King Kaufman's Sports Daily

The death of track and field: Why watch a sport where the only results that mean anything come from a lab? Plus: Tyson's finished! We mean it! (Please forget this by his next fight.)


Salon Staff
August 3, 2004 11:00PM (UTC)

Track and field. Dead and deader.

Or at least doomed and doomeder.

What's the point of following this sport? We'll all watch it at the Olympics starting next week, the way we do volleyball and curling and that horse-jumping stuff every four years, but that's just because we'd watch phone book-reading at the Olympics. Beyond that, why invest the energy in track and field? The results mean nothing.

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Except the drug-test results.

The latest is that U.S. sprinter Calvin Harrison will miss the Athens Games because he's been suspended for two years after he lost an arbitration hearing on a failed drug test. Harrison tested positive for modafinil, a banned prescription drug used to treat sleep and attention-deficit disorders, at the U.S. championships last year.

He also tested positive for a stimulant in 1993, and since the rules say two stimulant positives equals one steroids positive equals a two-year ban, he's banned until the summer of '06. Even though the banned stimulant he tested positive for 11 years ago, pseudoephedrine, commonly found in cold medications, is no longer banned.

Got that?

Good. Now explain it to me.

I'm not here to defend Calvin Harrison, who is either guilty as sin, an innocent victim, or both. Or neither. Really, I mean it when I say: Whatever. Calvin Harrison is small potatoes.

We're talking big picture here, and the picture is of a sport that's impossible to follow because the picture keeps changing. The results on the field are irrelevant. You did not see what you think you just saw, you'll find out in a few months or years. The final results will be posted at some unknown future date. Please stand by, and hold your applause until an arbitration panel somewhere delivers a decision on the matter.

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All of the results from the time of Harrison's positive test last summer will be nullified, so it looks like the U.S. 1,600-relay team will have to forfeit its gold medal from the '03 world championships. Harrison was also on the 1,600-meter team that won a gold medal in the 2000 Olympics, which may have to be forfeited as well because of a positive steroid test in 1999 by Jerome Young, who was on the team.

The intentions are mostly good here. I think for the most part officials are trying to clean up the sport, trying to get rid of the rampant, maybe almost unanimous drug abuse among the athletes in order to protect the integrity of the competition and the health of current and future participants.

But there has to be a better way. I have no idea what that way might be but somebody who cares about the sport really ought to be looking for it, because trying to follow track and field under this regime is a little like trying to follow history under the Soviets. "You didn't see that. It didn't happen. Remember that person on the medal stand? He wasn't really there. See? Look at this picture: He's gone."

Remember the U.S. team winning the 1,600-meter relay in Sydney? You may remember them celebrating afterwards. Nope. Nigeria won. You could look it up, once the International Olympic Committee makes its expected decision on the matter in the next few days. Remember the U.S. winning the 1,600 relay at the world championship last year? Nope. France.

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I suppose in Paris this morning some kid somewhere burst into the house and said, in French, of course, "Hey, Ma, a three-person panel from the American Arbitration Association has ruled against Calvin Harrison's appeal of his second positive drug test! That means we won the gold medal last year at the world championships! Oh boy!"

But I doubt it.

If what you see means nothing, why watch?

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In order to save track and field, they've had to kill it.

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The end of Mike Tyson, Part XXIV [PERMALINK]

The funniest thing about the coverage of Mike Tyson's "shocking" fourth-round knockout at the hands of British unknown Danny Williams over the weekend was the clucking that this might be the end for Iron Mike as a real contender for the heavyweight title.

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Gee, you think? What gave it away?

Tyson is 38 years old and 15 pounds heavier than he was in his prime, and he hasn't won a big fight in more than a decade, hasn't come close. He's taken beatings at the hands of Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis. If you ever wanted to explain the term "shot fighter" to a non-boxing fan, you could just point to Mike Tyson in his post-prison years.

Despite all this, more than 17,000 people showed up at Freedom Hall in Louisville Friday to watch him work. Showtime carried the bout on pay-per-view and will replay it Saturday as part of a boxing card on the cable channel.

Tyson has the convenient excuse that he hurt his knee in the first round Friday -- sure, that was the problem. A whole bunch of people, buying that old-guy story or, what the heck, not, will probably show up next time he fights too. Might just sell out the whole state fair.

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And it'll be fun to watch the media pretending that Tyson still has a legitimate career going, ramping up the excitement as fight night approaches, and then going into knitted-brow postscript mode after another desultory performance. Win or lose, team coverage will pose the question: Is Mike Tyson through?

Why does this keep happening? Because people love Mike Tyson. Or they hate him. Or something, but they're fascinated with him. He sells papers, boosts ratings, inspires PPV buys, gooses hit totals. If it's about Mike Tyson, it's going to draw a crowd. If we in the media say, "Mike Tyson's through" and ignore him, we're leaving money on the table.

We're not idiots, you know.

Previous column: Better living through team chemistry

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