Armory takes a stand against dopers

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If you've ever been to the Armory indoor track in NYC you know that it's one of the few facilities in the country that does a great job of showcasing the sport and it's past champions from the high school level all the way up to the elite level. The hall of fame they have is great for the casual observer as well as the track nut.

As the indoor track season gets ready to roll and the Armory prepares for thousands of high school, collegiate, pro and masters athletes to rain down on it's gorgeous track and hall of fame, new Armory director Derrick Adkins (the 96 Olympic Champ in the 400m IH),  has made news by removing Tim Montgomery's picture from the Armory's track hall of fame. While this isn't a big deal by itself, it's nice to see people and organizations starting to take doping offenses seriously. The same can't be said for all organizations….I received a USATF publication not too long ago (maybe 2 months ago) where Justin Gatlin was featured ….not as a doping offender but as a world record holder! I know this was more a matter of something already going to press or scheduled to be sent out but good gawd….the guy had been busted for over 3 months when I received it.

The article on the Armory is a good read and Adkins and the Armory president make some great observations on the current state of Track & Field, comparing it to WWF wrestling and saying that it's in peril of becoming a farce. Check out the article by clicking 'read more'.

Enough is enough

 

Fed-up Armory officials take stand on drug cheatsEnd

 

BY WAYNE COFFEY
DAILY NEWS SPORTS WRITER
It's late morning in Washington Heights, and Derrick Adkins is standing before an exhibit at the National Track and Field Hall of Fame, a power screwdriver at the ready and a sorrowful time at hand. There are a thousand things Adkins would rather be doing. But duty beckons, and so does a deep feeling of betrayal.

Adkins, 36, was an Olympic gold medalist in the 400-meter hurdles in Atlanta 10 years ago and is the director of track and field at the 168th St. Armory now. With a firm tug, he yanks a mounted tribute to sprinter Tim Montgomery, a gold medalist from 2000, off the wall. The exhibit features a photo of Montgomery after he set the world record in the 100 meters, running 9.78 in Paris in 2002. Montgomery is smiling. Adkins is not, and neither is Dr. Norbert Sander, Armory president.

A practicing physician, former New York City Marathon winner and head man of the busiest and most renowned indoor track facility in the country, Sander is fed up to his stethoscope by what he considers the drug-ridden state of the sport, and has a big idea to fix it.

"Professional track and field is in the tank right now," Sander says. "The whole ethic of it – time and distance – is being perverted by drugs. It's time to save the sport before it kills itself."

Says Adkins, "I think it's in danger of being regarded like the WWF – a fake sport. WWF is supposed to be entertainment. Everyone knows it's fake. We're not supposed to be that."

With the Beijing Olympics less than two years away, the sport that is the centerpiece of the Summer Games finds itself in the throes of a credibility crisis as big as Barry Bonds' biceps. The last two American world record-holders in the 100 meters, Montgomery and Justin Gatlin, have both been smacked with sanctions for using performance-enhancing drugs. Kelli White, double-gold medalist at the 2003 World Championships, admitted using THG, EPO and a stimulant, and has since retired – as has Regina Jacobs, the most decorated middle-distance runner in U.S. history.

Jacobs, banned for four years for using THG, was one of eight elite track and field athletes who were sanctioned in and around the time of the U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials before the 2004 Games in Athens. Much more recently, Trevor Graham, former coach of Gatlin and Montgomery and perhaps the nation's most well-known sprint coach, has been barred from all U.S. Olympic training centers. Ten days ago, Graham pleaded not guilty to charges that he made false statements to federal investigators looking into steroid use in sports.

As if this were not enough, perhaps the biggest track and field star of all, Marion Jones – another former pupil of Graham's – came perilously close to trouble last summer when she tested positive for EPO, only to be cleared when a second sample turned up negative.

