Monday, June 11, 2012

"If you don’t take it, you won’t make it"

Well, the French Open is over, and Wimbledon is around the corner. So, I'm going to try and take it easy for the next few days. However, here's something to think about from the past. It's a recent interview with Ben Johnson, the Canadian sprinter who was busted for steroids at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. At the time, Johnson was hammered by the press and branded a cheater. However, the fact is that as time has passed the 1988 race is now considered one of the most "corrupt" races ever with 5 of the 8 runners having either tested positive, or admitted usage during some point in their career. Here's the Seoul Olympics 100 meter finalists:

1. Ben Johnson: tested positive for stanozolol at 1998 Olympics, stripped of gold.
2. Carl Lewis: tested positive for stimulants at 1988 US Olympic trials, but exonerated by USOC.
3. Linford Christie: tested positive for stimulant at the 1988 Olympics (200m heat), but cleared by IOC. Also, tested positive for nandrolone in 1999 and banned.
4. Calvin Smith
5. Dennis Mitchell: Banned for excessive testostorone in 1998.
6. Robson DaSilva
7. Desai Williams: Admitted using steroids.
8. Ray Stewart

Look at the 1988 results above and now look at the current tennis anti-doping program with all its weaknesses and shortcomings. Who still thinks it's productive to get into debates about which tennis players are "definitely not doping" versus those that "definitely are doping"?


  1. SnR,

    I have to actually work as well. I posted in the previous thread in response to Richard, and it got me thinking. If you can provide somewhat useful ranges for how many detectable cycles a tennis player may go through in a year and a range of days that they would be detectable during each cycle, I can put together an analysis of how likely it would be to catch any one player considering various scenarios. I would assume that each player would test clean until they had two strikes, at which point they would be constrained by having to provide samples. I thought it might be an interesting analysis to put up ahead of Wimbledon.

    1. Interesting idea. I'll give it some thought. It may be that Victor Conte's details of Dwain Chambers cycle is a good (and maybe best) starting point:

      The problem is, of course, that no tennis player has ever been busted for actual PED cycling. So, we lack information about the specifics for a tennis player. However, I think the Conte letter is pretty good foundation to begin.

  2. SNR - you might find this interesting. Apparently Ray Stewart also had some doping connections.

  3. Being Canadian, I was gutted when Ben was stripped of the medal. I guess in all of the euphoria of him finally getting a chance to shut up that arrogant Carl Lewis, we ignored the warning signs. There was a lot of controversy when he went to the small island of St Lucia (I think) to recover from a pulled hamstring or some such. Many folks wanted him to remain in Canada for rehab. Now we know the reason why, it's funny that many tennis tennis players seem to follow the same tactic 'to recover'.
    After the debacle, Canada had an inquiry (Dubin inquiry) and basically bared it's soul for the world to see. The entire Mazda Optimist club was shown to be doped.
    Unfortunately, the US never held such an investigation, leaving the impression that their athletes were clean. When Ben insisted that 'all' of the 100m finalists were doped, he was roundly criticized. To this day he has stated that he was doped, but he wasn't on stanozolol, it was something else & he was the sacrificial lamb. Take it for what it's worth. There are many of us who felt very sorry for Ben Johnson, I suppose because he always came over as a simple guy that wanted to excel in the only thing he was good at...

  4. "Who still thinks its productive to get into debates about which tennis players are "definitely not doping" versus those that "definitely are doping"?"

