The recent story, in the Orange County Register (California), about official concealment of US doping positives in Los Angeles, prior to the Olympic Games there in 1984 is a reminder, among other things that you cannot divorce sport from the society which plays it.
The late entry of the Soviet Union to the Olympic movement in 1952 coincided with the acceleration of the Cold War, and the sportsfield, notably the Olympic Games became the surrogate battleground for the Superpowers. There was of course some real sabre-rattling – the Berlin Blockade, the Cuban missile crisis, the Arms Race, the Space Race, Afghanistan, and several other minor diplomatic skirmishes, not forgetting the Korean and Vietnam Wars (or the American Wars, as the North Koreans and Vietnamese call them), often against troops of future Superpower, China. But a lot of the action was on the track, in the field, and memorably in a couple of Olympic ice-hockey and basketball finals.
The one ‘race’ I left out, since it was at first ignored, then concealed by a succession of national and international federations was the Drugs Race. It probably started in the mid-fifties, via the Californian muscle-beaches, and the laboratories of the Soviet Union, and was brought to institutional perfection by the East Germans. But it took 20 years for the international federation to institute any sort of testing. By which time it was too late. And it probably still is. Does anyone think there was only one BALCO-type lab in the world?
So when Dr Irving Dardik, chairman of the USOC sports medicine council in 1984, told Scott Reid of the Orange County Register last week that, “There was a feeling at the USOC that the Russians were getting away with (doping), and we should be getting ahead,” this is not the ravings of some Cold War warrior. This is what’s called realpolitik, ie when someone inadvertently tells the truth instead of dressing it up diplomatically. Although I have to report that as late as 1993, ie nearly four years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Ollan Cassell (head of the US federation from 1980-97), was such an unreconstructed patriot that he was still complaining to me about, “damned commies” on the IAAF Council.
According to the OC Register of August 1, at least 34 positives have turned up in confidential USOC files. The only surprise here is the number of athletes. We’ve known for 20 years or more that the dope testing lab in LA had to stop coaches and athletes sending in samples, when it become clear that they were using the lab inauguration procedures as a means of discerning clearance times, ie the time it took for drugs to clear the system.
Prior to the Seoul Olympics four years later, four-time US Olympian javelin thrower, Karin Smith claimed that 17 athletes had also tested positive at the 1984 US Olympic Trials, without any sanction. Perhaps they got a warning, since Cassell was quoted last week regarding the USOC ‘informal’ testing, “It gave them (the athletes) a heads-up”. This is a man who is still an IAAF Vice-President, by the way, admitting to covering up doping positives. Not even Primo Nebiolo, the Berlusconi of his time, admitted that. Of the doping controls at the time she made that claim, ie 1988, Smith maintained, “It’s a farce”.
A few months ealier, at the end of 1987, Carl Lewis made a similar claim about that summer’s US Trials for the world championships, a claim backed up by one of Dardik’s successors at USOC medical, Dr Robert Voy, who made a typically diplomatic comment. Voy said he, “was very surprised,” no positive had been announced from San Jose ’87, the implication being that USOC had forwarded details of positives to TAC, as it was then known, and then? Nothing! Maybe they got lost in the post. Or Fawn Hall (cf Ollie North) was manning the shredder (or should that be womanning the shredder?). Anyway, you know what I mean.
Voy’s book, Drugs, Sport & Politics, published in 1991, is a seminal work in this regard. Voy claims he left his post as Chief Medical Officer of the USOC in 1989 – the year after BenJo’s bust, and FloJo’s ‘miracles’ – in frustration at the lack of support for his anti-doping efforts, exemplified by the cuts in his budget post-Seoul. Voy writes, again diplomatically, “…… many people in the USOC were in their business for one reason: to bring home the gold. Just how athletes accomplished that – well, few really cared.”
So, there you have it, the US federation, like pretty much every other one in the world was covering up positives. Oh, and the current administration knows nothing about it. Of course not. Just as well then that testing and penalties for positives have been taken out of their hands, and given to USADA, and on the international scene, to WADA.
Now, apart from the catastrophe that awaits us when gene-doping becomes possible, thus inevitable, there’s just one question I’ll leave you with for a week or two – given that Chinese athletes won just two bronzes in the track and field in Beijing, what’s Uncle Sam going to do when the Chinese get someone like Liu Xiang in every event?
(This is probably my last blog until after the World Championships. But I shall be doing two pieces each day – a preview and a report – for the IAAF website from Berlin)