There are elements in the British media hell bent on tearing down Jamaica’s fragile dominance in track and field. We have seen all season long their stories quoting former head of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Jeff Fahey about getting Jamaica banned from future Olympics and so on and so forth.
Just recently we saw them quote the new head of WADA Sir Craig Reedie questioning the amount of time it was taking to resolve the Asafa Powell case when the case pending against Tyson Gay is still pretty much a mystery. Somehow that has eluded the new WADA head; the fact that Gay’s case has been outstanding for just as long.
It’s almost as if they were waiting for Jamaica to slip up so they could come at us and come at us hard. The latest salvo came from the pen of Daily Mail writer Martha Kelner, who visited Jamaica to ‘investigate’ before she penned her toxic piece, “Bolt dominates the landscape but spate of failed drug tests threatens to turn Jamaica into island of broken dreams”. In it she says that Jamaica is protecting it’s athletes, defending even those who have failed tests. She even suggests that we as a people fear coming out against the athletes because here, it doesn’t cost much to have someone killed.
We really have no one to blame but ourselves for this happening because the reality is we dropped the ball. We always seem to find a way to shoot ourselves in the foot. One sometimes gets the feeling that we are averse to success. We don’t seem to understand how we build on it so we might as well destroy it. So this past summer the scandal surrounding the inefficacy of the Jamaica Anti-Doping Commission (JADCO) gave the world media, and especially media houses like the Mail, the window they needed to begin their rampage like a bull in a China shop.
Much of it has indirectly been aimed at Bolt. The six-time Olympic gold medalist, eight times world champion and world record holder, has walked far and wide of any drug controversy since he blew up in 2008 but repeatedly we see the international media trying to link him to drug peddlers and scandals that have nothing to do with him. A few years ago, blogsite Deadspin tried unsuccessfully to link Bolt with steroid-peddler Angel Hernandez. Hernandez has been linked to Raymond Stewart and Trevor Graham, two Jamaicans banned for life for the alleged involvement in drug scandals, most notably the BALCO scandal that ended the careers of many US athletes including Marion Jones. The piece written by Barry Petchesky claimed Bolt hired Hernandez as a strength coach, an allegation that turned out to be nothing but pure fiction.
It was also during the same period when the infamous Victor Conte questioned the legitimacy of Bolt’s times claiming that it was only season before that Bolt ran 10.03s over the 100m only to run 9.69s in the next. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, I can only say he must have been ignorant of Bolt’s existence prior to 2008, because clearly he was not aware that a 17-year-old Bolt had run 19.93 over the 200m, which already made him a sub-10 sprinter. That and the fact that prior to 2007, Bolt was almost exclusively a 200m sprinter.
As Bolt has continued to dominate, his success has somehow got stuck in the craw of some who believe that there is no way a man from poverty-stricken Jamaica could possibly rise from the adversity to become the greatest sprinter who has ever lived. When Yohan Blake and company tested positive for methyl-hexanamine in 2009, the the headlines globally read “Bolt trainer partner Yohan Blake tests positive for banned stimulant”. That too passed without the link progressing any further. This latest series of stories now, is another desperate attempt to undermine Bolt’s success.
First, it was how Bolt dominated in London but he might not have been tested before he competed at the Olympics, and even though he doesn’t train with MVP track club, nor Veronica Campbell Brown, nor anyone who has been implicated in this latest round of failed tests, Ms Kelner’s opening lines read “A huge image of Usain Bolt sprawls across seven stories of one of the tallest buildings in New Kingston, the business district of Jamaica’s capital” immediately linking the greatest sprinter that ever lived to the arguments raised about testing in Jamaica. Bolt, according to the IAAF, was tested about 10 times in 2012. Only Shelly Ann Frazer Pryce and Asafa Powell, I believe, faced more tests.
The former Claro building from where Bolt’s image hangs is not far away from the Jamaica Pegasus where Ms Kelner stayed during her trip here. I dropped her there following the opening day of the disciplinary hearing for Traves Smikle, the promising young discus thrower who failed a drug test for Hydrocholothiazide (HCTZ). The powerful diuretic has so far this year featured in the failed tests of a number of Jamaica’s top athletes including Veronica Campbell Brown, whose case is still up in the air, months after the Jamaica Athletic Administrative Association (JAAA) recommended a public warning as her punishment for failing a test in May. It’s also featured in the case of Kenneth Edwards, the martial artist who represented Jamaica at the Olympics in London in 2012.
I gave Ms Kelner a ride back from the Jamaica Conference Centre and I made my feelings known about the certain elements in the British media that have been painting Jamaica’s athletes with a broad brush when it comes to cheating.
I pointed out to her that it is easy to call everyone a cheat when sometimes the intent to cheat is not even factored into the equation. I also pointed out to her that JADCO may have dropped the ball as it relates to testing Jamaica’s athletes but why are they overlooking the fact that those same athletes were tested by the IAAF as well as other agencies when the athletes are abroad – in and out of competition. I explained to her that from May each year many of Jamaica’s top athletes are either in Italy or London and they are tested there, so why is all this focus on JADCO when they are not the only ones testing?
I said to her that most of Jamaica’s athletes failed tests for stimulants – Powell, Simpson, Blake and company four years ago. Fraser – Pryce was for a painkiller to ease her discomfort from a dental procedure the IAAF were very aware of. I suggested to her that if she was an athlete and had two cups of coffee, she could very well test positive for caffeine. She replied that she agreed but said that someone has to take responsibility to which I said, ‘Yes, absolutely but how fair is it to continue to paint all of Jamaica’s athletes as cheats when the evidence is not there to do so?”
JADCO, I said, needs to better educate our athletes about how to steer clear of things that could get them into trouble. At the risk of sounding naive, I maintained that the majority of Jamaica’s athletes who have failed tests in the past three or four years, were either naive, careless or reckless. But I do not believe there was specific intent to cheat.
By then we had arrived at the Pegasus and she gave me her card and I didn’t see her again until I read her ‘special investigation’.
My words never meant a thing to her and why should they? She came with one thing in mind and one way or another she was going to get the story she wanted, even if she had to spin it to make it believable.
I suspect the onslaught will continue until JADCO shapes up and starts to test Jamaica’s home-based athletes more aggressively. Maybe then the scrutiny will die down but I suspect it will not go away.
The clock is about to tick over into 2014, which means that Bolt has three years to walk the straight and narrow and another eight after that during which his previous samples will be tested to see if he was using anything illegal during his period of dominance. During those 11 years, it would behoove us here in Jamaica to work to ensure that Blake, Weir, Fraser-Pryce, and the rest of our stars remain clean. This means JADCO has to employ a more aggressive education programme, a more aggressive approach to ensure that all our athletes become virtual experts in what not to take so that they remain clean. Because the minute we slip again, people like Ms Kelner, the Daily Mail, Deadspin and others will once again leap from the shadows like hyenas. Because like the scavengers they are they are all too eager to rip to shreds the accomplishments of our athletes and with them, the reputation of this small Third World nation that dares to punch above its weight.