Thursday, July 31, 2008

Is the American 4x400M Relay Record That Includes Michael Johnson Coming Down?

-Indianapolis-We're not talking about the current American 4x400m relay record being broken by Jeremy Wariner, LaShawn Merritt, & Co. in Beijing next month. USA Track and Field is looking at wiping the record clean from the record books.

The team of Jerome Young, Antonio Pettigrew, Tyree Washington and Michael Johnson in 1998 ran 2:54.20 to set the American and world record in the relay, but Pettigrew in May admitted to engaging in doping activities dating back to 1997.

With that, the newly appointed USA Track & Field CEO, Doug Logan has asked for the re-examination of the record by the Men's Track & Field Chair John Chaplin. In a press released just issued today Logan said...

"Removing this record is the right thing to do, pure and simple," Logan said. We have no interest in a record that the facts - not rumors - have exposed as being achieved by fraudulent means by at least one athlete on the team. Obviously, Tyree Washington and Michael Johnson played no part in the doping activities of others, and it is a shame that they may suffer as a result. But our message is clear: compete clean, win clean and break records clean. Or, get out of our sport and out of our record books."

The American record would then go to the U.S. team of Andrew Valmon, Quincy Watts, Butch Reynolds and Michael Johnson, who ran 2:54.29 to win the 1993 World Outdoor Championships in Stuttgart, Germany.

This is a tough call. I understand where Logan is coming from on the matter as he is establishing himself as tough on crime. Currently the doping issue is a black eye on the sport.

But a quick look around the professional sports world will provide a look at how the big, professional, and highly funded sports tackle the issue.

For a very good reason, Major League Baseball is not amending the records of players that tested positive over the last decade. The issue becomes that re-shuffling of times on the all-performance list is a public relations nightmare.

I know the purist at home are boiling over as these words jump off the page. But track and field is a business and maybe the best business decision may be to take Pettigrew's name off of the relay team that official appears in the record books in order to minimize the public relations blow back.

The irony not totally lost in this story is that the record that is to replace the current American record includes Butch Reynolds as a team member. Reynolds found his way back into the sport in 1992, after winning a high profile lawsuit to overturn his two-year doping suspension as a result of shoddy testing methods at the labs.

The timing of the announcement could not be worse. It is just days before the Opening Ceremonies at the Beijing Olympic Games.

Less than two weeks before the games the spotlight will shift away from Allyson Felix, Jeremy Wariner, and Lolo Jones. The media will sniff this story out and then here we go with the next round of stories about how track is riddled with drugs and cheaters.

There are no easy solutions in handling the doping issue but it is also necessary to make sure that the mission of routing out drugs is not the biggest story during the biggest coverage period that the sport will receive until another four years comes around.

By Jay Hicks.

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