Would it really matter if Usain Bolt was a cheat?

Date: August 19, 2016 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

Athletics - Olympics: Day 9Usain Bolt is on track for an unprecedented triple – 100m/200m gold medals at three consecutive Olympics.

There have been many big names at Rio 2016 – Phelps, Ledecky, Biles to name three – but Bolt has been the one to create the biggest stir.

His win in the 100m was effectively a procession. He was slow to get started, yet was able to ease up in the shadow of the line, beat his chest and break into a smile.

He had achieved what no other runner has done. He stands atop the tree not just by dint of his hat-trick of gold but also his world record.

It was four years ago on Tuesday that he scorched the track at Berlin in a mind-blowing 9.58 seconds. The previous record of 9.63 was his as well along with the one before that, 9.69.

With all such performances nowadays, however, there is the spectre of whether or not they have been achieved without chemical enhancement.

It is understandable that there may be a degree of scepticism over Bolt.

The fastest 33 times in history have all been posted since June 2005. Bolt has achieved nine of them. The remaining 24 have been set by fellow Jamaicans Asafa Powell (8), Yohan Blake (4) and Nesta Carter (1), along with Americans Justin Gatlin (6) and Tyson Gay (5).

Four of those men have served suspensions for doping while Carter is one of those to have recently failed a re-test of samples from Beijing where he was a member of the 4 x 100m relay that was anchored by Bolt and raced to gold. Bolt could lose his gold medal as a result.

As was the case when Lance Armstrong was ruling the Tour de France, many asked how it was he could be so dominant when many who filled the podium below him were rubbed out for doping. In the end Armstrong himself was also exposed as a drug cheat

The sporting world will be hoping that Bolt does not follow suit. However, if he does, just what would it mean?

Safe to say, at the time it would be a massive story. He would be decried, vilified and ostracised by many. But would it make a difference to his sport or sport in general?

History would say ‘no’. We have seen it all before and in the end the wrath is temporary and the impact beyond that is negligible.

Ben Johnson was the world record holder in the 100m and his outing was huge but it did little to dampen enthusiasm in the ensuing years.

Neither did it when other world record holders like Powell and Tim Montgomery were shown to be cheats.

Marion Jones was the marquee name at the main stadium at Sydney 2000, winning five medals, three of them gold. She was the biggest female name in the sport. Her world came crashing down years later but it did little to dent the following of the sport despite her being forced to relinquish her Sydney medal haul.

The same can be said for Armstrong. Many were caught up in the story of the cancer survivor, back from the brink, inspiring millions by his deeds on the bike and his Livestrong Foundation. We later learned it was all built on a myth.

Mind you, so were the ‘wins’ of Floyd Landis in 2006 and Alberto Contador in 2010. As it turned out, nine of the 12 Tours de France between 1999-2010 were won by drug cheats and their titles removed from them. And what impact has it had on the sport?

Virtually none, as millions still line the roads of France each July and many more watch Le Tour each year as we herald the performances of Cadel Evans and Chris Froome.

There has never been a shortage of corporations keen to get involved. They effectively purchase naming rights for the teams despite the dire history of the sport with respect to drugs. Some will say that we expect doping in cycling. We have learned also to accept it in a sport like athletics.

So, for all those who have proffered the theory that should Bolt one day be shown to be a doped athlete it will bring down the sport, think again.

As fans, we have become largely anaesthetised to the big names being proven to be cheats. Each time it happens the angst and ire is loud but it is soon subsides and normal transmission is restored.

TV networks continue to pay billions for rights; corporate sponsors still jump on board; and fans turn out in droves.

For all the posturing about drugs in sport it has done little to quench the appetite when the stars are shown to have feet of clay. And given all that sport and the fans have endured to date, it would appear nothing will ever turn us away.

Life will go on. Sport will go on. Regardless of what any of us say.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 18 August 2016, soliciting 74 comments