Less than a month before the top track and field athletes gather for the World Championships in Moscow, the sport is, once again, reeling from high-profile positive drug tests.
Tyson Gay, the face of American men’s sprinting since 2006 and American record-holder in the 100 meters, admitted Sunday he had failed an out-of-competition test. Jamaican sprinters Asafa Powell, a former 100-meter world-record-holder, and Sherone Simpson, gold medalist in the women’s 4 x 100 at the 2004 Olympics, also made news Sunday for using banned substances. Fellow Jamaican Veronica Campbell-Brown, a two-time Olympic champion in the 200, was provisionally suspended last month for taking a banned diuretic.
With some of the most successful sprinters in track and field history now out of the World Championships, the sport’s struggles to stay clean are obvious and draw comparisons with cycling. The cases of Gay, 30, Powell, 30, Simpson, 28, and Campbell-Brown, 31, also may represent a disturbing trend as aging stars fight physiology and try to stay on top.
The IAAF, track and field’s governing body, does not comment on pending cases, but noted that discovering violations of its anti-doping policy “enhanced, not diminished” its campaign against performance-enhancing drugs.
“The IAAF’s commitment to anti-doping in athletics is unwavering because we have an ethical obligation to the majority of athletes who believe in clean sport,” IAAF spokesman Nick Davies said in a statement. “The fact that we are able to detect and remove from the sport athletes who have breached our anti-doping rules should be seen in this context.”
As soon as news broke of his positive test, Gay pulled out of the World Championships, which start Aug. 10. On Monday, adidas suspended its sponsorship of Gay. In a statement, the company said its athlete contracts make it clear that “the agreement shall be terminated by adidas if the athlete is found guilty of the possession or use of drugs or any other prohibited substance by the relevant governing sports body having jurisdiction over the athlete.”
While Gay will have his “B” sample tested, he sounds prepared for a lengthy suspension.
“I don’t have a sabotage story,” said Gay, who tried to hold back sobs as he talked with the Associated Press. “I don’t have any lies. I don’t have anything to say to make this seem like it was a mistake or it was on USADA’s hands, someone playing games. I don’t have any of those stories. I basically put my trust in someone and I was let down.”
Gay did not identify the person he was referring to nor did he announce the substance that triggered the positive test, but he added: “I will take whatever punishment I get like a man. I do realize and respect what I put in my body and it is my responsibility. I’m going to be honest with USADA [the US Anti-Doping Agency] about everything, everybody I’ve been with, every supplement I’ve ever taken, every company I’ve ever dealt with, everything.”
In response to how Gay has dealt with his positive test, the USADA, in a statement, said it “appreciates his approach to handling this situation and his choice to voluntarily remove himself from competition while the full facts surrounding his test are evaluated.”
The USADA noted that the “B” sample will be processed shortly and “all athletes are innocent unless or until proven otherwise through the established legal process.”
Given the tough timing of past injuries and the success Gay enjoyed on the track this season, it undoubtedly was difficult to withdraw from the World Championships. After winning gold at the 2007 World Championships in the 100, 200, and 4 x 100 relay, Gay appeared in prime position for another big medal haul at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. But he was tripped up by a hamstring injury before Beijing, then hip surgery in 2011 put the 2012 London Olympics in jeopardy. Gay pushed through the recovery process, made it to the 100-meter finals in London, then cried after finishing fourth.
This summer, Gay posted the world’s three fastest 100 times, including a 9.75 seconds at the US National Championship in June. He took home the 100- and 200-meter titles at the meet. And Gay appeared ready to challenge Jamaican Usain Bolt, the two-time defending 100- and 200-meter Olympic champion at the World Championships.
Now, Gay is left pondering his future in the sport, while others question his legacy. In the past, Gay signed USADA’s “My Victory” pledge that declared, in part, “I believe that a victory obtained by cheating is a counterfeit and hollow win. The only sport I believe in is clean sport, sport that is free of all cheating, including doping.”
Powell, too, is looking ahead and thinking about his future and legacy. The Jamaican tweeted a lengthy statement Sunday that declared “I am not now — nor have I ever been — a cheat.”
He added that his team “has launched an internal investigation and we are cooperating with the relevant agencies and law enforcement authorities to discover how the substances got in my system.”
Powell also acknowledged that the positive drug test would force him to withdraw from the World Championships.
On Monday, Olympic discus thrower Allison Randall acknowledged she is another Jamaican who tested positive at the national championships last month. Her statement said she was ‘‘shocked and surprised’’ at the findings, and she hopes her backup sample will clear her name.
The Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association did not identify any other athletes who tested positive.
Also on Monday, Italian police raided the hotel where Powell and Simpson were staying and seized substances, which will be tested to determine whether they are illegal.
For now, all that remains clear is that track and field again finds itself tainted.