July 30, 2005

Doping News: No Rules for the Relays?

Although I try to keep up with all the latest news from the fight against doping, I sometimes get a bit bored with it. I'm sure many of you do, too.

Then along comes a juicy story like this one to get me heated up nicely.

After a lengthy appeals process, the CAS has decided that the US 4 × 400m men's relay team can keep their 2000 Olympic gold medals. Well, five of them can. You can read the whole decision here (PDF); it's a complicated case, but I'll give you the summary.

In 1999, Jerome Young tested positive for nandrolone. The USATF exonerated him and did not report the offense to the USOC or the IAAF. The IAAF later discovered the infraction, and asked the CAS to overturn the USATF decision. The CAS ruled in favour of the IAAF, who subsequently suspended Young after the fact; his results from 1999 and 2000 were annulled.

In Sydney, Jerome Young ran in the preliminary rounds of the 4 × 400m relay, but not in the final. The IAAF stripped the US of their gold medal in that relay, ruling that the team had included an ineligible athlete (Young). The appeal of that decision was the subject of the latest ruling.

In their original decision (and in this appeal), the IAAF argued logically

that the natural consequence under the relevant IAAF Rules of the annulment of an individual’s results was the annulment of any relay result in which the athlete had competed. Every member of a winning relay team is awarded a gold medal whether they participate only in the preliminary rounds or in the final. This shows that a relay is one event composed of the preliminary rounds and a final. If an athlete is ineligible to compete as part of the team in a preliminary round, the team’s performance in the overall event must be affected.

The "relevant IAAF Rule" is IAAF Rule 59.4:

If an athlete is found to have committed a doping offence and this is confirmed after a hearing or the athlete waives his right to a hearing, he shall be declared ineligible. In addition, where testing was conducted in a competition, the athlete shall be disqualified from that competition and the result amended accordingly. His ineligibility shall begin from the date of suspension. Performances achieved from the date on which the sample was provided shall be annulled.

It seems pretty clear to me; Jerome Young was ineligible to run in Sydney, so his results were annulled. One of those results came in the semifinal of the relay, which means that the relay team used an ineligible athlete in qualifying for the final. Which means that the US relay team was not eligible to compete in the race that they won.

The CAS essentially let the US team off the hook on a technicality, deciding that there was no IAAF rule in place to cover this situation:

IAAF Rule 59.4 plainly deals with, and is plainly intended to deal only with, the situation of "an athlete" who is found to have committed a doping offence. It speaks to "the athlete" being disqualified and to the period of "his" ineligibility as well as to the annulment of his performances achieved as from the date on which his positive sample was provided. To take a rule that plainly concerns individual ineligibility and the annulment of individual results, and then to stretch and complement and construe it in order that it may be said to govern the results achieved by teams, is the sort of legal abracadabra that lawyers and partisans in the fight against doping in sport can love, but in which athletes should not be required to engage in order to understand the meaning of the rules to which they are subject.

This ruling can be extended to an absurd conclusion. Imagine that three of the members of the US relay team had tested positive for steroids on the spot at the 2000 games. (This is not that farfetched a scenario, actually; Alvin and Calvin Harrison are both currently serving two-year bans for doping infractions, while Young is serving a lifetime ban for a second offense.) Then by the logic of the CAS ruling, those three athletes could be stripped of their gold medals, but the team result would be allowed to stand! "Legal abracadabra," indeed.

One of the supporting points of "evidence" in the CAS argument is that the IAAF rules have recently been expanded to explicitly cover this kind of case. In the eyes of the CAS, this modification is equivalent to an admission that the case was not covered under the old rules. This is again ridiculous. Essentially, the CAS is arguing that the relay events were not covered by any rules about doping!

I do feel some sympathy for the innocent members of the US relay team (assuming that there are some); but certainly no more than I feel for the other competitors in the race. As the IAAF noted in its original decision to strip the gold medal,

The principle of fairness affected all athletes; not only those in the USA Team, but also those who competed in the team that finished 9th in the semi-finals and never made it to an Olympic Final and those who competed in the [Bahamas] team that finished 4th in the final and never obtained an Olympic medal.

This little piece of wisdom is not evident in the CAS ruling.

July 29, 2005

2014 Application Deadline Passes

Yesterday was the deadline for submission of bids to host the 2014 winter Olympic games.

