01 February, 2017

European records revisited: how to avoid a witch-hunt

In January 2016 the president of European Athletics, Svein Arne Hansen, announced a number of measures to bring about a “cultural revolution” in athletics. Among the various measures considered was a review of existing records in the light of the doping scandals which reopened the discussion about the legitimacy of certain records.

A few days ago the European Athletics Executive Board appointed a task force to examine the credibility of all European Records. The European Athletics president, speaking about records said that "they should be 100 percent believable and credible. However, there is a view that this is currently not the case with some of the performances on the European Record list". Thus the review came to being. The announcement pointed out that the task force will use all available media to ensure that optimal integrity is applied to this important historical work. Also members of the sporting public were invited to contribute any comments or suggestions.

I am 100 % in favour of reviewing the record list. But this cannot be done on an case per case basis. How can we establish that Mennea's 200 m record is clean while Schönlebe's 400 m one is not? I do, a priori, respect the members of the task force. However if they start to examine the validity of the records one by one the whole process will, to my eyes, lose all legitimacy.

So, what can be done? The only solution I find acceptable is to keep only the records realised after a given date. I am aware that it is difficult to find the ideal date and here is where the task force should concentrate their efforts. For me, given that doping controls got serious in the 90s one can decide that all records prior to 1990 are to be discarded. What would this lead to?

In order to illustrate this proposal I am giving below the list of the records that should change, limiting myself to the "standard", outdoors, ones.

200 m P. Mennea 19.72
400 m T. Schönlebe 44.33
Long Jump R. Emmiyan 8.86
Shot Put U. Timmerman 23.08
Discus Throw Y. Schult 74.08
Hammer Throw Y. Sedykh 86.74

400 m M. Koch 47.60
800 m S. Kratochvilova 1:53.28
1500 m T. Kazankina 3:52.47
100 m Hurdles Y. Donkova 12.21
High Jump S. Konstadinova 2.09
Long Jump G. Chistyakova 7.52
Shot Put T. Lisovskaya 22.83
Discus Throw G. Reinsch 76.80
4x100 m GDR 41.37
4x400 m USSR 3:15.17

Which are the records that would replace them? I start by giving a list taking simply the best, post 90, european performances.

200 m C. Lemaître 19.80
400 m I. Thomas 44.35
Long Jump L. Tsatoumas 8.66
Shot Put D. Storl 22.20
Discus Throw V. Alekna 73.88
Hammer Throw V. Deviatovskiy 84.90

400 m M.J. Pérec 48.25
800 m J. Ceplak 1:55.19
1500 m L. Muir 3:55.22
100 m Hurdles L. Engquist 12.26
High Jump B. Vlasic 2.08
Long Jump H. Drechsler 7.48
Shot Put N. Ostapchuk 21.58
Discus Throw L. Korotkevich 71.30
4x100 m Russia 41.37
4x400 m Russia 3:18.38

Notice that some athletes' names are in red. In all these cases the athlete has, at one point in his/her career, been sanctioned for a doping offense. I do not know what would be the policy adopted by European Athletics in such a case. But let us assume that all performances by doping offenders do not count towards a european record. 
In this case they should be replaced by the following:

Hammer Throw I. Astapkovich 84.62

800 m S. Masterkova 1:55.87
100 m Hurdles S. Kallur 12.49
Shot Put A. Kumbernuss 21.22
4x100 m Germany 41.62

Just in case anybody was wondering there is no known case of doping for the members of the russian 4x400 m women's relay. The same holds true for Astapkovich, Masterkova, Kallur, Kumbernuss and the german 4x100 m team. The case of Drechsler is more subtle. She has never failed a drug test. However there have been allegations as to a possible use of anabolics by Dreschler in the 80s, the BBC even claiming that she has admitted to unknowingly taking prohibited substances under orders from her team doctors. Since I have decided to apply the rule that only convicted doping offenders do not qualify for a european record, I let Drechsler's record stand.

And how about world records? Once the process is underway at the level of Europe it is unthinkable to stop there. In fact the president of European Athletics clearly stated that he was in regular contact with the president of the IAAF on this matter and that the IAAF would monitor closely the work of the european federation before deciding on any actions at the world level.

The task force is expected to report back to the European Athletics Executive Board by September 2017 with their recommended changes and rationale. I cross my fingers for a fair proposal to emerge but I am not overly optimistic.

No comments:

Post a Comment