Outrunning The Past

The book that nails Barry Bonds as a steroid user also delves into track and field, a sport that can teach baseball something about denial
March 27, 2006

Baseball has asad new phrase: the Steroid Era, three words damning the power-hittingexplosion that began in the 1990s and lasted more than a decade. The best-madecase that performance-enhancing drugs played a major role in the era's inflatedhomer totals comes in Game of Shadows, by San Francisco Chronicle reportersMark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, which details the behavior of Barry Bondsfrom 1998 to 2003. (The book, excerpted in the March 13 issue of SPORTSILLUSTRATED, will be in stores this week.)

Shadows alsolands heavy blows on track and field, a sport that has long been conductedunder suspicion--sometimes confirmed--of widespread steroid use. But incontrast to the book's eye-opening deconstruction of Bonds, which includednumerous previously unpublished revelations, Shadows builds its case againsttrack and field by seamlessly weaving together material already seen in theChronicle and other publications, including SI.

The result is adispiriting portrayal of a sport ruled by desperation and deceit, populated bytalented athletes willing to compromise their health and their integrity forthe smallest edge. The book names more than a dozen world-class track athletes,including several Olympic and world champions, and leaves little doubt thattrack has endured its own Steroid Era.

While this makesfor an intriguing read and may shock mainstream sports fans who still cling tothe myth of Olympic-sports purity, it is old business within a sport that hasbeen dealing with steroid issues for at least three decades. And while thebaseball revelations in Shadows unmask the game's preeminent superstar, thetrack athletes named are former stars who are either banned, retired or longpast their prime. The steroid generation the book identifies is currentlyexiting the sport en masse.

Among the biggestnames implicated in Shadows are Marion Jones, 30, who won five medals at the2000 Olympics (and who has repeatedly denied using performance-enhancingsubstances) but whose career has been in steep decline since she ranembarrassingly slow times in 2005 and failed to make the U.S. national team;former 100-meter world-record holder Tim Montgomery, 31, who retired inDecember after receiving a two-year ban for steroid use, which he denies; KelliWhite, 28, the 2003 100- and 200-meter world champion, who admitted to steroiduse and accepted a two-year suspension in 2004; Regina Jacobs, 42, whoqualified for four Olympic teams and won 24 national titles but who in 2003 wasone of the first four U.S. athletes to test positive for the designer steroidknown as the Clear; and Zhanna Pintusevich Block, 33, of the Ukraine, who upsetJones in the 100 meters at the 2001 world championships but has not runworld-class times in more than two years. (Block has never tested positive forperformance-enhancing drugs.)

These were hardlythe first track and field athletes whose performances bear the scent of thepharmacy. Between 1983 and '88 seven existing women's world records and twomen's marks were established by athletes from then Soviet-bloc nations, most ofwhich have since been found to have conducted systematic doping programs. Thecurrent shot put mark was set in 1990 by Randy Barnes of the U.S., who testedpositive for steroids less than three months after establishing his record.

Since 1993 therecord in the men's 10,000 meters has been reduced by a remarkable 50 seconds;it had fallen by only 31 seconds in the previous 28 years. The 5,000 recorddropped by 20 seconds from 1994 to 2004 after coming down only 20 seconds inthe previous 28 years. None of the athletes responsible for these dramaticimprovements have tested positive for a banned substance, but cynics will notethat these accomplishments have coincided with the emergence of thered-blood-cell-boosting EPO, which has only been detectable by tests since2000.

Because disbeliefhas been part of the culture of the sport for years, track has already dealtwith many questions that baseball now faces. The matter of asterisks, forexample, has been addressed. Track has repeatedly discussed--and for now,dismissed--rewriting its records. It also has had a firmly entrenched drugpolicy that carries severe penalties; the problem is that like every othersport, it just can't keep up with the technology available to the dopers.

The currentgeneration of U.S. sprint stars--Olympic gold medalists Justin Gatlin (100meters) and Jeremy Wariner (400 meters) and world champions Lauryn Williams(100 meters) and Allyson Felix (200 meters)--are mercifully absent from thepages of Shadows. They are the future, as track soldiers on again, slightlyunder the radar of public outrage. This book reminds us that they are cursed torun under suspicion.

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''It's fun to come here and see what possibly couldhave happened [in Turin]. --BODE MILLER, FOR THE RECORD, PAGE 22


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