The list reads like a Who’s Who among the world’s best sprinters:
Jamaican Asafa Powell, the former world-record holder at 100 meters.
American champion Tyson Gay, who went out of his way to promote himself as an anti-drug athlete.
Jamaican Sherone Simpson, who has a gold and two silver Olympic medals to her credit.
Word came Sunday that all three had failed drug tests. “A sad day,” one former track official called it – and certainly a day that punctured the myth that the oft-troubled sport has cleaned up its act.
“I am not now – nor have I ever been – a cheat,” Powell said in a message released through his Twitter account.
The 30-year-old Powell, whose 100-meter record of 9.74 stood until Usain Bolt beat it in 2008, was calling for an investigation as to how a stimulant called oxilofrine entered his system and caused a positive test at Jamaica’s national championships in June.
Simpson, who tested positive for the same stimulant, said she “would not intentionally take an illegal substance of any form into my system.”
Gay, the American-record holder in the 100, was more contrite, though he wasn’t taking full responsibility.
“I don’t have a sabotage story. I don’t have any lies. I don’t have anything to say to make this seem like it was a mistake or it was on USADA’s hands, someone playing games,” said Gay, who fought back sobs in a telephone interview. “I don’t have any of those stories. I basically put my trust in someone and I was let down.”
Gay, who won the 100 and 200 meters at U.S. nationals last month, said he would pull out of the world championships.
The 30-year-old, who won the world championship in the 100, 200 and 4×100 relay in 2007, took part in the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s “My Victory” program – in which athletes volunteer for enhanced testing to prove they’re clean – and his results never raised red flags. Until, that is, an out-of-competition test May 16, where results came back positive for a banned substance, the identity of which neither he nor USADA CEO Travis Tygart would reveal.
Gay said his “B” sample will be tested soon, possibly as early as this week.
Generally, first-time offenders are hit with two-year bans, though reduced penalties are sometimes given if there are extenuating circumstances, which both Gay and his coach, Lance Brauman, said there were.
“He mentioned that he (trusted) someone and that person was untrustworthy at the end the day,” Brauman said. “Maybe I’m naive, but I believe him.”
Max Siegel, the CEO of USA Track and Field, said in a statement: “It is not the news anyone wanted to hear, at any time, about any athlete.”
Siegel’s predecessor at USATF, Doug Logan, called it “a sad day.”
“But I don’t see anything on the horizon that says this will be abated in any way,” Logan told AP.
The former CEO recently wrote a column arguing the fight against performance-enhancing drugs in sports should be ceded because, in his view, anti-doping rules make very little headway against a problem that never seems to disappear. He said he wasn’t surprised when he heard about Sunday’s onslaught of failed tests and didn’t put much credence into the excuses and apologies from those who came up positive.
“Over the course of time, culture has bred certain defenses,” Logan said. “The reality is, people are using substances to reengineer their bodies or heal better. That’s reality.”
Four-time Olympic medalist and sprint analyst Ato Boldon also called it a “difficult day because track and field fans are left not knowing what to believe.”
“Everyone has that favorite, that one guy, ‘Hey, this is the guy I’ve always been a supporter of his,'” Boldon said. “Asafa and Tyson are certainly two people who a lot of track fans have loved and admired for a long time.”
While Gay’s case gets sorted out on U.S. turf, the positives recorded by Powell and Simpson are part of a bigger doping crisis hitting Jamaica, the home of Bolt and the country that has won 28 medals over the last three Olympics.
“This does not auger well for track and field globally,” said Rashalee Mitchell, a social sciences lecturer at Jamaica’s campus of the University of the West Indies. “It is fast serving to taint … our proud and long-standing reputation of producing strong, excellent, raw, homegrown talent that has excelled on the world stage without any drug-related enhancement.”