Black December

Story written by EPelle

Christmas is soon upon me, as it is every year at this time. I'm unprepared as usual, but I know exactly what I want to purchase, for whom, how many, and hope to God those products are still on the shelves as I make my way down the street to the electronics stores.

I'd like to have been ahead of the game this year, but, once again, I am on the sofa, the money is still in the wallet, and the ears have yet to ring from any holiday store music attempting to stifle my resistance to purchase more.

So I find myself today spending a couple minutes pondering the meaning of athletics - trying to make sense of a season which began with a bang (Kajsa Bergqvist setting an indoor WR of 2.08m), endured two large drugs scandals in Justin Gatlin and Marion Jones, and ended with headlines of the same nature.

Peculiar turns in Gatlin story; Landis, Gatlin lead the way in year of doping; Another year rocked by dope; and so on down the list of doping headlines have popped up the first 19 days of December in attempts to provoke me to read further. The latest, one which just alerted me from the bottom of my laptop screen minutes ago, states that Germany's Grit Breuer is seeking IAAF compensation for being unfairly banned in 1992. Read story.

The convenience I appreciate with RSS feeds is astounding. I receive information on anything and everything athletics-related from sources around the world, and in some cases, as soon as the author has pressed the enter key.

It's a great feeling to sit at the helm with such information, knowing I can leak interesting stories to message boards and blog spots as quickly as they develop. The ease of providing this information has also meant I have pounded out my fair share of doping stories, and have inundated fans with headlines declaring this to have been a year of trials, testings, sabotage and secret results made public by still unknown sources in the know.

I never thought I would get tired of reading news, as news is what moves blood through my message board veins; it is the lifeline by which I have been perceived as a hunter and gatherer for a small number of fans around the world. The contents of the news provided to me this year and passed on to others varied considerably - from an all-time, burst with excitement level, to a fastboll down the plate, struck-out looking with the bases loaded one.

I was as inspired as the next guy - probably more than so - when Bergqvist shocked the universe with her outer-worldly performance in Arnstadt, Germany. I knew she had it in her. She demonstrates the epitome of what it means to be resilient, and her unsinkable drive and determination have taken her to places no woman has ever before discovered in an indoor arena anywhere. Ever.

However, the fanwagon rolled up to such a high place, that it was inevitable the news equal and opposite her excellent addition to the athletics world would be in an athlete tying a world record, but being subsequently stripped of that merit.

Gatlin kept the rollercoaster going with the frenzied speed of his 100m heat and final in Qatar bringing excellent hope in the form of a Gatlin-Asafa Powell showdown with no slowdown. They never raced head-to-head, instead competing in different heats in Eugene at the Pre Classic, and at no more meets together the remainder of the season.

The RSS feed covering doping topics beeped late on Saturday, 2006-July-29, causing my passion for sprints to take an alarming dive. Gatlin had tested positive for testosterone or precursors to it.

I was filled up to the ears with information - much of it incomplete - by the major editors around the world. Smaller, lesser-known papers carried syndicated stories of this foul event, with some adding their own feelings of contempt this could occur after the BALCO headlines seemed to have died out.

I contributed a number of posts to Track & Field News following the controlled information Gatlin's team disclosed. That message board has been recipient to more than 11.500 of my thoughts on track, field, history, and everything neither track nor field for the past three years. I felt like I ate, drank and slept all things Gatlin, and everything doping the entire month of July.

Powell continued running 9,77-second sprints as though he was on autopilot, netting him IAAF Male Athlete of the Year, and Jamaican Athlete of the Year. He won so many times - he never lost - that he split a share of the $1.000.000 Golden League jackpot for his efforts.

When news wasn't on Gatlin or Powell - or Sanya Richards breaking the USA 400m record, it was on the European Championships held in my own backyard. Names like Tia Hellebaut, Susanna Kallur, Francis Obikwelu, Johan Wissman, André Silnov and Tatyana Lysenko filled the airwaves and newsposts.

Then drugs were introduced into the mix, right smack at the end of what is considered to be a fantastic championships experience.

A bag of what seemed to be used doping products with Russian labels was found outside of the hotel the Russians, Poles and others were calling home during their one-week stay in Göteborg. It turned out to be a dead-end chase for those seeking a hot story about doped athletes. The polis, who investigate drug-related issues, dropped the investigation, and no one was suspected or charged.

The second newsworthy item which found its way to writer blogs was suspicions athletes have of a certain female high jumper who rarely seems to compete outside of her home country, and has found a new stride and height in her aging body this year. Our papers here don't shy away from stating they have suspicions of such athletes, and their mentioning drugs-testing and athletes in August was only an omen of things to come.

Marion Jones did the rest.

Everyone jumped on the bandwagon in August, and in September, when she was declared not guilty, everyone jumped on the system which allowed for leaks of such information.

Jones' great escape from Zürich overshadowed several other names in the news.

When push came to shove, those with the news - myself included - found it juicier, tastier and more concrete to follow a story of possible corruption and cover-up than to talk about a white kid who began threatening Africans; a black kid running the 2nd-fastest 200m of all-time; a Texan who found a will to win ever time he stepped on the track for his same-lane interval run; a Belgian who wound up not being a one-meet wonder; and to minimise Powell's streak of sub-10 performances as ho-hum, when on any given day, one - or all - of his performances would have been headlines elsewhere.

The season ended last week in Qatar with the conclusion of the Asian Games. Liu Xiang ran a meet record 13,17 in capping off what had been a fantastic season for the newly-crowned world-record holder (12,88). December should have been pure, keeping out talk of drugs and anything drugs-related.

Yet, despite talk of Xiang's victory, I was fed stories on Asian athletes doping and being disqualified, and of one who failed a "sex" test. Tammy Thomas, an obscure cyclist from who knows where - I don't follow her sport - was indicted by her US government last week for having lied to federal prosecutors, and for obstructing justice.

Graham, Jones and Gatlin - who all should be elsewhere off my December radar - each find themselves thrust in the middle of the news again. Graham is fighting similar charges as Thomas; Jones has to fend off accusations she may have lied to those same authorities, while simultaneously considering whether to retire; and Gatlin, who is mentioned any time Graham does, may be up for review next month to fight off his drugs-related offense.

One thing I wish for Christmas is a single, solitary day where the world stands still, drugs stories get stuck on a server, and I have no reason to feel an hourly need to click on that small rotating white cube on the lower right of my icon tray. For everything else there is a bank card.

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