Track & Field

Smith: Drug cheats one step ahead

  • Smith just missed out on qualifying for the final in London (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Tyrone Smith admits it often feels like he is being punished as a “clean” athlete in a sport blighted by drug cheats.

The long jumper sometimes wonders about the Olympic finals in which he might have qualified, the podiums he could have reached, not to mention the endorsement deals he should have secured if his sport was a level playing field.

Smith has long accepted that athletes like himself do not always have a fair and equal chance of success while doping remains a dire problem.

Competing alongside proven cheats or those outwitting the system can be soul-destroying, however.

After failing to qualify for the long jump final at the World Athletics Championships in London last Friday, when his best leap of 7.88 metres left him agonisingly short of the top 12, Smith took to Twitter to vent his spleen.

“This is gonna sound bitter and yes I’m a bit bitter, but if there were only clean athletes jumping today, I’d be in that final,” he wrote.

The three-times Olympian stands by his outburst and told The Royal Gazette: “It’s frustrating and heartbreaking at times. As a clean athlete you go through your whole career never taking anything you’re not supposed to take. It seems like you do everything right and yet it doesn’t always work out well for you in the end.

“It just really breaks your heart when you’re doing everything you can and doing it correctly. You just have to be happy that you’re doing it completely clean.

“The Bermuda Sport Anti Doping Authority test me all of the time and I’m proud of that. They’ve tested me at my job, at my home, at the track — it’s no problem. Unfortunately it’s almost impossible for the sport to be clean. You’re always going to have cheats who are ahead of the testers.”

For athletes like Smith, it is difficult to trust the system given the Russian doping scandal, which resulted in the country being banned from competing in athletics at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics last summer, while there is little or no testing in countries such as Ethiopia and Kenya.

And he admits it was a gut punch to clean athletes when the IAAF allowed certain Russians to compete as neutrals at the World Championships, despite the country’s continued suspension because of widespread and systematic doping.

“What’s frustrating is that just a week before the championships they announced 12 more [Russian] athletes to compete,” Smith said.

“Some of these athletes had more or less disappeared since the championships were in Moscow [in 2013] and hadn’t really competed outside Russia since then. I happen to know a Russian athlete — one of the very few who doesn’t train in Russia — who went home a few months ago and told me, ‘Man, nothing has changed; it’s still the same’.

“You have also athletes from other nations who never leave their countries until championship time and they’re subject only to their country’s testing standards.

“A lot of those countries are trying to get medals and they will do whatever they need to do to get them.”

Smith believes the authorities are still a long way from catching the real amount of dopers and unless there is more effective use of resources, that’s unlikely to change any time soon.

“If you look at an athlete who cheats but doesn’t get caught, they’ve probably made hundreds of thousands of dollars from prize money and endorsements from winning medals,” said the Houston-based athlete.

“When Wada [the World Anti-Doping Agency] catches someone, it doesn’t get any money from that — it’s funded by federations and governments.

“If it doesn’t have more incentive to catch dopers then it will always be behind because someone is always willing to pay for the next cutting-edge designer steroid.

“There are athletes who will pay for that designer weapon and pay for someone to make sure it’s administered to them correctly. The testers will always be behind until they have as much money to spend as the athlete who is trying to beat them.”

Despite being a staunch anti-doping advocate, Smith expresses sympathy for athletes who are part of state-sponsored doping programmes.

“When you have the Russian Federation putting pressure on athletes, saying, ‘You must win a certain amount of medals or people will lose jobs and stop getting funding’, that’s what’s going to happen,” said Smith, who broke his own Bermudian record with a leap of 8.34 at the Tom Tellez Invitational Meet in Houston in May.

“It starts with the federations and governments and what they truly care about. Do they care about a clean sport, or do they care about winning medals.

“The majority of them care about medals and don’t care what you do to get them as long as you don’t get caught.”

Smith also highlights the hypocrisy of fans who demand superhuman feats from athletes but ruthlessly condemn those found guilty of cheating.

“I don’t think the fans care as much as they claim,” Smith said. “I’m a clean athlete who has been negatively affected by dirty athletes, but if you keep asking people to do superhuman things then they’re going to do what it takes to do them.”

One drugs cheat the British public, at least, are unwilling to forgive is Justin Gatlin, the United States sprinter, who caused an upset by defeating Jamaica’s Usain Bolt in the 100 final in London.

Gatlin’s victory was greeted by booing from the crowd, a reaction Smith believes was both unwarranted and uneducated. “I didn’t think the boos were necessary,” he said. “I understand the discontent with Justin Gatlin, but I know the majority of people don’t know what actually happened.

“They call him a two-times drug cheat and that’s what the public hears from the British media, so that’s what people are booing. Justin Gatlin was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder when he was nine and was prescribed Adderall.

“The amphetamine in the Adderall was still in his system when they tested him as a teenager. He didn’t fight the ban and the IAAF reinstated him within two months. They could see it was an unfortunate situation.

“The second offence, it was testosterone, it was steroids. He has an explanation as to what happened and it’s not my place to comment.”

To put Gatlin’s offence into context, Smith added: “There’s a list of the 30 fastest 100 metres times ever and only nine were achieved by a clean athlete. All nine were run by Usain Bolt.”

Although Smith knows his career has suffered as an honest athlete, he takes comfort and pride that his achievements have been as a drug-free performer.

“I know people who have retroactively been banned for testing positive,” said Smith, who has qualified for the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, Australia, next year.

“A Cuban athlete [Wilfredo Martínez], a good friend of mine — which makes it even harder — won gold at the 2008 CAC Championships in Cali, Colombia, in 2008 ... I got the bronze.

“He went on to make the Olympic final in Beijing whereas I was the first or second guy out. His samples were tested again this past fall and he was dirty at that time.

“Maybe I would have make the final in Beijing, my first Olympic Games, and you never know what happens when someone gets to the final.

“You definitely think, if I had those type of ‘resources’ I could be jumping 8.50 and everyone would think I was the greatest long jumper in the world.

“It’s just not something I’m willing to do. I’m willing to sacrifice everything for the sport, but I don’t want to die because of it. I don’t want it to affect me later on in life.”