Seven bids were received: Almaty, Kazakhstan; Borjomi, Georgia; Jaca, Spain; Pyeongchang, South Korea; Salzburg, Austria; Sochi, Russia, and Sofia, Bulgaria. None of these cities has ever hosted a winter Olympics. All except Borjomi have submitted unsuccessful bids before. Pyeongchang and Salzburg were finalists for 2010, with Vancouver ultimately edging out Pyeongchang in a very close vote.

The IOC may trim the list of seven to a short list of finalists in June 2006. I think, given this list, that you can count on it.

IOC Sport Vote Still Super-Duper Secret

The leaders of the International Softball Federation would like to know exactly how many votes they got when they were removed from the Olympic programme.

But they don't want to know so badly that they're willing to reveal the results to everybody else:

The International Olympic Committee agreed to release the sealed voting figures to the U.S.-based federation, but the softball body declined because the totals would have been given to all IOC members. (AP via The State)

So for now, still super-duper-secret; but I now have some hope that these voting results might some day be released. Stay tuned.

July 28, 2005

On the Olympics and Terrorism

Following indignant words from the paladins of the Olympic movement, after a little mournful Beethoven, the Games of Munich went on. It's an article of faith that The Games Must Go On. For the 30 years since, the Olympics — indeed, all sports events of any great scale — have carried on, even if permanently altered by the awareness that terrorists could again strike.
— Alexander Wolff, "When the Terror Began," Time, 2002.

Let me tell you a personal story.

In 1996, I competed at the summer Olympics in Atlanta. In the wee hours of Saturday, July 27, about halfway through those games, a bomb exploded in Centennial Olympic Park, killing one person and injuring more than one hundred others.

I'm happy to report that my own part in this story was not all that exciting, since my brother and I were a safe distance away, and my sister, my parents, and my fiancée had not yet arrived in Atlanta. Of course, the Games went on. Nevertheless, it did have a sobering effect on what was otherwise one of the greatest experiences of my life. I had friends on the Canadian Olympic team who were not such a safe distance away. My family did go to Olympic Park during their visit, and I did eventually go to Atlanta, and the shadow of that bombing was never completely wiped away.

We did all feel a lot safer after a few days, though, when the press leaked the story that an Olympic Park security guard was the prime suspect. Of course, that sense of security was based on a falsehood, since it turned out that Richard Jewell was innocent. Unfortunately for him, he wan't publicly cleared until October, and he has never really recovered from the accusations — yet another victim of the Olympic bombing.

The real culprit was an American anti-abortion terrorist named Eric Rudolph. Rudolph was back in the news this spring. In April he reached a plea bargain over the Olympic bomb and three others, escaping the death penalty as a reward for his confession. He's now serving four consecutive life sentences, without possibility of parole.

Now Eric Rudolph may be evil, but he is certainly no genius, as you can quickly see if you read his manifesto. The description of events leading up to the Olympic bombing is particularly infuriating. This self-described "warrior" was too cowardly to provide the necessary warning to the authorities. Innocent bystanders were killed or injured because of his weakness and lack of planning, not because of any intelligence on his part. (As a side effect of this cowardice, he also failed to propagate his hateful message, thereby rendering the attack completely pointless even in his own deranged value system.)

Prior to Eric Rudolph's botched but deadly attempt at disrupting the 1996 games, there had been only one other serious terrorist attack at the Olympics: the kidnapping and murder of 11 Israelis by the Palestinian group Black September on September 5 and 6, 1972. Alexander Wolff's Time article "When the Terror Began" (quoted and linked above) gives a gripping account of the attack, and a fascinating historical look at the security preparations that surround the Olympic games.

Like Rudolph's 1996 attack, the 1972 attack was not really directed at the Olympic games. Although it is clear in both cases that the terrorists had little sympathy for the Olympic movement, the games served mainly to heighten worldwide publicity about the attacks. Unlike Rudolph's half-baked paranoid delusion, however, the Black September operation was fully planned and rehearsed, well financed, and executed by suicidal fanatics. In the end, there were no survivors. All eleven Israeli athletes and coaches were killed, along with all five of the terrorists and one German police officer. (Israel later hunted down eleven more terrorists in retaliation, an operation which will be the subject of Steven Spielberg's next movie.) The 1972 attack was the deadliest act of Olympic terrorism ever.

