Damn you, Barry Bonds. And you too, Jason Giambi. And Rafael Palmeiro, Marion Jones, Ben Johnson, Floyd Landis, Roger Clemens and every other elite athlete who has either been officially busted or who has left no doubt as to their use of performance-enhancing drugs. Damn you for putting doubt in my mind when I should be standing and applauding some of the greatest athletic feats in the history of competition.
Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt set the outdoor track on fire in Beijing last week, becoming the first man in history to win three gold medals and set world records in the 100 meters, 200 meters and the 4×100-meter relay. But Bolt didn’t just win those races, he turned them into reincarnations of the 1973 Belmont Stakes.
It was amazing. It was astonishing. It was unbelievable.
Oooh … that last word. That’s the tricky one.
Was it believable?
And before you read another word, understand with clarity that the question posed is not borne of some jingoistic, pro-American bias. It has nothing to do with the fact that it was the Jamaican flag that draped the shoulders of the world’s fastest man rather than an American one.
Bolt has already handled the inevitable questions about cheating candidly. He notes the number of times he has been tested, by both blood and urine, and proudly announces that he has passed them all. Ordinarily, that would end the discussion.
But these are not ordinary times. Many of the names listed at the top of this column never actually tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs at the time of their unique accomplishments either. Rather, some were undone months, if not years, after their achievements. Some were caught not by test-tube results, but by eyewitness accounts and teary-eyed admissions after the fact. And those athletes are the reasons why some will continue to look at Bolt’s 9.69-second world record in the 100 with skepticism and doubt.
There’s also the matter of the manner in which Bolt won, especially in the 100. At 75 meters into the race, he was so far out in front of the field that he actually broke form, mugging for the cameras.
And he still shaved .03 seconds off his own world record.
How is that possible?
In other words, if he had stayed true to form and pounded away for the full 100 meters, how low would he have gone? 9.65? 9.60?
No less an authority than the architect of modern doping, BALCO’s Victor Conte, has said that any time under 9.80 is “suspicious,” and anything under 9.70 is “highly suspicious.”
Is there any real evidence here that could be used to indict Usain Bolt at this, his moment of triumph? No.
Is all of this complete speculation, without the slightest hint of proof? Yes.
But this is the sporting age in which we live. We have been burned too many times by supposed once-in-a-lifetime performances.
We have almost become a nation in which the burden of proof is on the athlete to prove he is clean, rather than on the governing bodies and courts of public opinion to prove they’re dirty.
I want to believe in Usain Bolt. I just don’t know if I can — yet.
Sports personality Bob Frantz is a regular contributor to The Examiner. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.