While U.S.A. Track & Field officials argue – not without merit – that the sport is in the drug headlines more only because its stars are the most thoroughly tested in the world (the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency conducted 1,419 drug tests on track and field athletes through the first nine months of 2006 – almost triple the number of tests administered to cyclists and nearly twice the amount given to swimmers), the fact remains that knowledgeable observers of the sport are as concerned as ever about the pervasiveness of drugs.

Adkins, who was considering a comeback as recently as the spring, believes that if you lined up the 10 best 100-meter sprinters in the world, four of them would be dirty with drugs.

"That would be my educated guess," Adkins says.

An elite U.S. distance runner estimates that of the top 20 competitors at 10,000 meters and the marathon, between five and seven are cheaters.

"It is a disgrace," says Sander, who is particularly incensed with Jacobs, who visited the Armory, conducted a clinic and signed autographs for kids recently. "Regina Jacobs isn't just a fraud. She's an outright crook, and she has let us down miserably."

He might feel even more betrayed by Gatlin, the reigning Olympic sprint king who was the guest of honor at the opening of Icahn Stadium on Randalls Island 18 months ago, and has repeatedly positioned himself as a poster person for a clean sport. "I think I'm paving the way for a lot of young sprinters to do it the right way," Gatlin has often said.

Says Sander, "After the 2004 Olympics, there was a lot of positive news about young, fast athletes doing well, and then (Gatlin's positive test) came along, and we're right back in the mud. It knocked the wind out of me, and a lot of people. If we can't guarantee that we're sending a clean team to Beijing in 2008, we should just stay home."

Among those disheartened by Gatlin's test was Dr. Jim Wharton, an exercise physiologist based on the upper West Side, who has worked with a host of world-class athletes, including Jacobs, a client up until 1996. When he saw a muscle-rippling photo of her on the cover of Track & Field News several years ago, he said, "Oh my God, she's gone over to the dark side."

Says Wharton of Gatlin, "When a guy like Gatlin, who is a role model to kids, comes back dirty, it's devastating to the sport."

* * *

Despite the earnest efforts of the World Anti-Doping Agency, and its U.S. affiliate (USADA), Sander believes that the drug-taking outlaws continue to outrun the posse – and that it is time to change the testing paradigm. His suggestion is a system he calls "Certified Drug Free," a voluntary model that shifts the burden of proof from the testers to the athletes and is similar in spirit to a program that Dr. Don Catlin, director of the Olympic drug testing laboratory at UCLA, proposed in a Daily News story last June.

Stripped to its essence, the program calls for athletes to volunteer for all manner of inspection, including samples of urine, blood, hair, nails, etc., enabling a lab to measure everything from testosterone, epitestosterone, human growth hormone, insulin levels and more. Athletes would also agree to be tested anytime, anywhere – and agree to have samples stored for future testing as new technologies become available. In return for such transparency, athletes would earn the designation, "Certified Drug Free." Perhaps the key to Sander's proposed system is that the more rigorous testing process would be more difficult to circumvent with masking agents than the current system, which tests only urine. Furthermore, the findings from the tests would establish the baseline for an athlete's personal biochemistry.

"We need athletes who will come forward and stand up and say, 'Test me. Do whatever you want. I'm clean and I'm willing to prove it,' " Sander says. "You could do 10,000 tests a year, but if it's not comprehensive, you still have huge question marks."

Dr. Juan Manuel Alonso of Spain is the chairman of the medical and anti-doping commission for track and field's international governing body. Says Alonso, "I think it's an excellent idea. I believe the system we have is working and is dissuading athletes from taking drugs, but there are still athletes (cheating) and I think we can start to work on this idea for the future."

Meb Keflezighi, the American who won the silver medal in the Olympic marathon in 2004, says he was tested three times in three weeks leading up to the New York City Marathon earlier this month. He, too, thinks the Certified Drug Free idea makes sense.

