LAST LAP — March

HERE’S THIS MONTH’S collection of short takes on generally off-track activities that have gone a long way towards shaping the way the sport is headed (the COVID-19 crisis is covered here).

Cleared by CAS, Olympian Jarrion Lawson is ready to get back into the sprint and long jump wars. (ERROL ANDERSON/THE SPORTING IMAGE)

Jarrion Lawson’s Exile Ended

One of the world’s most promising young sprinters/jumpers, Rio LJ 4th-placer Jarrion Lawson saw his career halted in the summer of ’18 when he turned in a positive test for the anabolic steroid Trenbolone. In June of the next year, the AIU, having rejected the Arkansas alum’s claim that it came from eating tainted beef, handed him a 4-year ban. “That hit me hard,” Lawson told the AP. “I got to a place where there was nothing I wanted to do. I didn’t want to practice. It was hard to eat. But I just re-tuned myself and told myself I was going to control what I could control and stay dedicated.”

For the next 19 months he trained faithfully every day while his case made its way through CAS, which in early March ruled in his favor on the contaminated-meat count and cleared him to return to competition. Said Lawson, now 25, “Through this process I have uncovered some major flaws in the doping-control process and some unethical people within the system. I intend to pursue recourse for self-redemption, but also—and more importantly—so that this never happens to a clean athlete ever again.”



Blanka Vlašić Still Rehabbing

Even before the scope of the C19 problem was known, Croatian high jump star Blanka Vlašić had announced that she would be skipping Tokyo as she continues to fight her way back from a serious ankle problem. Now 36, the 2-time world champ hasn’t jumped since Rio. Explained her father Joško, “The bone is no longer inflamed, the Achilles tendon is not yet well, but her general condition is fine and she is training. We estimate that continuous jumps over 2m [6-6¾] are not a reality at this time. She will continue her career anyway, but now she does not want to sell her reputation and does not want to jump below 2m.”


What About Dope-Testing In A C19 World?

Obviously, business as usual is off the table in the realms of ongoing sampling of athletes. Ben Sandford, chair of the WADA Athlete Committee, said, “In these difficult times, we must all do our part to stay safe, keep others safe and look out for each other. We are athletes, but first of all we are human. It is important that we listen to our Government health authorities and do our part to minimise the likelihood of transmission and impact on society… Athletes should be aware that testing can continue where appropriate, where possible and with the necessary health and hygiene protocols in place. It is important to ensure the integrity of the overall system is maintained as much as possible.”

A USADA statement said, in part, “We are taking a rational and adaptable approach to ensure the continuation of our essential mission in a safe and healthy way. Effective immediately, USADA will focus only on mission-critical testing of athletes in sports still competing, and as absolutely needed for those preparing for the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games to ensure their rights are upheld and their reputations protected.”

Both Canada and Russia put their testing programs on hold in late March, with Canada clarifying, “Athletes will continue to be required to file and maintain their whereabouts information and remain subject to the Canadian Anti-Doping Program.”


Athletes Get Warnings On Testing

Although Britain has scaled back on its testing, UKAD head Nicole Sapstead had cautionary words for athletes who might be tempted to dope. “There will always be a minority that will seek to dope,” she told the BBC. “Whether that is now—when they think they are effectively off the radar of national anti-doping organizations—or at any other time, my message to them is very, very clear: we will continue to process intelligence. We will continue to monitor whereabouts, we will continue to monitor the raft of information we have available to us, such as the athlete biological passports. All of this helps us to gain a picture of what an athlete might be doing during this time. If they think they are going to get away with it then they are strongly, strongly mistaken. And at the time when anti-doping organizations start to ramp up their activity again, we will come after them.”

WADA president Witold Bańka told Reuters that athletes shouldn’t backslide, saying, “If you are a cheat we will catch you, for sure we… will …catch you.”


Russia Admits Fakery In Lysenko Case

In this space last month we noted that Yevgeniy Yurchenko had taken over as the new head of Russia’s track federation. One of his first moves was to admit to the federation’s participation in a scheme which supplied fake documents to high jumper Danil Lysenko as an alibi for missing tests. “I very much hope that, even belatedly, our actions make it possible to remove from the agenda the matter of expelling RusAF from World Athletics, and will make it possible to start the procedure of reinstating RusAF in World Athletics as a full member, and also to resume the process of issuing neutral status to our athletes,” Yurchenko said. Lysenko, the ’18 World Indoor gold medalist, has yet to be formally suspended by WA.


More Olympic Medals To Be Reassigned?

Two Olympic gold medalists from Russia, both retired, appeared on the latest AIU list of athletes who have cases pending before CAS, related to the ’16 McLaren Report. Facing a heavy penalty are ’08 high jump winner Andrey Silnov and ’12’s 400H champ Natalya Antyukh. Two other Russian women were also named, each of whom was a World Ranker in her prime: hammer thrower Oksana Kondratyeva and middle-distance runner Yelena Soboleva (a second offense). Additionally, Slovenia announced that javelin thrower Martina Ratej, 7th in ’12 and a 4-time World Champs finalist, has been suspended based on a London retest.


A Tough Time To Be Out & About In Kenya

It’s nice to see that Kenya is being tough about C19 restrictions, but some athletes may not think so. At the end of March, police arrested a dozen runners (10 Kenyans, 2 foreigners) while training in a group in fabled Iten. The Kenyan federation intervened on behalf of the athletes, who were given a warning and released from the police station. The federation had earlier ordered all training camps in the country to be closed indefinitely and athletes instructed to maintain social distancing and train individually.

Also nicked by Kenyan police was former marathon WR holder Wilson Kipsang, who was one of 21 people arrested for drinking in a pub after the 7PM curfew. Kipsang, who is currently suspended on a doping violation, was released after paying a fine of about $50. ◻︎

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