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August 20, 2012 | by  | in Opinion |
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Cash Rules Everything Around Me

Reset the records

Disgraced Belarusian shot putter Nadzeya Ostapchuk only managed to rob Valarie Adams of her Olympic gold medal for a week. But drug cheats have almost certainly robbed her of something more important for her entire career: the opportunity to set a world record.

How do I know this? There is no way to be 100 per cent sure, but the case is compelling. The world record in women’s shot put is 22.63 metres, set by Natalya Lisovskaya of the former Soviet Union in 1987. Since 1990 only 3 women have thrown within 1.3 metres of that record, one is Ostapchuck. All three of those women have been found guilty of doping at some point in their careers. The only other athlete to thrown within 1.4 metres of the world record is Valarie Adams, who threw 21.24 metres in 2011. Of the top 30 throws of all time, 25 were by two Eastern European women in the 1980s.

The phenomenon of 1980s dominance isn’t limited to shot put. Probably worst effected sport is discus, where the top 23 throws of all time were by Eastern Europeans in the 1980s. This century, no one has even thrown close to within seven metres of the world record, and the only athlete to get within 7.5 metres has been suspended for doping. Of the 23 track and field events contested at this year’s Olympics, 11 have women’s world records set in the 1980s.

These are often referred to as the ‘untouchable records’, set in the drug-riddled 1980s of athletics. Testing regimes used to be a lot less sophisticated and far more corrupt which led to prolific doping. In East Germany athletic doping was not just done in secret, it was state policy. In 1977 the main testing laboratory in East Germany was passed into government control, and between then and 1989, 12,000 tests were conducted, not a single one ever leading to an official sanctioning; athletes with detectable levels of steroids were withdrawn from competition, usually through ‘injuries sustained while training’. Athletes as young as 14 were fed pills and injections, often without their knowledge or consent. Within a short space of time the whole system collapsed: in December 1989 the Anti-Doping Council of Europe was created to ensure much more rigorous testing of athletes. And between 1989 and 1991 the Eastern bloc collapsed, ending some of the corrupt regimes.

But for the athletes of the 1980s having some massive advantage we would have every reason to expect their records to be broken: better technology and understanding of the human body has allowed stronger performances in almost all other areas of sport. But the untouchable records of the 1980s remain just that. There is only one solution: reset them and allow modern athletes a fair chance at making history.

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