“Don't think you're gonna win this time –
‘Cause you better believe I'm gonna drop a dime on you …
You're gonna be busted –
I don't wanna put the hurt on you –
But you better believe me when I tell you –
That I finally got the dirt on you -
- “Busted”, from Phineas and Ferb (video after post)
Two drug scandals – one large, the other relatively small – converged on the sports page of our local newspaper on the same day last week.
The primary headline was the one everybody heard about: Lance Armstrong being officially charged with blood doping by the USADA. However, to residents of Monterey County, the story that hit closest to home was news that a winner of one of our premier local races has also proven to be a cheat.
In my mind, the impact of a drug scandal on a small race with relatively anonymous runners was an interesting one to consider; although the prize purses and sponsorship opportunities are significantly less than those involved with marquis races, it’s easier to identify with the people involved. For example, the difference in prize money for each runner in the top ten at our local event was several hundred dollars – and if I were the one who lost out on that amount due to a dishonest runner, you can bet I’d be upset.
It was the smaller story that my friend Mike and I wrote for the Monterey Herald; the article follows below.
Running Life 06/14/12 “Busted”
Like any other competitive activity, the sport of distance running has an ugly side – and unfortunately, our local running community was recently impacted by it.
Last fall’s Big Sur Half Marathon on Monterey Bay was one of the most exciting races we’ve ever seen, with 23-year-old Ethiopian Ezkyas Sisay outsprinting Josphat Boit of Kenya to win by less than 2 seconds. Sisay’s winning time of 63 minutes was even more amazing when you consider that he finished 9th in the New York City Marathon (with a time of 2:11) just two weeks before our half marathon. For his effort, Sisay was applauded by race participants, recognized by the race’s Board of Directors, and awarded a winner’s purse of $3,000.
In hindsight it appears that Sisay’s victory was too good to be true: last week the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) announced that Sisay tested positive for synthetic erythropoietin (EPO) after his drug test for the New York Marathon. Coincidentally, two other runners who train with Sisay have also tested positive for synthetic EPO use in the past. Sisay now faces a two-year suspension from competitive running as well as “forfeiture of medals, points, and prizes.”
Erythropoietin is a natural hormone that controls red blood cell creation. Increased EPO creates a higher red blood cell count, which improves oxygen delivery to muscles and improves endurance. Synthetic EPO has a legitimate medical use for treatment of anemia, but it’s also very popular among dishonest athletes looking for a competitive advantage. Because synthetic EPO thickens the blood and increases the risk of stroke, it’s a very dangerous game for athletes to play, and its use is illegal in every sport.
The New York Marathon delays awarding prize money until drug test results are published and verified, so they never paid Sisay his $2,000 for finishing ninth. Sadly, smaller races don’t have the resources to pay for drug testing, so they’re more vulnerable to being taken advantage of by drug cheats. Neither the Big Sur Marathon or Half Marathon performs testing, nor does the Carlsbad Half Marathon, where Sisay won another $1500 last January.
Obvioiusly there are large monetary incentives for aspiring world-class runners to enhance their performance by any means necessary, but this sort of misbehavior typically ends in either shame or tragedy. Sisay didn’t just steal money from the Big Sur Marathon board – an organization that has donated millions of dollars to many well-deserving agencies in our community - but he cheated all of the runners who deserved to finish one place higher in the race standings.
The Big Sur Half Marathon awarded money to the first nine runners, all of whom rightfully deserved a larger prize. For example Josphat Boit lost an extra $1200 by finishing in second instead of first, and all of the top runners deserved several hundred more dollars than they went home with.
The BSIM Board is doing the right thing by officially declaring Josphat Boit to be the 2011 winner, and providing additional money to each of the first 9 men based on moving them up one place in the standings. All future race promotions, programs, and result listings will eliminate Sisay’s name.
As far as getting money back from Sisay, that’s a less certain scenario. The race committee is following USADA procedures and sending a letter to Sisay officially asking for reimbursement of the $3,000. He’s not forced to comply – but whether he does or doesn’t, there’s no escaping the shame he has cast upon himself, and the stigma he has brought upon our entire sport.
And if you’re wondering about the source of this song, it happens to be from one my kids’ favorite TV shows. OK ... make that one of my favorite shows as well.
“Busted”, from Phineas and Ferb (click to play):
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