Last week, the World Anti-Doping Agency released a report alleging Russia had a “systemic,” “deep-rooted” and “state-sponsored” doping program involving their track and field athletes. In turn, several professional runners reacted with a lack of a surprise and called for governing bodies to do more to get rid of the corruption that has long plagued the sport.
After Russia was given a provisional suspension by the International Association of Athletics Federation in response to the report, which could lead to its athletes being barred from the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, American Olympian Molly Huddle said she believes those caught doping should be sanctioned with lifetime bans.
Speaking with reporters Saturday in Alexandria, where she was preparing for the .US 12K National road race she went on to win Sunday, Huddle said that more should be done to deter athletes from cheating.
“I think although it’s kind of an ugly part of the sport, it’s pointing towards a hopeful future,” she said of the doping controversy. “I just think the more threatening it is to the countries and individuals that do things the wrong way, hopefully they’ll be scared off of doing that. That only benefits the clean athletes. I think one way to kind of improve the future would be lifetime bans. I think everyone agrees with that, and I’m not sure what the holdup is there. Hopefully things are taken care of sooner rather than later.”
Sam Chelanga, who recently became a naturalized U.S. citizen, agreed with Huddle and wanted those in charge to put more pressure on those caught with doping violations.
“It seems like it’s a tough time if you are into running,” he said. “There’s always cynicism. You always look around wondering who is clean and who is not. It’s very important that we put this to rest. Everybody that’s in a position of power should do something. If the good people just sit there and watch, then this fight is just going to continue and continue. Send a strong message and endure through the tough times. If somebody gets banned, or even a whole federation like Russia, it’s tough, because maybe there are some clean athletes there. But it’s the price the sport has to pay to get better.”
The sport is no stranger to controversy, as a quick search online for “track and field” and “doping controversy” will yield hundreds of results. Just this year, Pro Publica and the BBC alleged that American running legend Alberto Salazar and his top star, Galen Rupp, committed doping violations, something that both have vehemently denied.
And it’s not only Russia that WADA has its sights on, as the report’s co-author, Dick Pound, alleged that Kenya has a “real problem with doping.” In response, the Kenya government approved the immediate establishment of an anti-doping agency, the BBC reports. It is this ripple effect from WADA’s report that professional runners like Tyler Pennel sees as making a difference.
“We, as the clean athletes, tend to benefit more by getting drug cheats out of the sport and leveling the playing field,” he said. “As this keeps developing, hopefully other countries see that maybe if Russia gets banned from the Olympics, they’ll be like, ‘Well, we don’t want to get banned from the Olympics. That’s a really prestigious event.’ And that sends a strong message.”
Added Kim Conley: “I think if we can push as the athletes and you as the media can push for a more transparency overall, we all stand to benefit.”
The fallout from WADA’s report has brought some relief for runners like Alysia Montaño, who told the Post’s Adam Kilgore last week that she knew the whole time that some of her competitors were cheating.
Sara Hall, who is coached by Steve Magness, one of the former Nike Oregon Project members who has made allegations against Salazar, remains optimistic of what the latest controversy means for her sport.
“I feel hope and encouragement through this process that we are getting to the root of some of the really bad seeds of the sport,” Hall said. “I would just encourage fans not to lose hope in track and field; there are lots of people at the highest level that are clean and are doing it the right way. There’s lots of them, I think. Just hang in there and keep celebrating those people.”