lördag 16 augusti 2008

Cup-bearing dope police are on their mark ... set ... and off!

'You can win without drugs; you need talent, good coaching, support': track coach gramantik


At the Beijing Games

Friday, August 15, 2008

BEIJING - The drug police are training as hard as the world's track and field athletes in their bid to clean up a sport that is stubbornly, some say irrevocably, stained.

Which explains why the dope testers played the cat to Canada's Olympic-team mouse when the squad arrived in Singapore early this month for a training camp.

"We barely got off the plane and they were right over us," head coach Les Gramantik said yesterday, on the eve of the opening of the Beijing Games' track and field competition.

"As soon as we (arrived), they were relentless. They target people. They say random testing, and random starts with (Tyler) Christopher, (Gary) Reed and (Priscilla) Lopes-Schliep. I'd like to pick my lottery numbers that randomly."

Christopher and Reed are Canada's top 400- and 800-metre runners, respectively, and Lopes-Schliep is the country's best 100-metre hurdler. And add shot-putter Dylan Armstrong to the "random" list, too.

In theory, Gramantik and his athletes have no problem with the sport's desire to hunt down and nail the drug cheats who have dragged athletics through the muck for years. What they don't enjoy is the in-your-face style employed by many testers who represent different agencies.

"They're coming from different angles and cultures and their style of conducting tests is not always pleasant in the final phase," Gramantik said. "They're aggressive, they stay in the room, they challenge you."

What will be done on site here, he believes, is more for show, a token effort. Anyone caught doping at the Olympics, he jokes, either needs better medical advice or more money to buy better, less-detectable drugs.

"And if you need five cups of coffee to get excited going into the stadium," Gramantik said of stimulant use, "the Olympics aren't for you. If you can't get excited on your own, no Starbucks will do it for you."

What's really needed is a more level playing field for out-of-competition testing, especially in countries that require visas for the testers.

A long delay in gaining access often suggests that alarm bells about imminent testing are being sounded on the inside.

In Beijing, the drug cops can come calling in the middle of the night or at high noon. The team has an hour to produce the requested athlete, so the whereabouts of competitors must be known at all times lest they risk a missed test and punishment for it.

Gramantik says that Christopher, Reed and Armstrong have all been tested perhaps a half-dozen times this year. Last summer, heptathlete Jessica Zelinka was tested four times in one week before the Pan Am Games in Rio.

Jamaican sprinter Asafa Powell has complained that he's been weakened here by four tests over a couple of weeks.

"You can take a leak, it's not like they're drawing a half-litre of blood and you'll have to drink carrot juice from here on," Gramantik said, not entirely buying Powell's theory.

The doping and win-at-all-costs culture remain strong in parts of the world, no matter the improved testing methods and more reliable detection. Last month, seven female Russian athletes were suspended by track's governing body, accused of tampering with urine samples. Among those caught in the dragnet that snared five runners and two throwers was Yelena Soboleva, a world-record holder and world champion who was a favourite in Beijing's 800 and 1,500 metres.

"I wish I could say I was surprised, but I wasn't," Gramantik said.

"In Osaka (at last summer world championships), I noticed slight changes in certain physical appearances in certain ladies. Some of their performances (have been) extremely amazing. I wish I could be naive enough to say they just train harder and eat more eggs than the rest of us. But there are certain signs - shape and facial changes, temper, rolling hamstrings. You shouldn't be getting pimples at 28.

"Sometimes I think about what (track) would be like if nobody (was doping), but that takes about 10 seconds and I move forward to what I can do. You can win without drugs. You need talent, good coaching and good support and you are capable of being at the top of the world."

Dave Stubbs of The Gazette is in Beijing as part of the Canwest News Service Olympic Team


© The Gazette (Montreal) 2008

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