Or was it? What about the recent events in London? The deadly train and bus bombings of July 7, which killed 52 people and injured more than 700, were set off the morning after London won the right to host the 2012 Olympics. Most commentators are playing that down as a coincidence, speculating that the bombings were actually linked to the G8 summit starting in Scotland that day. Sean at sportsBabel presents an alternative possibility, however:

Is it not at least possible that this is related to London winning the rights to host the 2012 Olympics? That terrorist cells were poised in each of the five finalist cities, each ready to detonate the opening volley in the second battle of what Baudrillard considers to be World War 4? Each ready to deliver this semiotic payload: You are not safe here … We are coming after the globalized Olympic spectacle … Sponsors be warned. That London was ultimately successful in winning the bid … while all eyes were on Geldof and the G8ers rocking the free world not far down the road, is sheer providence for the terrorists in this hypothetical scenario, since the televisual politics has everyone looking in the wrong direction for the "reason" why.

Could this be true? And if so, are we going to see more and more attacks directed at the Olympics? Are we seeing that already? A few weeks before the IOC decision, the Basque separatist group Eta set off a bomb of their own at one of the proposed Olympic venues in Madrid. In Greece, there have been three bombs in the last eight months, specifically targeting construction companies that profited from the 2004 Olympics.

If this is more than a coincidence, then we are seeing a new and frightening development: attacks that are are primarily directed at damaging the Olympic games. Are the Olympic games becoming a new front in this growing war?

July 21, 2005

Olympic Host Voting Analysis

So everybody knows by now that London is going to be the host of the 2012 summer Olympics. I don't know if you happened to catch the broadcast of the voting, with Jacques Rogge opening the final envelope with trembling hands … such drama! The IOC sure knows how to put on a show.

London edged out Paris on the fourth ballot, which was a mild upset according to the experts. I don't know how the experts came up with their predictions, since there isn't much to base them on, but that was the general consensus. Eight months ago I made my own prediction, which was rather vague about the actual winner, but got the rest exactly right:

Moscow has got to be considered the longest shot here … New York seems to have two fairly significant political problems … That leaves one of the big three EU capitals. The winner will be the group that can win votes from outside of Europe.

The result was met with joy, despair, and excuse-making, which just proves that human beings really, really want to win any prize that they have to compete for, regardless of its value.

(For the second time in a week, I'll put in a plug for King Kaufman at Salon.com, who treated the whole thing with the appropriate amount of gravity — which is to say, very little.)

It's slightly amusing to look at what actually happened to the delegate votes through the different rounds. In case you aren't aware, the host city voting is conducted in multiple rounds until one candidate receives a majority of the votes. If no candidate receives a majority, then the lowest-scoring candidate is eliminated and the vote is repeated. Also, delegates from countries with candidate cities can't vote until their cities are eliminated.

Figure 1

Figure 1 - 2012 Host city voting

Figure 1 — 2012 summer Olympic host city voting by round (click to enlarge).

Figure 1 (inset right) shows what happened in this very close vote.

In the first round, the votes were split quite evenly, with Moscow (as expected) coming up a little bit short.

The New York delegation was probably hoping that some regional politics would come into play here. The logic would go something like this: the delegates who wanted an Olympics in Moscow would recognize that a 2012 win for a European city would shut that continent out until at least 2020. Therefore, they would throw their support behind New York, leaving Moscow as an option for 2016. Supporters of each European capital, as their city was eliminated, would use the same logic, and voilà — victory for New York.

But it's a far-fetched theory. Who, other than the Russians, feels that strongly about an Olympics in Moscow?

At any rate, the plan failed spectacularly. In the second round, there were 15 delegates who voted for Moscow, plus the three Russian delegates, who were "free agents." There's no evidence that any of them voted for New York; in fact, at least three of the delegates who voted for New York in the first round abandoned them in the second! Perhaps they had voted for New York the first time just as a nice gesture. If we assume that there were three switchers, that makes 18 votes to be redistributed; 12 of them went to Madrid, with the rest split 5-4 London-Paris. At the end of two rounds, Madrid was the surprising leader.

In the third round, the 16 New York voters plus the 3 USA delegates came into play. At least one voter also abandoned Madrid, for no apparent reason. This was where London got its big break. Of the 20 free voters, London took 12, and Paris took the other 8. My suspicion is that the second-round New York and Madrid votes went 9-8 London-Paris in the third round, and the USA delegates all went to London.

That decisive edge was all London needed; when Madrid was eliminated, its 31 supporters and the Spanish delegate were evenly split between Paris and London; a slight (17-15) edge to Paris, actually, but not enough to take the lead.

If my theory is correct (and I can't prove it) then the three USA delegates held the balance of power here; had they switched from London to Paris, the outcome would have been reversed. At any rate it is clear that there was only one block of delegates that significantly favoured London over Paris, and that's the group of voters that supported New York.

Hmmm, do you think that world politics came into play at all?

July 20, 2005

Get A Job!