    A lot of the visitors to this blog, I think, Sen. The main reason why many (most?) people visit this site at all is that they don't like to see fair play losing out to cheating, non-dopers losing to dopers. The blatant doping by some professional tennis players is unfair on those who do not dope, whoever they might be. If EVERY professional tennis player showed signs of doping as blatant as those shown by Nadal and Djokovic and Serena, to name but three, then I for one would neither watch tennis nor bother with this site. I'd be content to let the players stew in their own juice. Yes, records set fairly in the past would be under threat from cheats, just as they are at the Olympics and elsewhere, and all young kids would be forced to dope in order to compete, but at least current tournaments would be played on a level playing field - albeit a corrupt and inhuman one, and hopefully to empty rows of seats. But it's seeing the blatantly UNLEVEL tennis courts everywhere we look that gets a lot of us going right now. The fact that there are still players who do not dope makes tennis worth watching - sometimes. That's why the discussions here so often turn to individual players and whether or not they are doping. Some of us care about the fact that certain individuals we enjoy watching - and that's what professional tennis is about, after all - are being blatantly cheated out of their just rewards and quite possibly out of the history books. Yes, of course there's also the altruistic concern for humanity and justice and sportsmanship in general, but we tend to look for those qualities in individuals, not in abstractions.
    It would be interesting to know where this site stands on that and exactly why it is what it is.

    End of rant! Sorry - I've been wanting to write this for a long time.

    1. Amaranth, great post, I could not agree more. SNR's insistence on 'objectivity' and avoiding pointing fingers at SOME of the players reminds me of UN observers in an armed conflict doing everything to remain neutral in a war where one side is getting exterminated by the other.
      But ok, never mind, I just hope this effort starts bringing some significant results and we start enjoying some normal tennis again. A tall order given that new standards of performance have just been set to the delight of the masses.

    2. Yes, Amaranth! I am one of those who want the same as you. I wouldn´t have expressed my feelings better.
      I am ashamed of being a citizen of a country where such a gorilla-roid specimen as Nadal is portrayed and widely praised as a national hero and flag of sportsmanship. This guy would do ANYTHING to win. We had another glimpse of his true nature in one of the final games today, when he wanted a lost point to be repeated, claiming that he had stopped play because Djoper´s ball had been out. The replay clearly shows that he looks for the print AFTER hitting. Cheater instinct uncovered.
      I hate seeing guys like this rewarded, at the expense of the real sportsmen capable of delighting people with their art.

    3. Yes very interesting debate. The fact is that if no one was doping, we would/could still have one champion dominating. One being simply better, more talented in some form or another. And it is this very fact that pushes others to dope to catch up with the more talented.

      And that applies for any sport.

      Now because every athlete believes everybody else dopes might possibly make everybody dopin but the fact still some would be better than others without doping.

      In that respect, one who plays tennis and understand what it takes to play like a Federer, Nalbandian, Davydenko cannot put them in the same basket as Nadal, Djoko Murray for instance.

      Some develop their tennis purely on their physical strength and stamina, others on a much more complex, fragile technical skills and timing.

      I believe SnR understands that if he plays tennis.

    4. I could not have said it better amaranth. If doping was openly permitted for all, I wouldn't have as much of a problem with it. Obviously, I would not want to see young men and women jeopardizing their health for extra trophies or accolades but it would be of their choosing and everyone would be on a level playing field. However, my anger is not so much at the players as they simply just want to win like all athletes do. I am so pissed at a system that both profits from selective enforcement of doping and works so hard to protect blatant cheaters. If only we could strike back at this system that mocks our intelligence and calls us the crazy "conspiracists" for wanting to expose the obvious doping that is taking place for millions to see. How much more proof are we going to have to present before the long needed public outcry against this madness finally happens?

    5. Thanks for these great posts, JMF, joaneche, Andrea, CleanTennisUpNow. How nice it would be if all SNR had to do to get the whole tennis world jumping was to post a few hair-raising figures about the disgracefully lax drug testing. But sadly it isn't like that, as Sen's recent post about the steady rise in visits to this site during the FO demonstrates. Did people visit this past 2 weeks because they'd been looking at testing figures, or because they'd been watching obvious dopers play? I'd guess the latter.
      But that's not to advocate a different approach to this blog - it's just to make the point that some of us want to avoid tarring every player with the same brush. They are not all alike. But keep up the good work, Sen. The testing figures ARE appalling, the tennis authorities know it, and it's time they and the promoters, journalists and hangers-on came clean.

