Usain Bolt

Ato Boldon: Impact of Tyson Gay, Asafa Powell positive tests on Usain Bolt, others in track and field

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In the aftermath of one of the lowest days of track and field since the BALCO scandal, OlympicTalk editor Nick Zaccardi reached out to NBC Olympics track and field analyst Ato Boldon for his observations of what’s next after Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell‘s positive drug tests.

I had people asking me today, “How come Usain Bolt‘s not testing positive if all these other Jamaicans are?”

Wait a minute. They may run for the same country, but they’re not all sleeping in the same bed. Bolt and Powell obviously come from rival camps, Racers and MVP.

Bolt has never had anything remotely around him in either his junior or senior career indicating something like this. It’s not exactly fair to him to say, well, look at all these Jamaicans.

You can’t blame Bolt for something Powell does any more than you could have blamed Gay when Justin Gatlin tested positive in 2006.

I was in the sport at the time of BALCO, and I can name three or four guys who lined up with me on a weekly basis, who I considered my peers, who were very much involved in BALCO. Does that mean I was involved in BALCO? No.

I understand the doping questions are going to be asked of Bolt, and it’s unfortunate.

Another question I was asked, back when Veronica Campbell-Brown‘s positive test was revealed in June, was if I would be surprised by anybody failing a drug test in track and field anymore.

I said no, but it wasn’t because of Campbell-Brown’s case. Let me explain this. The fact is that the culture of track and field, especially right now, is that there are a ton of elite athletes who are scared to lose their legacy forever and lose their medals. They will not go into the steroid/human growth hormone area. They will not risk it.

However, they will take supplements. I took supplements every year of my career. It’s not a coincidence that Campbell-Brown, Powell and Gay, assuming this all comes out as stimulants, that they are all pushing the envelope of 30 or older. They’re trying to extend their careers a little bit.

What you’re seeing is people thinking this supplement is fine and are assured it’s not going to register a positive.

I pride myself on being clued into the sport, but I found out about the trainer for Powell and Sherone Simpson who was questioned in Italy with everybody else. And now reports say the hotel they were staying at has been raided.

The bottom line is people seek out these clubs and seek out these stars. It wasn’t always supplements when I worked out at UCLA back in the day. It was, “I have this new thing, and it’s going to help you train better, recover better.” There’s always something that somebody with a product is trying to pass off on elite athletes.

One change I’d like to see from all of this is a distinction to be made between supplements and stimulants and what we call “the hard stuff” — steroids and human growth hormone.

A lot of people are waking up today, seeing the headlines scream “Gay” and “Powell” and “positive.” The average fan thinks, oh, steroids.

On the Olympic testing level, if steroids or human growth hormone are a nine or a 10, what Powell took is in the four or five range.

Today, there are a lot of pro track and field athletes who are saying, “If I can’t be 100 percent sure this supplement won’t test positive down the road, I’m done. I’m not taking any supplements.”

Sixty percent of athletes are doing that today. The other 40 percent are trusting what they’ve been taking, with no issues, sticking to that script and not adding any new stuff. Now you’ve got a divide.

It’s a joke within the track and field community that civilians probably couldn’t pass a drug test because of what’s in their medicine cabinet. Now is the time to make a big distinction, to allow athletes to take certain supplements up to a certain category. Anything past that level, don’t ask for leniency.

As for punishments, I would be surprised to see any of Gay, Powell or Campbell-Brown get more than six months, certainly nowhere near the possible two years. Go away and atone for your sins this year. We’ll see them back next year, hoping the public and the sponsors forgive them and that they’ve learned the error of their ways.

Adidas suspends its sponsorship of Tyson Gay

Maria Sharapova appears set to miss Tokyo Olympics

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Maria Sharapova, who would have a difficult time qualifying for the Olympics next year, committed to play an event in California the week of the Tokyo Games.

Sharapova is scheduled to play World Team Tennis matches in California during the Olympic tennis events in late July, according to a press release. Sharapova’s longtime agent hasn’t responded to a message seeking confirmation that she is ruling out the Tokyo Games.

Sharapova, 32 and the 2012 Olympic silver medalist, was barred from the Rio Games due to her 15-month meldonium suspension in 2016 and 2017. That alone could rule her ineligible for Tokyo, given the World Anti-Doping Agency’s sanctions against Russia on Monday.

Sharapova is ranked No. 131 after a season shortened by shoulder surgery. She would have to be among the top four ranked Russian women after the French Open in June for possible automatic Olympic qualification. She is currently the 14th Russian.

Olympic eligibility rules include minimum participation requirements in Fed Cup, which Sharapova hasn’t done in this Olympic cycle, though exceptions can be made.

Sharapova’s passion for the Olympics is well documented.

She carried the Russian flag into the London 2012 Opening Ceremony and carried the Olympic flame into Fisht Stadium at the Sochi 2014 Opening Ceremony, where she worked for NBC Olympics.

