Track and field has let down its fans once again.
We woke up this morning to news that sprint superstar Tyson Gay has tested positive for a banned substance and will withdraw from the IAAF World Championships in Moscow.
Anyone who’s even a casual observer of mainstream sports has gotten used to the doping stories coming out of track and field, from the initial shock of Ben Johnson in 1988 to the downfall of Marion Jones amidst the BALCO scandal in the early years of this century.
This positive test, however, cuts even deeper for me.
I’ve only followed the sport since 2007 when I was a sophomore in high school. That was the year Tyson Gay won three World Championship gold medals and set himself up to become a legend at the next year’s Beijing Olympics. Gay became one of the faces of the U.S. Olympic team and racked up a host of sponsorship deals heading into Beijing, including endorsements with Alltel Wireless, Omega and McDonald’s.
Gay never achieved that glory in 2008, or any time since, due to a series of injuries that prevented him from achieving peak fitness. Many fans held out hope that if Gay could ever stay healthy, he was capable of being the best in the world.
When Gay stormed on the circuit this year with consistently fast performances including two U.S. titles and world leading times at 100 and 200 meters, I figured he was finally able to get healthy training in and realizing his potential. It wasn’t inconceivable that Gay could be performing his best at the age of 31. After all, he had been sidelined so much that his body hadn’t taxed by years of hard training.
In the end, it was too good to be true.
Due to my relative inexperience as a follower of track and field, this is the first doping bust of a significant American athlete that I’ve been around for. And I’ve got to admit, it hurts. It hurts a lot.
It makes me wonder what the value of elite sport is when so many are seeking that extra edge to push themselves beyond their natural limits. This is a question I certainly don’t have the answer to now, nor will I likely ever have. But they’re things I’ll continue to ponder in the days, weeks and years to come.