-sticks?

    1. I agree. My comment about Stuart Broad was ironic. In fact match fixing is the one method of cheating that carries similar penalties to doping. I think this is because it is also secret I.e. spectators are being fooled as to what they are watching. As opposed to the Stuart Broad "walking" incident which we can all see and comment on.