By John Mehaffey
Sebastian Coe, the only man to win the Olympic 1,500 meters twice and the driving force behind the highly successful 2012 London Games, faces what may well be the biggest challenge of his life after winning the race to run the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).
The 58-year-old Briton defeated former Olympic and world pole vault champion Sergei Bubka of Ukraine by 115 votes to 92 in an election in Beijing on Wednesday to decide the president of the organisation that controls the showpiece sport of the summer Olympics.
The votes were cast by the IAAF’s member federations, which represent the 214 nations affiliated to the world governing body.
Coe’s urgent task is to restore public confidence in a sport that has been hit by a series of damaging drugs allegations over the past month. While campaigning, he promised to create a doping panel independent of the international governing body within 100 days of taking office.
This weekend the spotlight will focus on the men’s 100 meters at the Bird’s Nest stadium in Beijing during the final world athletics championships before the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
Exciting — and controversial
Jamaica’s Usain Bolt, twice Olympic champion and fastest man ever, is due to defend his title against two Americans who have served bans for drugs offences.
One of them is former Olympic champion Justin Gatlin, who at age 33 is running the fastest times of his life, and the other is former world champion Tyson Gay.
Gatlin served a four-year ban after excessive amounts of the male sex hormone testosterone, which increases muscle strength by allowing athletes to train harder and recover from injury quicker, were found in a urine sample.
Gay was banned for a year after a positive test for an illegal performance-enhancing substance.
The 100 meters is the most exciting event on the athletics program but it has also been the most controversial. Canadian Ben Johnson created perhaps the biggest scandal in Olympic history when he tested positive for an anabolic steroid after winning the 1988 Seoul Games final in world record time.
Anabolic steroids replicate the effects of testosterone and have been used by both men and women.
Not confined to the U.S.
In 2000, Marion Jones, an American sprinter and long jumper, won three gold medals at the Sydney Games including the women’s 100 meters.
After a federal investigation, Jones finally admitted that she had been on a regime similar to Johnson’s with illegal substances supplied by the notorious BALCO laboratory in California. She was imprisoned for lying to investigators.
The sport’s drugs problems have not been confined to the sprints or to the United States. Middle and long distance runners have used banned blood doping drugs such as EPO, which increase endurance by artificially boosted the ability of a runner’s blood to absorb oxygen.
Disgraced American cyclist Lance Armstrong had his seven consecutive Tour de France titles stripped after admitting taking EPO and other banned substances.
IAAF data leaked to Britain’s Sunday Times and the German broadcaster ARD this month appeared to show that a third of the medals won at Olympics and world championships between 2001 and 2010 had gone to athletes with abnormal blood readings.
An investigation is being held into allegations by ARD of systematic doping in Russian athletics.
And the World AntiDoping Agency, which governs all major sports, has expressed concern at another ARD investigation alleging that EPO and other banned substances are freely available in Kenya, the world powerhouse of middle and long distance running.