Hubert Lawrence argues against ‘painting with a broad brush’
You can see why UK Athletics would suggest an erasure of all track and field world records. Not only does it appear that some athletes are tempted to boost their performances illegally, but now there are also alleged incidences of corruption in high places. It’s a matter of trust.With changes in the testing regime and prosecution of those proven to be corrupt, trust could eventually be restored. It’s all nice and neat. The only trouble is the cost to those athletes who set records fairly and would yet lose those marks because of the ‘bandooloo’ of others.There’s a real danger that the swathe of the broad brush will colour everybody dirty. That isn’t fair. Why should the likes of Usain Bolt, Michael Johnson, David Rudisha, Hicham El Guerrouj, Kenenisa Bekele, Aries Merritt, Mike Powell, Jonathan Edwards, Renaud Lavillenie, Jan Zelenzy and Ashton Eaton lose records that most people believe they set through hard work and talent?The same goes for performers like Tirunesh and Genzebe Dibaba, Galina Chistyakova, Elena Isinbaeva, Inessa Kravets, Stefka Kostadinova, Barbora Spotakova, Anita Wlodarczyk and Jackie Joyner-Kersee.It’s probably fairer to wipe records away when there is proof of evil doing.EASTGERMANYTRAVESTYSadly, the sport has been slow to wipe away the performances of the former East Germany, even though formerly secret documents pinpoint athletes like 400-metre world record holder Marita Koch as subjects of its state-organised steroid use programme.Koch, her East German teammates Marlies Gohr, Silke Gladisch and Heike Drechsler, and American Diane Williams, beat Merlene Ottey out of three World Championships gold medals in 1983 and 1987.Williams later confessed to using illegal performances at the time when she was third in the 1983 World Championships 100m behind Gohr and Koch and ahead of Ottey.As a general principle, once there is proof, as in the case of the East Germans, the record books should be wiped clean and medals re-assigned.Ironically, the UK Athletics suggestion has been rebuffed by one of their own. World marathon record holder Paula Radcliffe has always been a staunch opponent of those who use of performance enhancing drugs. She believes the ‘wipe all records’ suggestion goes over board.It is easier, in times of trouble, to throw the baby out with the bath water.As important as it is to stop the rot, it’s equally important to do it justly and not penalise those who did their great feats by dint of hard work, astute coaching and the gifts they were born with.Even now, in this time where trust is stretched to the limit, those athletes are an inspiration to us all.n Hubert Lawrence has made notes at track side since 1980.