By Keith Miller
It must be that time of year again. The calls are out again to expunge many World Records in Track & Field events, and to start afresh. As the IAAF only stores samples from as recently as 2005, and there is no doubt that detection methods have improved since then, that seems the logical starting point.
These records have withstood the test of time, without properly testing the scrutiny of drug detection systems. Scores of records remain unbeaten, most out of the 1980’s where systematic drug taking was rife amongst Eastern Bloc competitors in particular.
Two records that come under immediate suspicion (when I say suspicion, I mean they were set by drug cheats) both belong to the women’s events – the Shot Put and the 400 metres.
As we know, Dame Valerie Adams has been on the podium for the past three Olympics. She has a Personal Best of 21.24mtrs, which she set in 2011. You would think that she must rank fairly high up in the pecking order as far as history’s great puts go.
You’d think wrong.
Her best effort is….wait for it….the 185th equal best throw of all time. The best “effort” in the post 2005 era was from our dear old friend Nadzeya Ostapchuk, who cheated her way to a best of 21.58mtrs. It’s safe to discount that one.
The World Record however is held by one Natalya Lisovskaya, who, 30 years ago next month, put the shot 22.63mtrs – a ridiculous, and, frankly unfeasible, 1.39mtrs further than Val Adams. 1.39mtrs than today’s best! Lisovskaya holds the top four spots in the record books – the next 6 spots are occupied by German drug cheat Ilona Slupianek, who tested positive for anabolic steroids in 1977. Draw your own conclusions.
But possibly the most (in)famous world record still belongs to German track athlete Marita Koch.
Like the Shot Put “athletes” Koch competed during the nadir of Olympic drug cheating, the early to mid-1980’s. Koch still holds 5 of the top 7 times in history, including the most farcical record still standing. In 1985 she ran the fastest 400 metres ever achieved by a woman. Her 47.60 seconds has stood for longer than 30 years, and most cringe when it is mentioned (and not only for the fact that it was set in Canberra).
It is a ludicrous 0.39 seconds quicker than the next best time, and to give it some perspective, is over a second quicker than Cathy Freeman could manage in Atlanta in 1996. The best time in the 2005 era is 1.1 seconds slower by American Sanya Richards-Ross in 2006.
Did Marita Koch ever fail a drugs test? Officially, no.
Did Marita Koch ever write a letter to the state owned pharmaceutical company responsible for systematic doping to complain that fellow athlete Barbel Wockel was getting larger steroid doses than Koch because she had a relative at the company? Yes.
Whilst the anomalies in the Womens’ events appear more pronounced, the blokes do not appear to be immune.
Russian Yuriy Syedikh holds the World Record in the Hammer, with a throw of 86.74 in – you guessed it – 1986. In fact, he and countryman Sergey Litvinov (who competed in the same era funnily enough) have the best 13 throws in history between them. Although neither were found guilty of drug offences, the guy placed #14 (Belarusian Vadim Devyatovskiy) was suspended for doping violations for two years in 2000, threw his best effort in 2005, and then failed a drug test in 2008. His 2004 Olympic silver was removed, but after grovelling his way to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, it was somehow reinstated.
Maybe track & field’s obsession with World Records is partly to blame here. Rowing, for example, refuses to acknowledge them. The tributes to Eric Murray this week have not mentioned World Records. They were not needed; we knew the story.
Should this revisionism be employed Val Adams will finally have a World Record to her name. Will that enhance her legacy? If so, it won’t be by much.
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