  5. I for one wouldn't venture to guess the number of dopers in the top eight in the ATP rankings. And I also wouldn't infer anything from the number of dopers in one race in 1988. Other than, doping is probably quite widespread. I like Moonax's post on another thread today concerning this. But, assuming only some are doping, their number will definitely rise as long as you need to have superhuman abilities to beat the top guys.

  6. Yes very interesting debate. The fact is that if no one was doping, we would/could still have one champion dominating who himself would have no need to dope and would not want to see doping in the sport. One being simply better, more talented in some form or another (could even be cause naturally fitter). And it is this very fact that pushes others to dope to catch up with the more talented.

    And that applies to any sport.

    Now because every athlete believes everybody else dopes might possibly push everybody to dope but the fact still some would be better than others without doping.

    In that respect, one who plays tennis and understands what it takes to play like a Federer, Nalbandian, Davydenko (all could be dopers) cannot put them in the same basket as Nadal, Djoko Murray for instance (surely dopers!).

    Some develop their tennis purely on their physical strength and stamina, others on a much more complex, fragile technical skills and timing.

    I believe SnR understands that if he plays tennis.

  7. Sure, some players are more suspicious than others, such as players that run into panic rooms (which I still can't beleive got next to no coverage) and go for years without an out of competition test, or players that credit a sketchy "doctor" with diagnosising an allergy with an extremely sketchy device. Also, it's clear that some players have styles of play that seem be more geared to endurance and strength than timing and finesse. Ok, so far.

    However, we need to keep in mind that there are numerous PEDs out there that don't build bulk or stamina (e.g., recovery substances or ADD drugs). So, a player could be a big time doper, but just not in an obvious way.

    That's why, in my opinion, bringing the entire sport under a cloud of suspicion because of its inept anti-doping program shown through the facts, coupled with the general increase in physicality and stamina required to compete at an elite level, will prove far more effective strategy than pointing to specific players.

    And let's keep in mind that no journalist who reads this blog is going to write an article based on accusations of Nadal or Djokovic doping. They won't do this. End of story. Also, let's not forget, like it or not, many have dismissed this blog out of hand as being pro-Federer and/or anti-Nadal.

    However, as we have seen, in the last few months, some have written items clearly based on the flaws in the system pointed out by this blog (e.g., Calvert, Tignor, and Guillou). Also, we've provoked reaction on twitter from various ex-players and journalists. So, I think my fact-based approach is getting tangible results.

    And let me add that I appreciate (almost) all the comments I get. After all, it was a comment that led me to examine the anti-doping statistics and discover loser-targeted testing. Others have provided translations, articles, and insights that have led to this blog being the "place" on the internet to discuss doping in tennis. No other site comes close.

    Let's keep it going.

    1. Thanks again for what you do. I agree whole-heartedly with the approach, and I believe it's the only possibly feasible way to approach the issue in a meaningful way. I've also been a huge proponent of game theory, so the Landis-driven article in the reading section that addresses Nash Equilibrium speaks to me. I've used Nash Equilibrium charts to play heads-up poker. That theory says, as it relates to doping, that if all top competitors weren't doping, then somebody would be blowing the whistle. It doesn't have the be the definitive stance, but I think that theory has merit.

    2. As for the panic room incident, that's when it's really unfortunate that we don't get access to the missed test data. I understand instances where one missed test could create bias towards a player. I'm just going to throw a scenario out there. I'm not saying this is what happened, but it's fair to wonder. If Serena was not tested in 2010 or 2011 up until October, it seems reasonable that she could've missed two tests prior to that time (given the average number of tests of her fellow competitors). If that were the case, the only way to avoid punishment would be to be "available" for a test and then retreat to a panic room. If we had access to the missed tests, and if she indeed had two missed tests in the 18-month period prior to October 2011, we could simply ask why she wasn't re-tested as immediately as possible after the incident. We wouldn't have to make any implications. We could simply state that the whereabouts rule did not allow her to miss any more tests and the testers knew exactly where she was located, so why no re-test? Unfortunately, we don't know if she had zero, one, or two missed tests in that 18-month period.

