Watching Usain Bolt’s last race at the weekend, it became clear just how much the world of sport has changed in the past two decades. Spectators can’t simply enjoy wonderful athletic performances anymore, such is the stain left by repeated drug cheating.
It has become increasingly difficult to watch events such as the World Athletics Championships, the Olympics and the Tour de France without being skeptical of top class performances.
Irish innocence, when it comes to doping, was lost in the aftermath of the Olympics in Atlanta in 1996, where Michelle Smith stormed to three gold and a bronze in the pool. We couldn’t believe the allegations levelled at her at the time, she was our ‘golden girl’ after all.
Watching the British sporting public’s reaction to both Mo Farah’s success and that of Justin Gatlin, the cynic in me wondered how many more heroes would suffer a similar fall from grace.
Then there’s Bolt. The man has lit up the world of athletics throughout his career, powering to medal after medal with a cocky swagger, but last Saturday he was in no mood to discuss the problem of doping, judging by reports from the post-race press conference.
According to an excellent piece by Cathal Dennehy in the Irish Independent, he was asked about the slower times in the 100m by a French journalist. She was asking whether it was as a result of the stricter doping controls including the Athlete Biological Passport, which keeps a record of drug tests. Bolt shrugged it off and became noticeably irritated by the question.
Surely, the main man of athletics should carry the torch against all those who attempt to bring his sport into disrepute? Surely it must have rankled with him that a 35-year-old, who has been banned twice previously for doping, beat him in his final race? Maybe Bolt was just being magnanimous and maybe the booing of Gatlin by the majority in the stadium was enough.
Gatlin, for his part, also piped up at the press conference. One thing he said stood out for me:
“As athletes, regardless of what the sport is, we’re human beings. We work hard. We train every day as you are all sitting typing on your computers,” he said, apparently with a straight face.
The shadow cast by “hard-working” athletes like Gatlin over sport will only be lifted by open, transparent testing and the condemnation of cheats by clean athletes. I for one hope that the journalists “sitting and typing” on their computers continue to ask the hard questions.
Doping has already robbed many of the world’s greatest sporting spectacles of their integrity and cast shame on those involved, many spectators are merely sitting and waiting to see who, or what sport, is next.