In an enlightening investigative piece, David Epstein, writing for ProPublica, looked into last year's shocking news that American sprint icon Tyson Gay had tested positive for banned substances.
The article (co-published by Sports Illustrated), Cheat Sheet: The Tyson Gay File digs into Gay's case (and beyond) focusing primarily on Clayton Gibson III, alleged to have provided the world-class sprinter with a cream containing illegal steroids.
Coming as the first real news regarding Gay since his notorious bust last summer, the article blazed through track and field circles like wildfire. Almost every major track news outlet featured or linked to the piece.
It was not a pretty picture painted by Epstein. The sport itself took another hit to the shins and Gay in particular came across as a gullible, if not a negligent victim/dupe.
The investigation claims jars of the illegal cream administered to Gay (along with claims of being 100 percent All Natural) were clearly marked as containing testosterone, DHEA and other substances banned in track and field competition. This only lends to the notion Gay should have—and must have—known of their presence.
While the ProPublica piece illuminated the doping problem across the wide spectrum of sports, the common perception that every other sport seems to escape unscathed while track and field's image falls further behind in the public's mind was only reinforced.
Why is this?
Is it simply an illusion perpetuated by an inferiority complex within the sport? Probably not. Track and field actually has declined in popularity since the 1980s. And it does certainly appear that the other major sports are able to withstand the doping storms that have hit pro football, basketball and baseball.
Given the time line, I believe track's decline is related to the fall of global sprint heroes from the highest stage—the Summer Olympic Games—where track is, for two glorious weeks, king of the world. Heroes like Ben Johnson, Marion Jones and yes, under a cloud of suspicion, even Florence Griffith Joyner.
For many a casual fan, having such heroes ripped from the highest podium—due to cheating—creates a permanent wound in the psyche. Those potential converts give up on the sport and most will never come back.
As well, track and field enforces arguably the most stringent doping standards in the world. In that sense, the sport's strict self-policing regimen is a double-edged sword.
One has to ask, considering the recent high profile drug cases of Gay and Jamaican greats Asafa Powell and Sherone Simpson, whether the elevated level of scrutiny is actually having a deterrent effect.
According to Epstein's account, Gibson, a licensed chiropractor who bills himself as an anti-aging specialist, possesses a client list populated with athletes within the NFL, NBA, MLB, USATF and NCAA.
Epstein goes on to trace the chronological path of Gibson's influence beginning at the college level, moving up through the NFL ranks and eventually gaining inroads into the elite levels of track.
And so, it appears an unscrupulous marketer crossed paths with an aging superstar in search of one more shot at glory. Indeed, in 2013 Tyson Gay was running injury-free for the first time in years, producing times reminiscent of his prime.
For American track fans especially, Gay's resurgence fueled a smoldering expectation that a Yankee sprinter might break up the Usain Bolt-led Jamaican monopoly on world sprinting at the 2013 IAAF World Championships. In hindsight, it all seems to make more sense now.
Another hero falls and the sport takes it on the shins—again.
Gay is still awaiting a hearing and disciplinary action on his case.
Rojofact: Tyson Gay is the American record-holder in the 100-meter dash (9.69 seconds). He is also the only man to have run sprinting's trifecta: a sub-10 100 meters, a sub-20 200 meters and a sub-45 400 meters. He was the 2007 IAAF World Athlete of the Year.
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