“It was the one thing that my parents allowed me to watch on TV late into the evening was the Olympics,” Sharapova said in 2017. “I grew up watching figure skating and hockey and a little bit of tennis. … Just capturing the Opening Ceremonies and seeing all the countries and the little hats that they wore, and I, as a little girl, I just imagined that maybe it would be me. But I never, ever thought that I would be carrying the flag.

“I received that [flag] honor in a text message, which is a very Russian way of communicating. I originally thought it was a joke, a big fat joke. Then I showed it to my mother, and she [said], no, they probably wouldn’t joke like that.”

In February 2016, Sharapova entered a Fed Cup tie, despite saying she was injured, in order to receive Olympic eligibility. One month later, her failed drug test was announced.

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Russia banned from Olympics, world champs for 4 years; athletes could compete as neutrals

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Russia is banned from the next two Olympics and other major sports events for four years, though its athletes could still compete without representing the country if cleared by anti-doping authorities.

Russia’s hosting of world championships in Olympic sports also face being stripped after the World Anti-Doping Agency executive committee approved a full slate of recommended sanctions for tampering with a Moscow laboratory database.

Russian athletes will be allowed to compete in major events — including world championships — only if they are not implicated in positive doping tests or their data was not manipulated, according to the WADA ruling. “In this circumstance, they may not represent the Russian Federation,” according to a WADA release.

“While I understand the calls for a blanket ban on all Russian athletes whether or not they are implicated by the data, it was the unanimous view of the CRC [compliance review committee], which includes an athlete, that in this case, those who could prove their innocence should not be punished, and I am pleased that the WADA ExCo [executive committee] agreed with this,” WADA CRC chairman Jonathan Taylor said.

There are 145 unnamed athletes within WADA’s “target group of most suspicious athletes” from 2012-15 who would not be allowed to compete at the Olympics, Taylor said, adding that it’s possible those names will be made public. About one-third of them are still active.

Russia’s anti-doping agency can appeal the decision within 21 days. Russia previously signaled it would appeal the ruling.

“The decision will come into effect only when it becomes final ie when either RUSADA accepts it or it is upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport,” a WADA spokesperson said in an email.

Russia avoided blanket bans for the Rio and PyeongChang Olympics after a state-run doping program was exposed by media and WADA investigations after Russia hosted the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.

Approved Russian athletes competed as neutrals — “Olympic Athletes from Russia” — including in team sports in PyeongChang. Those Russians combined to earn two gold medals (figure skater Alina Zagitova and men’s hockey) and 17 overall, compared to the leading 33 Russia earned at the Sochi Olympics before medals were stripped for doping.

“Will Russian athletes be accepted as Olympic Athletes from Russia?” during the ban, Taylor said. “No, they are neutral athletes, which means not representatives of any country. Not representatives of Russia.”

Going forward, “they cannot use the name of the country in the name of the team,” WADA president-elect Witold Bańka told The Associated Press.

Two of the 168 Russians who competed in PyeongChang failed drug tests and were punished for doping.

More recent evidence shows that Russian authorities tampered with a Moscow laboratory database to hide hundreds of potential doping cases and falsely shift the blame onto whistleblowers, WADA investigators and the International Olympic Committee said last month. “Flagrant manipulation” of the Moscow lab data was “an insult to the sporting movement worldwide,” the IOC said last month.

“Russia was afforded every opportunity to get its house in order … but it chose instead to continue in its stance of deception and denial,” WADA president Craig Reedie said.

Russia will be allowed to participate in the Youth Olympics in Lausanne, Switzerland, that open Jan. 9.

WADA’s inability to fully expel Russia from the Tokyo Olympics and 2022 Beijing Winter Games frustrated the doping watchdog’s vice president.

“I’m not happy with the decision we made today. But this is as far as we could go,” said Linda Helleland, a Norwegian lawmaker who serves on WADA executive committee and has long pushed for a tougher line against Russia. “This is the biggest sports scandal the world has ever seen. I would expect now a full admission from the Russians and for them to apologize on all the pain all the athletes and sports fans have experienced.”

Although the IOC has called for the strongest possible sanctions, it wants those sanctions directed at Russian state authorities rather than athletes or Olympic officials.

“To allow Russia to escape a complete ban is yet another devastating blow to clean athletes, the integrity of sport and the rule of law,” USADA CEO Travis Tygart said in a statement. “And, in turn, the reaction by all those who value sport should be nothing short of a revolt against this broken system to force reform.”

Russia’s Olympic champion women’s handball team is currently competing at the world championships in Japan. Its next match is Tuesday against Montenegro. Russia has been the scheduled host for the world luge championships in Sochi in mid-February.

The “major sports” events that fall under WADA’s sanctions do not include European Championships or other non-world championships events such as tennis’ upcoming Australian Open.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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TIMELINE: Russia’s recent history of sports doping