Just before I went on vacation, Sean Smith from sportsBabel passed along this job posting.

It's still open, if you qualify:

As an ideal candidate, you are an active or past Olympian or Paralympian. Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls will also be considered.

POSTSCRIPT: This suddenly reminded me of a favourite Dilbert cartoon (© 2000 United Feature Syndicate. Please don't sue me over a five-year-old comic. Nobody reads this blog anyway.)

Supplements, Diet, and Drugs in China

There's an interesting piece at RunnersWeb.com on Chinese nutrition as it relates to high-performance sport. There are some interesting bits about the use of supplements. In contrast to the Western "culture of pills and powders," the Chinese have the opposite problem:

In Chinese culture, the line between food and drugs is blurred; many medicinal herbs are used in cooking and many foods have medicinal properties assigned to them. … For example, some Chinese dried pork products are prepared using clostebol, which is banned as a performance-enhancing drug. … While most western athletes are now aware that many herbs contain active biological ingredients that may lead to a failed drug test, many Chinese athletes remain poorly informed. Another challenge is the chaotic Chinese marketplace, where drug piracy is rampant and anyone can buy medicine – including steroids – without a prescription. To make matters worse, many drugs, particularly traditional remedies, aren’t labelled properly, making it very easy for unwitting buyers to consume an ingredient on the Olympic list of banned substances.

The article is an interesting read and also includes a description of how China is trying to regulate its nutritional supplement market.

I found it via Transition Game, which is (happily) back after a long absence.

July 19, 2005

Diamond Cutters

Well, I'm back from vacation. Two weeks in Beautiful British Columbia are good for the soul. Unfortunately I was away from my computer during a very busy week, when the IOC held its 117th session.

The first order of business was to select the host city for the 2012 Summer Olympics, and London was chosen in an "upset" against Paris. There was the usual orgy of excess. I'll write more on that later.

The more interesting news from Singapore concerned the vote on the sports programme for 2012. I've written a lot on that subject in the past few months. On May 28, in particular, I made the following prediction:

If I was going to place bets on the outcome of the vote, I would guess that softball is going down, and baseball will probably be dragged out with it by the most backwards kind of "gender-equity" reasoning. I predict that all of the non-team sports will survive, but it will be a close call for modern pentathlon and badminton.

So, let's just get this out of the way: Ahem. I was right. If any of you placed actual wagers on this outcome, you can send my share of the winnings to P.O. Box …

My post also included some quantitative analysis by sport, where I made a crude prediction of the number of votes that each sport would receive. I would love to be able to show you a comparison of the predicted and actual vote totals, but I can't. That's because the IOC has decided that the actual number of votes received by any sport is super-top-secret:

Not even the IOC members or sports federations will learn the totals. Rogge said the figures will be seen only by an independent official, who will send the results by sealed envelope to an IOC notary in Lausanne, Switzerland. [IOC President Jacques] Rogge will only open the envelope in the case of a voting dispute. (SI.com)

So we won't ever know how close it was for badminton, or modern pentathlon, or anybody else; all we know is that baseball and softball failed to gain a majority of the votes. The SI.com article goes on to say that Canadian IOC member Dick Pound shares my opinion of this secrecy (it sucks). Rogge points out that the procedure was requested by the IFs themselves, to avoid embarrassment for sports that fared poorly.

As for what I think of the vote itself, I stated long ago that I thought the whole process was idiotic. But even though I'm a big baseball fan, I really can't get too worked up about the results. If you believe that the summer Olympics are too big, then cutting baseball and softball makes sense. You eliminate a relatively large number of athletes, and a whole venue, which means a significant cost reduction. And not that many people are going to be upset about this. Many American sports columnists, predictably, are outraged, but they don't really care that much about baseball in the Olympics — they just don't like anybody criticizing baseball, especially the IOC. But sticking it to the USA is pretty much everybody's favourite pastime these days, so nobody's going to care. Canada, Cuba, Japan, and Australia are also a bit miffed, but don't have any clout within the IOC.

(Speaking of American sports columnists, allow me to put in a little plug here for the work of King Kaufman, one of my favourite sportswriters. And Ray Ratto is not usually my cup of tea, but he has a few pithy comments on this topic as well.)

Baseball has four major problems. First of all, not enough countries play baseball at a high level. Second in importance, the world's best baseball players don't participate in the Olympics. Third, only men compete at the Olympics. And finally, there's a persistent association with steroids, and a lack of serious enforcement of anti-doping policies. This last reason is getting a lot of press but I don't honestly believe that it has much to do with the outcome of the vote. The first two reasons are the critical factors, in my opinion.

