4 August - Sharp End Shenanigans

A couple of thoughts relating to the sharp end of the sport as the upcoming World Championships in Beijing approach. The UK Athletics team found no place for Andy Vernon in the 10,000 metres, which surely rates as one of the most hard-line omissions of an endurance runner in British athletics history. He ran the IAAF qualifying time (one of the very toughest , as unlike all other track events it has no heats, so even fewer athletes can participate in the straight final of around 25 men), in a high level international  race which he WON; he is a double current European medallist at 5k and 10k; and, within the period for entering the World Champs, he has just won another 5000m race in a swift 13.20. There are so many clued up and objective people in the sport who disagree with his non-selection and the only grounds for it seem to be that UK Athletics doubt he is likely to finish in the Top 8 – their most pointless selection criterion. Big deal – a UK athlete may place 9th or lower in the world championships. I doubt there is another country on earth which would have chosen not to select Vernon for the event given his performances and without 3 higher ranked runners. So across the longer endurance events of 5k; 10k. marathon and steeplechase, UK is sending one solitary UK-born male runner, Tom Farrell, who is essentially USA-based since his University days. Mo Farah of course will defend his titles and looks in great shape to do so.

 Even the more cynical fans have been dismayed at the recent ‘leaked’ disclosure of the vast number of ‘suspicious’ blood samples from endurance athletes winning medals at global level. The numbers are large and the nations with the largest volume of dubious samples are the usual bad apples of Russia (by far the world leader in this field) followed by Morocco, Ukraine, Turkey, Greece and Spain. The Spanish record I find particularly galling as a big fan of Spanish endurance and the coaching and quality of its best athletes. It’s true that a suspicious sample doesn’t prove a doping violation, and factors such as altitude training, hormonal issues and even pregnancy can all create abnormal blood data, albeit a male using the pregnancy card will have a weak case. However,  there is a very tight correlation between the nations with the highest numbers of questionable samples and those that have the poorest records of endurance athletes banned for doping, so the only conclusion seems to be that too many of their biggest hitters have got away with cheating even with the tests in place prior to 2012. Since the biological passports have been introduced, it’s notable that the likes of Russian and Turkish women, and  to some degree Moroccans have been less prominent at global elite level.