|A finisher at the 2015 UTMB; photo BeatPitch – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0|
Today’s post is going to be a little different in the fact that it’s an opinion piece on doping in trail running, and a bit more broadly, on doping in sport. A word of caution, I obviously have no experience in journalism or writing so if this seems a bit simplistic, its because it is.
First, what is doping? For this case I define it as taking a substance that dramatically increases an athlete’s performance. This could mean recovering a lot faster than normal or achieving a level of performance in a short period time that otherwise couldn’t have been achieved through physical training.
The reason I have decided to voice my opinions on this now are due to a couple of things. 1. The IOC today has decided not to ban the entire Russian team. 2. An athlete; Gonzalo Calisto, who completed the UTMB in 2015 has, within the past week, been tested positive for EPO in his blood.
Doping has no place in any sport, and I’m disappointed to see that it has started to creep into trail running, but I can’t say it’s a surprise. Here’s why. Doping has really hit the headlines within the past decade or so due to athletics and cycling (in this case I’m going to focus on Le Tour de France), where it’s been found that many athletes have taken some form of illegal athlete enhancing drug, with probably the most famous being Lance Armstrong. There are many reasons why someone would choose do it, and I’m not here to write about their many and varied reasons but I reckon the core of each of those reasons is money. Track and field and the Tour is flush with corporate sponsor cash, and the better an athlete does the more money they get.
Trail Running is getting more popular, that is undisputable. This means more brands are sponsoring the races and there is more cash up for grabs by the people that win, which might mean trail runners will go to greater lengths to stand on the podium, like Track and Field and the Tour. Which is a shame; I like to think people run in Ultra’s for the challenge to cross the finish line and to spend more time outdoors, not just to stand on the podium.
Doping has no place in sport, which was why I was disappointed that the IOC didn’t ban the Russian team outright from the Olympics. Russia has been proven to have a systemic doping problem and needed to be an example to the rest of the international community, even if that meant the Russian athletes who did the right thing were punished as well. This would send a clear message to everyone across all sporting codes that doping isn’t the right thing to do and there will be ramifications for doing so.
Trail running is in infancy in terms of corporate sponsorship and I really hope the ITRA (International Trail Running Association) will learn from the mistakes of the other sporting codes and not make the same ones. After Calisto had tested positive by the IAAF the response from UTMB and the Ultra Trail World Tour, of which the race is a part of, was disappointing. It took over a day for a response from either, where it should’ve been swift and decisive. As it stands, he’s been banned for 2 years, but then the next question arises; should he be banned for life? For a much better discussion on doping in trail running (and Russia in the upcoming Olympics) then I implore you to read these articles but one thing is for certain, trail running has lost its innocence.