Doping’s enduring legacy continues to hamper women’s athletics

While men’s athletics continues to dominate the spotlight, with four major track world records being broken in the last two years and superstars such as Usain Bolt drawing in casual fans, women’s athletics has had a tougher time of it, with its single biggest story being the horribly insensitive handling of Caster Semenya‘s controversial gender testing during last year’s World Championships. But how much of the problem is due to a lack of world-class performances, and how much is it down to the IAAF’s refusal to purge its record books of times and distances which were achieved with the assistance of doping products?

David Rudisha lowered the 800m WR twice in a week

Lost in the furore over cricket’s spot-fixing scandal, which broke on the same day, it passed largely unnoticed that Kenya’s David Rudisha broke the 800 metres world record for the second time in seven days three weeks ago.

Rudisha’s 1:41:01 at a meeting in Rieti, Italy on August 29th took a further eight-hundredths of a second off the time he had set the previous Sunday in Berlin. Prior to that, the previous record of 1:41:11 had stood for 13 years, when Denmark’s Kenyan-born Wilson Kipketer first matched and then twice lowered Sebastian Coe‘s 16-year old record, all within the space of seven weeks.

It was a remarkable achievement, particularly set in the context that Rudisha and Kipketer are the only men to have run faster than Coe in 29 years. Such longevity of records in athletics is unusual, at least in men’s events. Looking back over the 21 main track and field disciplines, there are only two world records (hammer and discus) which pre-date 1990. Of the 12 major track events – 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m, 1,500m, mile, 3,000m, 5,000m, 10,000m, steeplechase, 110m hurdles, 400m hurdles – the longest-standing record is Kevin Young’s 400-metre hurdles time of 46.78s, set in 1992, and seven out of twelve have been set in the last ten years.

Now contrast that with the record books in the women’s events. Comparing the same 21 track and field events, ten of these records pre-date 1990 (and all but six were set prior to 2000). And looking at the 12 track events alone, the longest-standing record is Jarmila Kratochvílová‘s 800 metres time of 1:53.28. Not only has that record for a staggering 27 years, but no woman athlete – not even Semenya or Kenya’s Pamela Jelimo – has run sub-1:54 since. For purposes of fair comparison, if you exclude the five events – 3,000 metres steeplechase,  javelin, hammer, triple jump and pole vault – in which women have competed for fewer than 25 years (or, in the case of the javelin, where the event switched to a new design), then 10 out of 16 events (that’s 63%) have not seen a new world record in the past 20 years.

I have no doubt that the longevity of some world records comes from the superhuman performances of once-in-a-lifetime athletes such as Bolt, Sergey Bubka (pole vault) Jan Železný (javelin), and before them the likes of Coe and Bob Beamon. But when so many records of such long standing are held by athletes from nations who are known to have engaged in systematic doping programmes in the past, then you have to question both their validity and the impact such bogus records have on current competitors, in terms of both financial rewards and reputation. There are some questionable examples in men’s athletics, but many more in the women’s events where the use of hormones such as testosterone and other doping products can have a proportionately greater effect than in male athletes.

The women’s 400 metres is a case in point. East Germany’s Marita Koch set her world record time of 47.60s in October 1985; it is the second-oldest world record in either men’s or women’s athletics (after Kratochvílová). Since then, only France’s Marie-José Pérec has ever come within one full second of Koch’s time, and even she was a massive 0.65s short. The illegal nature of Koch’s record is not even a matter of speculation – government files have been produced which detail her drug usage. And yet, because she never failed an IAAF-approved test, her record remains on the books. Which means that every exceptional 400 metres runner who has dominated the event since then – Pérec, Cathy Freeman and Sanya Richards to name three – has had to make do with the label of ‘fastest since’ rather than, potentially, ‘world record holder’.

Here is a full list of the major women’s track and field events. Note the names, nationalities and dates of the record holders – in particular Florence Griffith Joyner, the Russians and eastern Europeans of the mid to late eighties and the Chinese of the mid-1990s – and draw your own conclusions.