Softball suffers from the first and third problems, too (although I am sure that they would be happy to add men's softball to the Olympic programme, as a replacement for baseball). Although I am not a fan of softball, its exclusion from the Olympics is much more significant than the exclusion of baseball. Baseball will survive anyway, since professional leagues already exist in the Americas, Europe, and Asia, but this will be a huge blow to softball. The NCAA will probably save high-level softball from extinction in North America, but it's going to be a dead end in the rest of the world unless they can get back into the Olympics.

After the IOC decided to drop baseball and softball, something really bizarre happened. Here's what the official procedure says should have happened. With two spots available on the programme, the IOC Executive Board would meet to select two substitute sports, to be proposed to the IOC membership for admission into the 2012 programme. Admission would require a change to the Olympic Charter, and therefore a 2/3 vote of the general membership.

There's nothing in the procedure to explain how the two candidates would be selected, other than to say that there were five candidates under consideration (rugby, roller sports, golf, karate, and squash). It turns out that karate and squash were selected, but apparently not by the Executive. Several news stories (SI.com, AFP) have reported that the two candidates were selected by a secret ballot of all of the delegates. Perhaps Rogge and the Executive bowed to pressure from the membership.

Conventional wisdom has it that Rogge's personal favourites were rugby and golf, so you could see the surprising selection of karate and squash as a deliberate snub, but that might be reading too much into it. At any rate, even though the members chose those two sports as the best candidates to replace baseball and softball, neither of them came close to receiving 2/3 delegate support in the final vote to modify the Olympic charter. What's really interesting is that both sports got slaughtered — 63-38 against for karate, and 63-39 against for squash. So at least half of the delegates thought that karate and squash were the best of the five possible additions, but fewer than half — far fewer — thought that they were worthy Olympic sports. In other words, the delegates thought that karate and squash were the best of a bad lot. That's an interesting statement, indeed.

Rogge is already wondering aloud if maybe it's too difficult to get new sports into the Olympics. I wouldn't be that surprised to see the "final" decision revisited once more before the 2012 games. The IOC has an interest in making the games as big as they think they can get away with; I am sure that Rogge's goal was not to shrink the number of sports by two. I will not be shocked if he finds a way to get what he wants.

July 01, 2005

Cheerleading For Canada Day

Happy Canada Day.

I'm off on vacation and I'm going to try to stay away from the computer. I'll miss the upcoming IOC votes, too.

For today, just some feel-good news about Canadian athletes. I don't do very much of this here; I will mention that the CBC, CanSport.com, and the COC do a good job of posting highlights throughout the year.

Canoe/Kayak — Flatwater

Double Olympic medallist Adam van Koeverden has been beating the opposition into submission on the World Cup circuit, winning both the 500m and 1000m races at both of the regattas he attended. We haven't seen this kind of dominance in men's kayak in a long time. The rest of the team is doing exceptionally well also. Check this out; and on the canoe side, the Buday brothers beat the Olympic gold and silver medallists in winning the C-2 1000m in Duisburg.


On the road, Genevieve Jeanson won a World Cup race at home, defeating the 2004 World Cup champion. On the mountain, 2004 silver medallist Marie-Hélène Prémont also won a World Cup race, beating the invincible Olympic champion Gunn-Rite Dahle in the process. Then she did it again.


Perdita Felicien had a devastating Olympics, but has picked up right where she left off before Athens, winning again and again on the international circuit. Felicien has the fastest time in the world this year for the hurdles. There have been other notable performances by pole vaulter Dana Ellis, and by 800m runners Diane Cummins and Gary Reed.


The Canadian swim team has been making some progress after taking a public beating in Athens, qualifying a decent number of swimmers for the upcoming world championships in Montréal. Last week, Brent Hayden took home a couple of medals from the U.S. Grand Prix, beating superstar Michael Phelps in the 100m free.

In diving, Canadians continue to do well; Alexandre Despatis' gold medal highlighted some good Canadian results at the Grand Prix Super Final.

Athletes With a Disability

There's nothing new about Canada doing well in wheelchair racing. This year, Diane Roy has emerged as a multi-distance force to be reckoned with: 800m, 5000m, or 10,000m, it doesn't seem to matter to her.


Congratulations to Susan Nattrass, who won a trapshooting bronze medal at the world championships. Nattrass is a six-time world champion from 1974-1981.

And congratulations also to our women's epee team, who earned Canada's first ever team medal in a fencing World Cup.