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Sunday, August 17, 2008

Olympic Anti-Doping News

Phil Hersh write a good piece at the L.A. Times blog:
I have suspicions every time someone does something remarkable in track and field, but I do not mention it every time, out of what may be a wrongheaded occasional devotion to the idea of innocent until proved guilty.

I brought up the subject in print after Bolt set a world record of 9.72 at a May 31 meet in New York. It seemed hard to believe that someone who had run the 100 meters only five times at that point could already have been so fast.

I did not include it in my story after Bolt lowered the world record in Saturday's final to 9.69, a time that might have been ridiculously faster had the Jamaican 21-year-old not hammed it up in the final 20 meters of a race he won with ease.

Too much ease to run that fast, many would say, especially in a sport where three of the last six Olympic 100 champions have tested positive at some time in their careers, and a fourth has been implicated in doping by a witness in the Trevor Graham trial.
That old saw about "if it's to good to be true" has great meaning here. I can recall the only other time I've been so slack-jawed at a 100 meter result, and two days after that happened Ben Johnson fled Seoul. I'm not making a direct accusation here; Johnson was so obviously doped to the eyeballs that anyone who said otherwise was an idiot. Bolt looks like a human being.

Hersh is unflinching in his criticism of writers who cover other sports, like baseball's "hyperbolic, see-no-evil coverage" of the '98 home run record chase, or football on any day of the week where "any rational person would wonder how its behemoths built their bodies."

And so he asks, why not question Michael Phelps (not to mention the Dara Torres freakshow)? I suppose the facetious answer would be because NBC would send a couple of goons out to your house, or maybe more seriously because your editor would make sure it never saw the light of day. But the real answer is that it shatters your mythical worldview, which is what sports is all about. The wide-eyed wonder of youth is why we watch. Track and field has the balls to actually try to control the corruption, and U.S. sportswriters (a pollyanna bunch if there ever was one--only Jim Grey ever had the guts to give Pete Rose the business) don't want to be reminded about the ugly truth that exists everywhere. So they pay no attention to track.

Is it any wonder that SI regularly covers our sport while ESPN ignores it completely? The former employs actual journalists, while the latter is little more than a 60-minute highlight version of Tiger Beat.

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