Event Record Athlete Nationality Year Notes
100 m 10.49 Florence Griffith Joyner USA 1988
200m 21.34 Florence Griffith Joyner USA 1988
400 m 47.60 Marita Koch East Germany 1985
800 m 1:53.28 Jarmila Kratochvílová Czechoslovakia 1983
1,500 m 3:50.46 Qu Yunxia China 1993
Mile 4:12.56 Svetlana Masterkova Russia 1996
3,000 m 8:06.11 Wang Junxia China 1993
5,000 m 14:11.15 Tirunesh Dibaba Ethiopia 2008
10,000 m 29:31.78 Wang Junxia China 1993
3,000 m s/chase 8:58.81 Gulnara Samitova Russia 2008 Since 1996
100 m hurdles 12.21 Yordanka Donkova Bulgaria 1988
400 m hurdles 52.34 Yuliya Pechonkina Russia 2003
High jump 2.09 m Stefka Kostadinova Bulgaria 1987
Pole vault 5.06 m Yelena Isinbayeva Russia 2009 Since 1991
Long jump 7.52 m Galina Chistyakova Soviet Union 1988
Triple jump 15.50 m Inessa Kravets Ukraine 1995 Since 1986
Shot put 22.63 m Natalya Lisovskaya Soviet Union 1987
Discus 76.80 m Gabriele Reinsch East Germany 1988
Hammer 78.30 m Anita Włodarczyk Poland 2010 Since 1988
Javelin 72.28 m Barbora Špotáková Czech Republic 2008 Event revised 1999
Heptathlon 7,291 pts Jackie Joyner-Kersee USA 1988

Looking at that list, even the most trusting of sports fans must surely question the credibility of the record books.

This is not intended as a hatchet job on women’s athletics. Quite the contrary, in fact. Supreme performances by exceptional athletes should receive the recognition – both adulation and financial – that comes with the title of  ‘world record holder’. However, many such individual milestones are being denied that ultimate accolade by the continued existence of records which, in some cases, are demonstrably illegal and yet are maintained by the IAAF on the basis of mere technicalities.

It is a terrible shame for women’s athletics. I’m not certain there is currently a female athlete with the charisma and freakish speed of Usain Bolt, or the sustained pace of David Rudisha, but that is beside the point. How many ‘new’ world record holders have we been denied over the past two decades? And how many great legacies have remained unwritten by the refusal of the IAAF to wipe the slate clean, an action which is technically wrong but surely morally right?

Looking at the big picture, there is nothing wrong with women’s athletics. The problem lies – as is so often the case – with the sport’s governing body.

The week in numbers: w/e 8/8/10

26 – Days between the World Cup final and the start of the Football League season, which kicked off with the Championship opener between Norwich and Watford on Friday evening. (Watford won 3-2.)

17 – All but five of the Championship’s 22 clubs have prior experience of playing in the Premier League.

3Scott Rendell has scored in his first league appearance in the last three seasons, for Peterborough, Torquay & now Wycombe.

Usan Bolt (image courtesy of José Goulão)

2Usain Bolt lost a 100 metres race for only the second time in his professional career after losing to Tyson Gay at Friday’s Diamond League meeting in Stockholm. Bolt’s only previous defeat came in the same stadium (to Asafa Powell) two years ago.

72Pakistan‘s first innings total in the second Test, their lowest score ever against England. It came less than a week after they set their previous low of 80 in the first Test.

54 – Pakistan’s number three batsman, Azhar Ali, spent a total of 54 minutes at the crease before being dismissed for a duck. It was the fifth-longest (in terms of time) run-less innings in Test history.

Graeme Swann

8Graeme Swann‘s second innings return of 6/60 (as at last night’s close) represents his best bowling performance in Tests, and is the eighth time he has taken at least five wickets in an innings in just his 22nd Test match.

180,000 – Weekly salary reportedly demanded by Inter Milan striker Mario Balotelli in transfer negotiations with Manchester City. Balotelli is 19 and has played just 59 games for Inter.

600 – The New York YankeesAlex Rodriguez hit his 600th career home run on Wednesday in a 5-1 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays, becoming the seventh player to do so in Major League Baseball history and, at 35 years and 8 days, the youngest to reach that landmark. It came on the three-year anniversary of his 500th home run.

15,133 – Total fines (in pounds) levied against the Dutch and Spanish Football Associations by FIFA for their players’ poor discipline in last month’s World Cup final. Spain received five yellow cards; Holland had eight players booked and defender John Heitinga was sent off.

10Fabio Capello‘s first post-World Cup England squad contained just 10 of the 23-man squad who played in South Africa.

18 Tiger Woods ended with a career-worst total of 18-over par at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Ohio. He finished 30 shots behind winner Hunter Mahan.

And finally, two statistics to illustrate how you should always take pre-season results with a pinch of salt:

11 – Goals in Arsenal‘s final pre-season game at Legia Warsaw. The Gunners won 6-5, having been 3-0 down.

80% – Reigning Premier League champions Chelsea have lost four of their five preseason games, including yesterday’s 3-1 defeat to Manchester United in the Community Shield.

(Some statistics courtesy of @OptaJoe.)

The week in numbers: w/e 1/8/10

19 – Total number of medals won by the Great Britain team (six gold, seven silver, six bronze) at the European Athletics Championships in Barcelona, one better than the previous championship best of 18 at Split in 1990.