    3. Right on, SnR. Your attitude, being the blog-master, i.e. poster of articles, is what it should be: no "impressionistic" finger-pointing at individuals, just sheer facts, etc. That's what I've been for from the very moment I started commenting on this blog. I've no doubt you'll keep it that way, bless you.
      Also, we, the commentators, have, by way of, eh, 'natural order', more room to speculate (as I, admittedly, have also been doing often enough), and our speculations - as long as they be rational and not based on murky being-a-fan-based motives - can add to the overall effect on the 'discussion' (and the growing numbers of interested readers thereof), by simply pointing out the all-too-obvious examples of the (im-)probabilities of what the (in-)human nature is capable of. (That said, by the way, I, for one, would be even more rigorous in filtering the comments than you are, and especially than THASP was, based on said criterion of 'rationality', i.e., more or less reasonable arguments. But, then again, perhaps it's just as well that I'm not the 'moderator'.)
      All in all: you are doing a great job, within the tough, necessary constraints of your role; and we, the commentators, are, more and more, doing quite a good job within our looser ones. Add to it all the ever-patient, long-suffering, corrective force of Richard Ings (a blessing to this blog if ever there was one) and - well, imagine the light at the end of the tunnel: Anyone for tennis, wouldn't it be nice?

    4. mrsn10dave - you picked my interest concerning the Nash theory. Reasons why a non doping player would NOT blow the whistle were discussed several times on this blog, and they were made more obvious after the attacks on Yannick Noah.
      Also if the theory holds true, how do you explain the miracle case of Novak Djokovic?
      However, what could really be the case is that we are at a point where ALL will start doping because there is no other way out. If you blow the whistle you are a wining Loser, and if you don't start doping now you will for sure be one big fat Loser on the court.

    5. JFM - The other possibility that isn't discussed in that article is that maybe the players would be able to keep their actions a secret from other players. That would be some variation of the Nash Equilibrium where every player does what they feel is best for their game, with the exception that a handful of players could have so much integrity as to refuse to cheat. If those handful of players were kept in the dark about what the cheaters were doing, they would have no information to come forward. There, of course, also is the point you make about nobody wanting to be a narc. That's why I said that the Nash Equilibrium theory isn't the end all be all in this situation, but it creates one starting point for analysis.

    6. SNR - if journalists start writing articles without mentioning a few strange episodes linked to SPECIFIC players, then all they will be able to write about is how the number of tests in tennis is much lower than the number of tests in cycling, and that some guy called Stuart Miller said tennis doesn't lend itself to doping.
      That is useless! Nobody will read such articles.
      I urge you to consider fine tuning your approach.

      Also, promote to blog to the likes of Courier, McEnroe, Wilander, Santoro and others who are exposed in the media.
      The situation has gotten worse, more so than the awareness has risen.

    7. Just to add to my previous posts. SNR, your analyses are essential in understanding the problem and they are required reading. But to pick the interest of the millions, an article in a mainstream publication has to have something else on top of it, I believe.

    8. JMF,
      I understand your position. And I would say that the "Panic Room" story (and the lack of a follow-up test) is the strange episode that should be used. It's there for the taking, I don't understand why it hasn't received coverage. No one covered Dr. Igor and the SCIO device either.

      I have been working to promote the blog on twitter. Interestingly, I've received a lot of support from those who cover cycling.

    9. mrn10sdave - I have to understand the theory a bit better before I can try to give any meaningfull comment. Will try to learn more about it this week.
      Yes, I believe the top dopers don't know what the others could be doing. Unless it's just a question of dosage.