"I'm up for it," Keflezighi says. "I'm clean and I work hard, and I would have no problem with it at all, if it can help. If someone is hesitant about doing it, it kind of makes you wonder: 'Why not? What are you afraid of?"

Says Dr. Robert Voy, former chief medical officer of the U.S. Olympic Committee, "I've said it all along: it's time that athletes step up to this issue. It wouldn't just (remove the cloud of suspicion) every time someone sets a world record. It would challenge winners who don't want to participate and explain to the public exactly why they would not do it."

This is precisely what Sander says he's after: clean athletes taking control of their sport, by submitting themselves to unprecedented scrutiny.

"It's going to help athletes regain their sport," Wharton says.

* * *

Travis Tygart, general counsel for USADA, is a firm believer that the current system has been a strong deterrent, but acknowledges that the Catlin/Sander concept is quite likely the next significant innovation in the anti-doping war.

"We all know there are limits to the current drug-testing system," says Tygart, pointing out that the BALCO scandal wasn't triggered by a positive test, but by a coach (Graham) sending a syringe full of a designer steroid (THG) to the USADA office. "We're evolving it, and we're committed to evolving (Still), there's a ton of work that has to be done to ensure that that sort of system could work. The devil is always in the details."

Some detractors discount the viability of the Certified Drug Free plan because it almost inherently assumes guilt, requiring athletes to prove their innocence. Other anti-doping authorities think resources should be shifted from testing to investigative work – establishing a system in which anti-doping experts work closely with law-enforcement officials, the very collaboration that allowed for the unraveling of BALCO. In Australia, the new chief of anti-doping, Richard Ings, is doing precisely this, seeking to investigate the labs and scientists and coaches who are systematically cheating.

Catlin has been in the trenches of drug-testing for more than 20 years – longer than anyone on the planet – and fears that doping in sports, fueled by huge payoffs and a willingness by many to check their morals in the locker room, may be worse than ever.

"Is there going to be another BALCO? Of course there is," Catlin says. "It's a big world out there, and there is a lot of people out there who are evil, who want their athletes up there with the gold because it's their ticket to fame and fortune. I don't see those forces going away anytime soon."

To Catlin, one of the saddest by-products of doping is that clean athletes are the ultimate victims. Anytime an athlete produces a remarkable achievement, he or she is almost automatically suspected of cheating. "It's just so horrible, so profoundly disturbing, that you can work so hard and get where you want to go, and all of a sudden people are saying you are a doper."

Tygart, for his part, believes that the doping problem in sports mirrors the demise of values and ethics modern society has seen in the corporate world, in academia and the church.

"We have to win this fight, not only from a values perspective, but if we have any desire to protect the rights of those who want to play without using drugs," Tygart says.

Tygart and Catlin both believe that there are many honorable athletes who want no part of biochemical shortcuts. Derrick Adkins of the Armory agrees, and believes the prevalence of drugs leads to unscrupulous coaches who tell their athletes they have no chance of even competing if they don't take them.

"There are some modern-day Bob Beamons and Lee Evanses who can compete naturally and run fast naturally," Adkins says. "I know it can be done, because I did it."

There remains a blank spot on the wall where Montgomery's photo used to be at the National Track and Field Hall of Fame, on the first floor of the 168th St. Armory. Sander isn't sure when it will be filled. About all he is sure of is that he doesn't want pro track and field athletes in the building until he knows they are clean, and that an unprecedented anti-doping offensive needs to start forthwith.

"The sport is contaminated, and people who say it isn't have their head in the sand," Sander says. "If we have a chance to dig ourselves out of this mess, we have to do it. The future of track and field depends on it."

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Mike Young

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Mike has a BS in Exercise Physiology from Ohio University, an MSS in Coaching Science from Ohio University & a PhD in Biomechanics from LSU. Additionally, he has been recognized as a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) from the National Strength & Conditioning Association, a Level 3 coach by USA Track & Field, a Level 2 coach by USA Weightlifting.
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