Mo Farah

1Mo Farah‘s victory in the 10,000 metres was Britain’s first-ever gold medal in the event. It was also Farah’s first major championship title.

17.81 – Distance (in metres) jumped by Phillips Idowu to win the gold medal in the triple jump. It was a lifetime best by the British athlete.

6,823 – Total points accumulated by Jessica Ennis in winning the heptathlon, setting a new European Championships record. Ennis beat Olympic champion Nataliya Dobrynska of Ukraine into second place by just 45 points.

726 – As of Sunday, days remaining until the start of the 2012 London Olympics – July 27th was the ‘two years to go’ milestone.

James Anderson

11/71James Anderson‘s combined return in the first Test match as England defeated Pakistan by 354 runs at Trent Bridge. He took 5/54 in the first innings and followed it up with 6/17 in the second, as the visitors were dismissed for just 80.

20 – After Sunday’s Hungarian GP, the points separating Mark Webber (161 points), the Formula 1 championship leader, from Fernando Alonso in fifth (141) – less than the 25 on offer for a race win.

45 – Points difference after the first period in the AFL local derby between the Fremantle Dockers and the West Coast Eagles – 7.6 (48) vs 0.3 (3). The match finished 160-85 in favour of Fremantle.

0 – Total transfer fees paid for central defender Sol Campbell during his professional career – all his moves have come on a free transfer. He signed for Newcastle on Wednesday, having previously played for Tottenham, Arsenal, Portsmouth and Notts County before a second stint at Arsenal last season.

The week in numbers: w/e 25/7/10

Muttiah Muralitharan

800Sri Lanka spinner Muttiah Muralitharan claimed his 800th victim by taking the final wicket on the final day of his 133rd and final Test before retiring from the long form of the game.

150 – British athlete Jodie Williams‘s gold medal in the 100 metres at the World Junior Championships in Canada last Wednesday was her 150th consecutive race victory. Her streak ended at 151 when she was beaten into second place in the final of the 200 metres.

100,000 – In dollars, the fine handed out to Ferrari for issuing team orders at yesterday’s German Grand Prix. The punishment could be increased by the World Motor Sport Council in the next few weeks.

Anthony Charteau

39 – In seconds, Alberto Contador‘s winning margin at the Tour de France – the exact amount of time he gained after taking advantage of Andy Schleck‘s slipped chain on stage 15.

11 – French riders have won the King of the Mountains competition in 11 of the past 17 years – Anthony Charteau added to the tally this year – but none have claimed the overall race win since 1985.

6 – Stages won by French riders at this year’s Tour, the most since 1997.

Eduardo (image ©

23.5%Eduardo da Silva completed his transfer from Arsenal to Shakhtar Donetsk, having never fully recovered from a broken leg sustained against Birmingham City in 2008. He had scored with 23.5% of his shots in the Premier League before his injury, but converted just 6.3% after.

88Australia‘s first innings score against Pakistan at Headingley was their lowest Test match total in 26 years (76, versus West Indies at Perth in 1984), and their seventh-lowest ever.

61 – Former world snooker champion Alex ‘Hurricane’ Higgins died after a long battle against throat cancer on Saturday, aged 61.

Some statistics courtesy of @optajim and @OptaJoe.)

The week in numbers: w/e 11/7/10

792 – Test wickets taken by Sri Lanka spinner Muttiah Muralitharan, who announced his intention to retire from Test cricket after the first Test against India (which starts next Sunday). He needs eight more to reach 800 – expect him to bowl a lot.

Usan Bolt (image courtesy of José Goulão)

9.82 – The time clocked by Usain Bolt in the 100 metres in Lausanne on Thursday. It equals the fastest time in the world this year and only three other men (Tyson Gay, Asafa Powell and Maurice Greene) have ever run faster. For Bolt, though, it represented only his eighth-best time.

9.98 – The time clocked by Christophe Lemaître in winning the 100 metres at the French national championships. It is the first legal sub 10-second time recorded by a white athlete.

6Fabian Cancellara wore the yellow jersey at the Tour de France for six of the first seven days of the race. He has now worn the maillot jaune for a total of 21 days in his career, but has never come close to winning the overall race.

Mark Cavendish

12 – Sprinter Mark Cavendish won his 11th and 12th Tour de France stages. Of all the riders in this year’s race, only seven-time winner Lance Armstrong has more individual stage wins (22).

1Bangladesh‘s cricket team completed a five-run win in Saturday’s one-day international against England. It as their first win against England in 21 matches in all forms of the game.

1 – There was only one unbeaten teams at the 2010 World CupNew Zealand.

2 – Having never previously won a major tournament, Spain have now been champions in the last two they have participated in: Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup.

3Holland have lost all three World Cup finals in which they have played (1974, 1978, 2010).

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