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Tuesday, June 28, 2022

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OPINION: Doping is a sad reality in athletics

Matshelane Mamabolo.

Matshelane Mamabolo.

Published Apr 5, 2020


I watched two brilliant athletics documentaries this past week. Yet, brilliant as they were, the doccies reignited the cynical running fan in me.

Are the running heroes we admire so much for real?

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I mean with so many of them eventually being found to have cheated their way to glory, how can we continue to look at them for inspiration?

Take Marion Jones, for example. She was a sprint darling for not only the Americans but the rest of the world until we discovered she was a cheat. The documentary, Marion Jones: Press Pause gives incredible insight into the sprinter’s career but more importantly into the pressures that these stars face in their quest to remain great.

Naturally talented, Jones succumbed to those pressures and took drugs to enhance her performance. And then she lied to the Federal Judges about this and ended up having to serve a jail term. The golden girl of the track lost those four medals she won at Sydney 2000 but more so she lost her status as a hero in many of our eyes.

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I also watched 9.79 - the documentary about the 1988 Seoul Olympics 100m final.

Ben Johnson, caught almost immediately after the race for doping, admits to his wrong doing and explains just how the Canadians went about making themselves better athletes through drugs.

While most of those eight athletes who participated in “the dirtiest sprint of them all”, the people around them who were interviewed insinuated that just about everyone was doping.

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This was way back in 1988. Since then there has also been the likes of cyclist Lance Armstrong as well as Alberto Salazar through his Oregon Project who have left us wondering just who is clean in sports.

I rubbed some people up the wrong way last year for daring to wonder just why it was that David Gatebe could have run the record-breaking Down Run time he did back in 2016. I asked the question based on the fact that the 5:18 he ran was so far removed from all his other times.

Believe me there is doping in local running. At last year’s Irene Ultra, a runner who had made the top three literally ran away when he was about to be tested. Why would anyone run away from accepting his prize money if he was clean?

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We have a lot of fantastic road runners in South Africa and many of us social runners admire them. They inspire us.

But can you imagine how disappointing it would be to discover that any of them are producing the brilliant runs they do because they are using performance enhancers.

The dopers are always ahead of the testers and often the positive tests come way after the stars have left the sport.

My hope is that we never get to the time when we find out that a Usain Bolt or an Eliud Kipchoge was on some juice.

But given what happened with Marion Jones, one can never be sure. Can we?

I know it would kill me to one day watch a Bongmusa Mthembu or Gerda Steyn doping documentary.


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