World of Sport

Is Usain Bolt tainted by association following athletics doping scandal?

World of Sport

View gallery


Nine men in history have run the 100m in less than 9.8 seconds.

The first, 25 years ago this summer, was Ben Johnson, running 9.79 to win the 1988 Olympic final in Seoul.

We know how that one turned out: for a quarter of a century he was sport’s most famous shamed doper, until Lance Armstrong gave him a run for his money.

It took more than a decade for the 9.8 barrier to be broken again. Here, in order, are the men to have done it (with the relevant notes beside their best times):

- 9.79 – Maurice Greene – Has never tested positive. He has admitted paying Mexican discus thrower Angel Guillermo Heredia $10,000 – a payment the Mexican claims was for performance-enhancing drugs, but the American maintains was innocent, for ‘stuff’ for his training group.

- 9.79 – Justin Gatlin – The 2004 Olympic champion was banned in 2001 for two years for testing positive for amphetamines. And then again in 2006 for four years for ‘testosterone or its precursor’. Back again, and running fast. Won bronze in London last summer.

- 9.78 – Tim Montgomery – Admitted to testosterone and human growth hormone use – his once-world record mark has been stripped from the history books. 

- 9.78 – Nesta Carter – 27-year-old Jamaican who has claimed gold in the 4x100m relay at the past two Olympics. A training partner of Asafa Powell.

- 9.72 – Asafa Powell – Confirmed that he failed a doping test on Sunday, but denies knowingly cheating.

- 9.69 – Tyson Gay – Confirmed that he failed a doping test on Sunday: “I made a mistake. I don’t have a sabotage story, I don’t have lies… I basically put my trust in someone and I was let down.”

- 9.69 – Yohan Blake Tested positive for 4-Methyl-2-hexanamine in the 2009 World Championships – the substance is not on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s banned list, but the test led to his withdrawal from the event by the Jaimaican Amateur Athletic Association and he was among four to be given a three-month ban by his federation.

- 9.58 – Usain Bolt

Usain Bolt is clean. We cannot stress that enough. He has never tested positive, he has never been accused of taking stimulants. He has an unblemished record. His performances have brought huge joy around the world, and taken the breath away.

And yet, what as fans we are being asked to believe is that Usain Bolt is more than a tenth of a second quicker than all of his rivals, the majority of whom are tainted in some way or another by doping.

View gallery


A tenth of a second might as well be a lifetime in the 100m sprint. It’s certainly metres on the track.

You have two options: you can accept that some of Bolt's fiercest opponents are doping to keep pace with him and still getting blasted away (which makes his achievements in one light greater than ever) – or you concede that, in a sport where past disappointments have bludgeoned cynicism into us, it looks suspicious.

Is Bolt tarnished by association?

Among those guilty are some of his international team-mates and friends. That, eerily, is how the Lance Armstrong’s reputation began to unravel, when the likes of Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis, who had ridden with him on the Tour de France, were exposed as cheats.

It is awkward, of course, to have the debate. One can only stress again that Usain Bolt is clean, unblemished, accused of nothing.

But as Bill Simmons wrote on Grantland in February, the question of whether what you’re watching in sport is miraculous or mutant has to be addressed in some way. We have seen too many scandals to blindly celebrate all winners, yet as fans looking in, we have no proof of wrongdoing. As Simmons put it:

“I believe we need to fix this disconnect between our private conversations and our public ones. Cheating in professional sports is an epidemic. Wondering about the reasons behind a dramatically improved performance, or a dramatically fast recovery time, shouldn't be considered off-limits for media members. We shouldn't feel like scumbags bringing this stuff up. It's part of sports.”

Cycling knows this. As Christopher Froome, a man never implicated in a doping scandal, destroys the field at the Tour de France, the inevitable questions follow. Like a girlfriend cheated on time and again, it is hard to trust that this time it will be different.

Clean or otherwise, Bolt will surely feel the consequences of Gay and Powell failing tests.

And if, heaven forfend, it one day transpired that Bolt had cheated, it's hard to see how the sport, which his charm and unforgettable performances have played such a part in helping to save, could ever recover.

Mark Patterson - @Mark_Eurosport

View gallery


View comments (356)