With the perjury trial of sprint coach Trevor Graham — one of the most drug-soaked figured in professional athletics — now underway, the habits of some of track and field’s recently retired superstars are being thrown into the light of day, and the view is predictably discouraging.
The Associated Press reported yesterday that Antonio Pettigrew, a member of the USA contingent that ran a world record of 2:54.20 in the 4 x 400 meters in 1998 and part of the squad that won that event at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, admitted to using erythropoetin and human growth hormone at Graham’s urging in 1997, the year Pettigrew turned 30.
Sprinters do not routinely peak in their early thirties, but in 1999 Pettigrew, then 31 years, 6 months old, ran his lifetime best of 44.21 seconds. Among athletes older than this, only former world record holder Butch Reynolds and the man who broke Reynolds’ mark, Michael Johnson, have ever run faster. Reynolds once served a drug suspension and the likelihood that Johnson was clean throughout his career is, in the judgment of track insiders, basically nil.
The AP article mentions Pettigrew telling the court that drugs let him break 43 seconds for the first time.This is a curious statement; he may have been talking about a relay split, but even then, with athletes running the second, third, and fourth legs afforded a running start, it’s hughly unlikely he close to that fast. Johnson, without peer at the peak of his powers, recorded a 42.9 in anchoring the winning USA team at the 1993 World Championships in Stuttgart.
Gary Gaffney of Steroid Nation raises some interesting issues about the strategy of the defense team of Graham and others and also comments on the manner in which awards are or are not retroactively stripped when an athlete with a long career is caught cheating:
Pettigrew’s corroboration of Heredia’s account could appear to be damning to Trevor Graham’s defense. One wonders why these guys don’t cop a plea (Clemens, Bonds, Graham) considering the mountain of evidence against them?
Further, a strong argument must be made to strip the medals down from a drug-cheat’s wall. Where are the second place athletes? The ones who didn’t use EPO, or HGH, or nandrolone? Not with gold medals. Not assistant coaches at UNC. A career with a foundation of dope.
If an athlete tests positive and there’s really no question as to his or her guilt, then every single medal and performance under that athlete’s name should be knocked from the books. With Pettigrew admitting to doping and the Harrison twins (Calvin and Alvin) having been caught long ago, three of the four members of the triumphant 4 x 400 team at the 2000 Olympic Games are now known to have used illegal substances, with Johnson being the fourth.
Marion Jones’ teammates in Sydney in both the 4 x 100 (bronze) and the 4 x 400 (gold) have officially been stripped of their medals. That’s eight women, because athletes who run in qualifying heats but not the finals also receive medals when their teams win, place, or show in the finals.
Perhaps athletes would be less inclined to cheat if they knew that their teammates stood to lose their own medals in the event of a positive test, however far down the road. Perhaps,
But for reasons that should be obvious by now, that’s doubtful.