Top Runners Test Positive For Banned Substances

Originally published on July 15, 2013 5:02 pm

Tyson Gay, a former Olympic champion, and Asafa Powell, a world record holder in the 100 meters, confirmed on Sunday they have tested positive for banned substances.

There were also reports that Powell was among five Olympic gold medalists from Jamaica who tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs at that country’s national championships last month.

These revelations cast a shadow over next month’s world championships in Moscow.


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It's HERE AND NOW. Today, Adidas dropped its sponsorship of Tyson Gay, and other shoes - no pun intended - are likely to fall after world-class sprinter Tyson Gay of the U.S. and Asafa Powell of Jamaica confirmed over the weekend that they tested positive for banned substances just a month short of the World Championships of Track and Field, shades of the BALCO scandal of a decade ago. BALCO was the California lab that designed doping programs for athletes such as Olympic superstar Marion Jones. Phil Hersh covers Olympic sports for the Chicago Tribune. Phil, put this moment in track and field in context for us. How big a deal is this?

PHIL HERSH: Well, it's not as big a deal as BALCO yet, although it has the potential to be that. I mean there have long been aspersions being cast at the Jamaican sprinting program because there's not been a lot about a competition testing done in Jamaica. And now we've got two or three Jamaican sprinters caught in this from their - from in-competition testing at their national championships. The shoe that - if it were to drop - would be the end of track and field as a spectator sport, of course, would be the one involving Usain Bolt, whose agent told me in an email yesterday that none of his athletes, including Bolt, were among those who tested positive from these results announced yesterday.

So I mean it's a big deal because Tyson Gay is the best sprinter in the United States and has made a stunning comeback from hip surgery and happens to be a very popular athlete, one (unintelligible) the media like, one who virtually all his competitors like. But that doesn't make it any better.

YOUNG: Well, he also seemed to own up to it. He - the quote that we heard over the weekend - I don't have a sabotage story. I don't have any lies. I don't have any of those stories. I basically put my trust in someone and I was let down. Now, that leaves a little window open and he's blaming someone else. But you write Tyson Gay is no Machiavellian liar like Lance Armstrong. So what is it? What is happening?

HERSH: Well, I mean clearly somebody told him that something medicinal, pharmaceutical would help him. Tyson has had a history of being injured since 2007, when he won the World Championships in the 100 and the 200 meters. And he's getting - he's 30 years old. He's at a point where injuries are more frequent. He was obviously looking for ways to try to keep his body as free of injury as possible. And I'm just speculating. And someone advised him probably to take A and he took A and lo and behold A turned out to be a banned substance that showed up in a doping control.

YOUNG: So how bad is this? You say track and field is already on life support. This will hasten its death. Really, why is it dying?

HERSH: Well, if you go - I was at the U.S. Championships in Des Moines a couple of weeks ago. It's almost a month ago now. And the crowds were terrible. Other than the two journalists from the Eugene, Oregon newspaper, where running is still a big deal, and my colleague, Tim Layden from Sports Illustrated, we were the only out-of-town media there, with the exception of the, you know, the Track & Field News magazine. So there's just no interest in the sport anymore.

It has been in a slow and steady decline as it failed to match the growth of other sports that took over. College basketball, college football became huge. Track and field, instead of just staying where it was, got smaller and smaller and smaller, became a niche sport. And now, and when you're a niche sport, you're already out of the public consciousness. And now all the public is going to know is that your best athletes are doping.

YOUNG: Well, note to self, go to another track meet. Phil Hersh of the Chicago Tribune, thanks so much.

HERSH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.