The Sad Truth

By Mario Fraioli

I’m as big a track nerd as anyone reading this but it’s been really hard for me to watch—much less get excited about—track and field at the global level of late. Sorry, but that’s the sad truth, even with the world championships taking center stage right now. There are a couple main reasons for this, namely doping and self-serving governing bodies, two often-intertwined topics I’ve opined on here with some regularity. I don’t want to spend a lot of time here dragging on about doping but it’s hard not to mention the dreaded d-word when the sport can’t escape its ugly shadow. Now I’m not naive enough to believe that doping can be completely eradicated from athletics (or any other sport for that matter), as there’s always going to be athletes, coaches and agents that can’t be trusted, performances that can’t be believed and a system that’s far from perfect. Does that mean I believe every athlete is cheating? Of course not. There are plenty of athletes doing things the right way—and some of them are even winning medals—but it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to take the sport seriously as a whole when it continually finds new ways to compromise trust and make a mockery of itself. 

+ Monday’s women’s 1,500m final was a fine display of championship racing. Despite what I wrote above, this one was exciting to watch. Hats off to reigning Olympic champion Faith Kipyegon of Kenya who positioned herself perfectly and held everyone off in the homestretch, including a hard-charging Jenny Simpson, who went from 6th to 2nd in the final straightaway. (Also, is there a grittier, more gracious, or articulate athlete than Simpson? Maybe, but there are plenty who could stand to learn a thing or two from the way she conducted herself in the post-race interview.)

“You know what, if I’m second in this race, you beat cheaters,” Simpson said after her silver-medal performance. “Because there’s not zero cheaters in the race or zero cheaters in the world. And so that feels amazing. On the other side of the coin, they’re not all stealing my moment. I’m so lucky, I’m so lucky that I’m having these moments on the podium, and so I think even though there’s speculation about cheaters, you still gotta come out here and give it your all and try and earn your moment today. Don’t let them take it from you.

+ The women’s marathon made for an equally enthralling finish last Sunday as the top four women finished within 10 seconds of each other, with Rose Chelimo of Bahrain pulling out the win. American Amy Cragg had the race of her life in third, almost passing Kenyan Edna Kiplagat at the line for second.

“I knew this is the moment I would remember, whether or not I pushed to try get a medal,” Cragg said after the race“I said to myself, ‘Just be as close as you can and you’ll be able to dig deep enough. Don’t give her an inch.’”

Cragg, who I last wrote about in 2013 (“Failing doesn’t make me ever want to stop,” she told me back then, after failing to make the 2012 Olympic team in the marathon. “It makes me want to push harder. Everyone has setbacks, but I’ve always had my best runs after disappointments.”), stuck her nose in it from the start on Sunday and never quit. A well-deserved medal if there ever was one.

+ I had a really hard time believing what I was seeing in the second half of the women’s 10,000m, as Almaz Ayana of Ethiopia won by 46 seconds off the strength of a 14:24 final 5,000m, nearly lapping the rest of the field. It wasn’t quite as ridiculous as her world-record performance in Rio, but it was right up there if you consider that it was the largest winning margin in championship history by a long shot. Why so much suspicion? To bring back a line sports writer David Walsh Tweeted during the Olympics that I used back in Issue 40,“We can’t accuse because there’s no evidence and we can’t believe because there’s no trust.” That said, it seems implausible to me that a world-class field can be dismantled like that over the final 6K of the 25-lap race. I’m also equally baffled by the lack of emotion—and effort—she showed upon crossing the finish line. And finally, Ethiopia doesn’t exactly have the best track record, no pun intended, when it comes to anti-doping efforts—a fact Molly Huddle touched on after the race.

“I mean yeah, I feel like [Ethiopians] get away with a lot to be honest,” Huddle said. “Everyone talks about Russia and Kenya, and they’ve kind of cracked down on them so maybe they’ll be the next country to get a bit more stricter regulations and testing. Unfortunately nowadays you always have to question a world record, but who really knows?”

A version of this post first appeared in the morning shakeout, my weekly email newsletter covering running, writing, media and other topics that interest me. If you’d like for it to land in your inbox first thing on Tuesday mornings, subscribe here.