I am always pleased when cheats get caught, but that’s not to say that I’m never disappointed by drug busts. The latest news about LaShawn Merritt is particularly gutting, because of all the current leading sprinters, his profile didn’t seem to fit that of a doper.
Merritt was a talented junior (winning the ’04 World Juniors, setting a world junior indoor best of 44.93 and clocking 44.66 outdoors at the age of 18), had progressed steadily to the top, and always competed regularly on the circuit. His positive tests sadly only go to show that even some of the most innocent looking athletes can disappoint fans by resorting to drugs.
But there is a lighter side to all of this, and that is Merritt’s excuse. The 23-year-old tested positive for DHEA and he claims it came from his use of an over-the-counter male enhancement product.
“To know that I’ve tested positive as a result of product that I used for personal reasons is extremely difficult to wrap my hands around,” said Merritt with seemingly no sense of irony. “Any penalty that I may receive for my action will not overshadow the embarrassment and humiliation that I feel inside.”
But where does this rank in the all-time greatest excuses for failing a drugs test in track & field? Here is my personal top 10 in reverse order – feel free to agree, disagree, or add your own in a comment.
10. If in doubt, blame the hubby
Lacking in imagination and in almost all occurances untrue, the “I’ve been spiked” excuse is probably one of the most widely used, and is akin to the “dog ate my homework” cop-out used by school children the world over. But former World and Olympic sprint hurdles champion Ludmila Engquist was arguably the biggest user (or should that be loser?) of this defence.
The former Russian tried to blame her ex-husband for her positive test in 1993. A nationality switch came in 1996, followed by a public battle against cancer, which won over the hearts of her fans in her adopted nation, Sweden. An emotional comeback was capped by a World bronze medal in 1999, but she lost the sympathy of many when she tested positive again in 2001 when trying out for the 2002 Winter Olympics in the bobsled. Eventually she admitted to knowingly taking steroids.
9. I know a guy who knows a guy who has it in for us
Fidel Castro on behalf of Javier Sotomayor
Whether cocaine is a performance-enhancing drug is neither here nor there. When high jump world record-holder Javier Sotomayor tested positive for the recreational drug in 1999, Cuban leader Fidel Castro leapt to his defence, claimed in front of a live TV audience that the result was a “war against us” and that it was a set-up by the Cuban-American mafia.
Sotomayor’s ban was shortened as he had acted in an exemplary way during his career. But when he failed a second test in 2001 for nandrolone (this time a performance-enhancing drug), there was significantly less support and sympathy for him and he retired shortly after.
8. The masseuse excuse
World and Olympic 100m champion Justin Gatlin was at the height of his powers when news of his positive test broke. He was coming off the back of the 2005 season in which he won the 100m/200m double at the World Championships in Helsinki, and had kicked off the 2006 season with a surprise world record in Doha.
So when his testosterone drug bust became public knowledge, he knew he had to give a good excuse. “The masseuse had it in for me and rubbed testosterone cream into my legs,” pleaded Gatlin, and his coach supported those claims. But when said coach is Trevor Graham, the most notorious drugs coach in the history of athletics with more doped up athletes than I’ve had cake (like I’ve alluded to before, it’s a high number), then such support means zilch. And when one of the main products in the BALCO saga (of which Graham was a key player) was known as “the cream”, the irony is simply laughable.
7. Wanting to train longer and harder
Leading 400m sprinter LaShawn Merritt must have spent a long time weighing up his options before releasing an official statement with his excuse for three positive tests. Does he say he knowingly took the substances in an attempt to improve his performance on the track? Or does he claim he ingested the male enhancement drug in a bid to improve his performances, ahem, off the track.
It is still in the early days of this case and not much is known about the true reasons behind it all, but this has got to rank as one of the most embarrassing public cases of a positive test in recent athletics history.
6. I would give you an excuse, but I’m too tired
News of Kelli White’s positive test broke half way through her bid to win the 100m/200m double at the 2003 World Championships. She was promptly advised by BALCO boss Victor Conte to resort to plan B – claim that the modafinil was simply taken to combat her narcolepsy problem.
Funny, White showed no signs of tiredness when she sped to times of 10.85 and 22.05 to cross the line first in the sprint events at those championships. The authorities did not fall for her excuses and she was duly stripped of her titles, later admitting to knowingly taking the performance-enhancing drugs.
5. The perils of a Brazilian
Maurren Higa Maggi
What does a woman do when she wants to get rid of the hair on her legs but doesn’t want to risk cutting herself with a razor? Simple answer – hair removal cream. But who knew that hair removal cream was a performance-enhancer?
Brazilian athlete Maurren Higa Maggi certainly didn’t. The long jumper tested positive for Clostebol in 2003 and the only possible explanation, so she claimed, was that it must have been present in her hair removal cream and entered her system that way. The ‘happy’ ending came in 2008 when she returned to win the Olympic gold medal.
4. There goes my squeaky clean image
Don’t you just hate it when your toothpaste gets spiked with nandrolone? German distance runner Dieter Baumann was one such ‘victim’ of this. Seven years after winning the 1992 Olympic 5000m title, Baumann claimed that somebody injected his toothpaste tube with nandrolone.
It is one of those excuses that is so far fetched, it might just be true. But without a suspect for the “phantom toothpaste spiker”, Baumann’s explanation ultimately did not convince too many people.
3. Ready. Sex. Go! Go! Go! Go!
Perhaps one of the most infamous positive test excuses in the history of sport, Dennis Mitchell claimed that his elevated levels of testosterone was a result of having sex with his wife four times the night before and drinking five bottles of beer.
USATF actually believed that Mitchell could out-last an Energizer bunny, but the IAAF were having none of it and the sprinter was banned for two years.
2. Telling porkies
This is my personal favourite, simply because it is so downright bizarre. Spanish discus thrower David Martínez tested positive for nandrolone and decided to blame it on eating infected pork. In an attempt to prove his innocence, the 1992 Olympic finalist went so far as to inject his pet pig with the steroid before slaughtering and eating it.
Alas, it did not save his bacon and no traces of the drug were found in his system after his ‘experiment’. If only he had read this blog before, he’d have learned that this wonder drug nandrolone mysteriously pops up in many places other than infected pigs.
1. If in doubt, blame the wife
When Daniel Plaza crossed the finish line in first place in the 20km walk at the 1992 Olympics, he was celebrated as the first Spanish track & field athlete to win an Olympic gold medal. But within a matter of years, he had become more famous off the back of his positive test.
Plaza claimed that the nandrolone showing up on the positive test wasn’t his and in fact belonged to his wife. But how did it get in his system? Prolonged oral sex with his pregnant wife, of course! The best thing about this is that 10 years later his name was actually cleared of the offence, although he was long retired. But at least he has a fun story to tell his grandchildren…