      SNR - I mentioned more exposure in the media, but then I had second thoughts. It's probably impossible that an article or series of articles could bring a cheater down. That cannot happen without some solid evidence (a relevant whistle-blower, for example).
      An other route is something you seem to be working on - pressures on the ITF by the WADA to really do something dramatic about this, including forcing some players to announce their retirement.
      From a moral standpoint, though, the only good solution is to have the cheaters exposed and punished.
      Perhaps a thread just on possible solutions?

    10. SNR - right now there is no widespread understanding of what is going on largely because sport experts continue to fool the population with 'expert opinion' of how this level of play and endurance is a consequence of hard work, talent, genetics, rackets. It's almost unbelievable what they are ready to say and write.
      A really good and interesting article would involve expensive research of medical facilities in Spain and elsewhere, the machine of Dr. Cetojevic, a little research of Serena's foot and panic room incidents, possible comfirmations from older athletes that doping existed even earlier in tennis, analysis of who are the people traveling and working with the top players etc. Even better if you have a tennis equivalent of Floyd Landis providing precise details of doping. Assuming tennis players are not doing it in front of each others, that could only be a disgruntled member of a player's entourage, or someone paid enough to do it. Who could finance the effort to clean up tennis?

    11. "... no "impressionistic" finger-pointing at individuals, just sheer facts."

      Absolutely, Melchekzanikhar, if only we had sheer facts. The problem is that we don't. It's intrinsic to this entire can of worms that no-one has sheer facts about doping. If we did, the whole world would have them and the individual(s) concerned would be banned - end of story. The only sheer facts we can publish with any certainty at all are those about who did or did not get tested, and that tells us next to nothing except that the testing is lax and getting laxer, as we already knew. The rest is conjecture.

      That said, there are one or two rather interesting sheer facts. Take RG 2009, for example. Nadal lost suddenly to Söderling (who he?), dropped out for most of the rest of the year and failed to take a set off anyone at the ensuing WTF. The other Spanish players lost relatively early as well, if I'm not mistaken. Who won? Federer, for the first and so far the only time. And what else was different about RG 2009? The French anti-doping authority was allowed - for the first time in years and probably the last time - to conduct additional surprise IC testing. Sheer coincidence, of course.
      Those are sheer facts. What inferences we draw from them are up to us. But I'd contend that they don't amount to impressionistic finger-pointing.

    12. Amaranth, by "sheer facts" I meant - even more than the (old) news of several poor wretches getting caught - the statistic data on anti-doping activities in tennis that SnR gathers and puts on display together with comparisons to those in other sports, thereby showing the glaring inadequacies thereof. There's plenty of that, and the effect is cumulative. Add to it the promising new project of mrn10sdave to, based on those statistics and the methods used, statistically calculate the possibilities of any sophisticated doper being caught... Add, further, Mr. Ings's invaluable insider's knowledge of how things actually work, and you get the idea: those are sheer, indisputable facts which should be up front, so as to lend credibility to the whole cause.
      Your examples of "one or two rather interesting sheer facts" belong to the second category which I mentioned above (and without which this site would be much poorer and less provoking): the category of reasonable speculations by, mainly but not exclusively, us readers. I, for one, wholeheartedly agree with both your examples and find them obvious and telling, but they are still liable to being dismissed by the whole tennis "establishment" as sheer speculation (and, even, as "seditious", as it happened in the past).
      Back to the original point of my previous comment: THASP has lately reached a precious balance where it cannot easily be dismissed as a gathering place for conspiracy theorists (anymore), while it still provokes juicy food for thought (such as this our discussion!) beyond sheer facts (i.e. data) for any newcomer who is ready, willing and able to find things out. And so: let us all keep it that way, each according to his/her knowledge, insight and abilities.

  8. "However, we need to keep in mind that there are numerous PEDs out there that don't build bulk or stamina (e.g., recovery substances or ADD drugs). So, a player could be a big time doper, but just not in an obvious way. "

    True. There are. But stamina is of primary concern for a tennis player; very often the difference between a win or a loss is who can last the longest. e.g., Tsonga was outplaying Djokovic, but he ran out of gas and lost the match because of it. So, it's unlikely that a player would be a systematic juicer without wanting to enhance stamina. It would defeat the purpose. Which is why the usual suspects—are suspects. They can run all over the court for five sets over four plus hours one day, and come back the next and win another five brutal sets. So, it's not only bulk that casts suspicion, you're right. Add bulk (No one in the history of tennis has had biceps the size of Nadals) to unbelievable stamina, and people start talking.

