Track’s most sus­pect record in dan­ger

Czech run­ner set 800-me­ter mark at age 32; dop­ing sus­pected as group wants to strike records set be­fore 2005

Santa Fe New Mexican - - SPORTS - By Jeré Long­man

CASLAV, Czech Repub­lic — In 1983, at age 32, when most track ath­letes are be­yond their fastest times, Jarmila Kra­tochvilova ran 800 me­ters in 1 minute, 53.28 sec­onds. The re­sult was so blis­ter­ing and un­prece­dented that it has be­come track and field’s longest­stand­ing out­door world record. And per­haps its most sus­pect. Kra­tochvilova is 66 now, a pen­sioner and a youth coach here in ru­ral Bo­hemia, about 65 miles south­east of Prague. She has been re­tired from com­pe­ti­tion for three decades. But her ca­reer may soon be shaken retroac­tively as track and field of­fi­cials at­tempt to re­store cred­i­bil­ity to a sport hit by re­peated dop­ing scan­dals.

Euro­pean Ath­let­ics made a strik­ing pro­posal in May to have the sport’s global govern­ing body void all world records set be­fore 2005. That year, stor­age of blood and urine sam­ples be­gan for more so­phis­ti­cated drug screen­ings. Forty-five out­door records are at stake, in­clud­ing Florence Grif­fith Joyner’s women’s records at 100 me­ters (10.49 sec­onds) and 200 me­ters (21.34) set in 1988.

In an­nounc­ing the “rad­i­cal” rec­om­men­da­tion, Svein Arne Hansen of Nor­way, pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean track as­so­ci­a­tion, said, “Per­for­mance records that show the lim­its of hu­man ca­pa­bil­i­ties are one of the great strengths of our sport, but they are mean­ing­less if peo­ple don’t re­ally be­lieve them.”

The pro­posal, which would rec­og­nize records set only by ath­letes who un­dergo a strict reg­i­men of drug test­ing, is be­ing re­fined be­fore be­ing de­cided upon by track’s govern­ing body, the In­ter­na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Ath­let­ics Fed­er­a­tions.

Sebastian Coe of Bri­tain, the IAAF pres­i­dent, has called the pro­posal a “step in the right di­rec­tion,” say­ing, “We have a good chance of win­ning back cred­i­bil­ity in this area.”

But the pro­posal has sparked out­rage among the record hold­ers them­selves — in­clud­ing Kra­tochvilova — who feel that they are be­ing judged guilty of dop­ing by as­so­ci­a­tion. They do have one im­por­tant point: There is no proof that ev­ery record set be­fore 2005 was aided by dop­ing and no guar­an­tee that ev­ery record achieved since then was unas­sisted by banned sub­stances.

Re­vok­ing records would be “com­plete non­sense,” Kra­tochvilova said this month through an in­ter­preter while coach­ing at a meet in nearby Par­du­bice. “I have never taken banned sub­stances,” she said.

Her case is ex­tremely com­pli­cated and il­lus­trates the murk­i­ness that will chal­lenge any good-faith at­tempt to re­con­sider who should be wor­thy of a world record.

This will be es­pe­cially true of ath­letes who grew up be­hind the Iron Cur­tain and com­peted dur­ing the 1980s, when sports in the Eastern bloc were used as pro­pa­ganda to pro­mote com­mu­nism.

Elite ath­letes there of­ten had lit­tle or no choice but to par­tic­i­pate in state-spon­sored dop­ing pro­grams. To refuse was to risk not be­ing al­lowed to train for the Olympics or other ma­jor in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tions, where vic­tory could mean na­tional glory and perks such as an apart­ment or a car.

For decades, ques­tions have per­sisted about whether Kra­tochvilova’s heav­ily mus­cled body and speed were achieved nat­u­rally or aug­mented by the il­licit use of an­abolic steroids. She has al­ways de­nied us­ing steroids and has at­trib­uted her physique and suc­cess on the track to the rig­ors of farm life as well as vo­lu­mi­nous weight train­ing and vi­ta­mins.

Yet, doc­u­ments viewed by The New York Times in­di­cate that Kra­tochvilova’s name ap­peared in 1984 and 1987 in as­so­ci­a­tion with Cze­choslo­vakia’s se­cret and sys­tem­atic dop­ing pro­gram, known by the eu­phemism of “Spe­cial­ized Care.” One doc­u­ment is a list of track and field ath­letes to be se­lected for a more cen­tral­ized ver­sion of the pro­gram.

A sec­ond doc­u­ment de­tailed the re­sults of an in­ter­nal dop­ing con­trol test used to flag ath­letes who would risk test­ing pos­i­tive for banned sub­stances at in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tions.

Kra­tochvilova’s test showed up as neg­a­tive, ac­cord­ing to the doc­u­ment.

The doc­u­ments cast sus­pi­cion, but do not pro­vide in­dis­putable con­fir­ma­tion that Kra­tochvilova used banned sub­stances, an­ti­dop­ing of­fi­cials said.

“Morally you could make the case, but not legally,” said Jaroslav Nekola, who be­came the found­ing di­rec­tor of the Czech Anti-Dop­ing Com­mit­tee in 1990, shortly after com­mu­nism in Cze­choslo­vakia fell peace­fully dur­ing the Vel­vet Rev­o­lu­tion. (The Czech Repub­lic and Slo­vakia of­fi­cially sep­a­rated in 1993.) He pro­vided The Times a look at the doc­u­ments.

Kra­tochvilova was born, and still lives, in the vil­lage of Gol­cuv Jenikov.

As a girl, she worked on her un­cle’s farm, har­vest­ing beets and pota­toes by hand. When Track and Field News named her ath­lete of the year in 1983, the ac­com­pa­ny­ing story by a Czech jour­nal­ist said, “At 12, she was al­ready able to toss a pitch­fork of hay into the loft as well as any adult farmer.”

While work­ing as an ac­coun­tant and train­ing for the 1980 Moscow Olympics, Kra­tochvilova some­times ran be­neath street­lights at 4 in the morn­ing be­fore head­ing to her job. At those Games, even as a part-time ath­lete, she won a sil­ver medal at 400 me­ters for Cze­choslo­vakia.

She then be­gan train­ing full time here on a cin­der track and forest paths. The sto­ries about her im­mense willpower and strength are leg­endary in the track world. And whether they are re­peated mat­ter-of-factly, or told with awe or wari­ness, they re­main as­ton­ish­ing.

She sprinted in spiked shoes on a frozen pond when snow cov­ered the cin­der track in win­ter. She ran re­peats of 200 me­ters while drag­ging a tire filled with vary­ing amounts of sand. To re­cover from surgery on her left Achilles ten­don, she dashed through a foot of wa­ter in a pool, wore a weighted vest and placed a gas mask over her face to re­strict her breath­ing and raise her pulse rate.

Ac­cord­ing to Kra­tochvilova and her coach, Miroslav Kvac, she pos­sessed such power and stamina that, in a sin­gle, sev­eral-hour ses­sion of weight lift­ing, she could hoist up to 25 tons. A Czech news­pa­per said it was 16 tons. Ei­ther amount, while not in­de­pen­dently ver­i­fied, would be ex­tra­or­di­nary.

On July 26, 1983, at a meet in Mu­nich, Kra­tochvilova ran 800 me­ters in the stun­ning time of 1:53.28, shat­ter­ing the pre­vi­ous record of 1:53.43. Only one run­ner has come within a sec­ond of her per­for­mance in the nearly 34 years since. The win­ning time in the women’s 800 at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro was a full two sec­onds slower.

Jarmila Kra­tochvilova

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