    EPO (finally coming round to that); and Hgh, are two ways of greatly enhancing one's stamina without adding obvious bulk. But in tennis these two PEDS are not tested for, even when Odesnik shows up with a suitcase full at the Australian.

  9. With 60 some-odd positive tests in tennis, only two of those (by my count) were OOC tests. Maybe unlike every other sport we know about, tennis players only use PEDs during competition. Alternatively, maybe tennis players are tested so infrequently OOC that they don't have to be present when they would test positive, because whereabouts allows two missed tests every 18 months. Thoughts?

    1. My view is that the most obvious answer is that they're not enough OOC tests. Not only that, but there is no plan to test them more. I mentioned this a while back, but in 2010 Stuart Miller gave a presentation at a WADA symposium where he stated that the "aims" of the ITF was to test there registered pool players 3 times per 18 months (see these notes: ).

      So, they are aiming pretty low (and haven't even hit their "aim"), and the lack of testing means doping players can skip tests with little risk of violating the 18-month rule (unless their national antidoping body goes after them).

      I have tried, unsuccessfully so far, to get a copy of Miller's presentation. The WADA told me to ask Miller directly, so I did. He hasn't responded to my e-mail.

    2. You and I both see this situation exactly the same. Furthermore, I think anybody with even a modicum of common sense would have to view it the same way when looking at it rationally. That really only leaves two conclusions, in my opinion. One is that the ITF is completely off the reservation. Meaning that they think because OOC testing doesn't turn anything up, that must mean that more OOC testing wouldn't be valuable. If you read my opinion on the other thread, not only will additional OOC testing create more positive tests in the aggregate, it will increase the likelihood of any one test coming back positive (because it reduces the likelihood of hiding behind the 18-month rule as a player).

      If you assume that the ITF is not off the reservation, that only leaves one other feasible conclusion in my book. They want to keep up the facade of a strong program without risking the possibility of finding "sophisticated dopers." This isn't some conspiracy theory. All they would have to do to address the issue is come out and say "We're doing X number of OOC tests currently. The reason for that is..." If they had a long-term plan it may make sense, but there doesn't appear to be one.

      I think I've made clear at this point that I'd just prefer they skip the IC tests all together and focus the entire budget on OOC tests. In an ideal world you would do both, but I think you get way more bang for your buck focusing on OOC tests. Currently, they're focusing most of the resources in an area where they're highly unlikely to get any positive tests. Why is it that they don't have to answer to us?

    3. ^^ Especially when you consider the 100% predictable IC testing process; extremely unlikely indeed! Predictable IC testing and avoidable OoC testing. At least they're trying...

    4. And don't forget the reduction in EPO and blood testing.

  10. SnR - maybe my post was not clear enough but it's not the size of the muscles nor having a panic room that really defines a cheat in my opinion. It's his essentially his/her tennis style.

    Some have huge talent and others are just trying to catch up with those one way or another.

    Even if federer or Nalbandian were doping, I woudl still coinsider them largely innocent cause I know they would be doping to keep up with the real dopers.

    There is no point being a talented unknown in professional tennis.

    It's good that you do not target some players and leave others off the hook, but someone who knows about the what it takes to play like Djokovic or Nadal and what it takes to play like Federer simply cannot put them in teh same bag.

    It's clear that federer without doping would bagel a dope free he did last Novemberwithout really needing EPO or big muscles.

    In that respect we shoudl not put them all in the same basket....even if I am open to considering Federer a doper. The motives for doping woudl be very different than a Nadal.

    1. Talent doesn't give you lateral explosiveness or endurance.