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Baseball has a sad new phrase: the Steroid Era, three words damning the power-hitting explosion that began in the 1990s and lasted more than a decade. The best-made case that performance-enhancing drugs played a major role in the era's inflated homer totals comes in Game of Shadows, by San Francisco Chronicle reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, which details the behavior of Barry Bonds from 1998 to 2003. (The book, excerpted in the March 13 issue of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, will be in stores this week.)
Shadows also lands heavy blows on track and field, a sport that has long been conducted under suspicion--sometimes confirmed--of widespread steroid use. But in contrast to the book's eye-opening deconstruction of Bonds, which included numerous previously unpublished revelations, Shadows builds its case against track and field by seamlessly weaving together material already seen in the Chronicle and other publications, including SI.
The result is a dispiriting portrayal of a sport ruled by desperation and deceit, populated by talented athletes willing to compromise their health and their integrity for the smallest edge. The book names more than a dozen world-class track athletes, including several Olympic and world champions, and leaves little doubt that track has endured its own Steroid Era.
While this makes for an intriguing read and may shock mainstream sports fans who still cling to the myth of Olympic-sports purity, it is old business within a sport that has been dealing with steroid issues for at least three decades. And while the baseball revelations in Shadows unmask the game's preeminent superstar, the track athletes named are former stars who are either banned, retired or long past their prime. The steroid generation the book identifies is currently exiting the sport en masse.
Among the biggest names implicated in Shadows are Marion Jones, 30, who won five medals at the 2000 Olympics (and who has repeatedly denied using performance-enhancing substances) but whose career has been in steep decline since she ran embarrassingly slow times in 2005 and failed to make the U.S. national team; former 100-meter world-record holder Tim Montgomery, 31, who retired in December after receiving a two-year ban for steroid use, which he denies; Kelli White, 28, the 2003 100- and 200-meter world champion, who admitted to steroid use and accepted a two-year suspension in 2004; Regina Jacobs, 42, who qualified for four Olympic teams and won 24 national titles but who in 2003 was one of the first four U.S. athletes to test positive for the designer steroid known as the Clear; and Zhanna Pintusevich Block, 33, of the Ukraine, who upset Jones in the 100 meters at the 2001 world championships but has not run world-class times in more than two years. (Block has never tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs.)
These were hardly the first track and field athletes whose performances bear the scent of the pharmacy. Between 1983 and '88 seven existing women's world records and two men's marks were established by athletes from then Soviet-bloc nations, most of which have since been found to have conducted systematic doping programs. The current shot put mark was set in 1990 by Randy Barnes of the U.S., who tested positive for steroids less than three months after establishing his record.
Since 1993 the record in the men's 10,000 meters has been reduced by a remarkable 50 seconds; it had fallen by only 31 seconds in the previous 28 years. The 5,000 record dropped by 20 seconds from 1994 to 2004 after coming down only 20 seconds in the previous 28 years. None of the athletes responsible for these dramatic improvements have tested positive for a banned substance, but cynics will note that these accomplishments have coincided with the emergence of the red-blood-cell-boosting EPO, which has only been detectable by tests since 2000.
Because disbelief has been part of the culture of the sport for years, track has already dealt with many questions that baseball now faces. The matter of asterisks, for example, has been addressed. Track has repeatedly discussed--and for now, dismissed--rewriting its records. It also has had a firmly entrenched drug policy that carries severe penalties; the problem is that like every other sport, it just can't keep up with the technology available to the dopers.
The current generation of U.S. sprint stars--Olympic gold medalists Justin Gatlin (100 meters) and Jeremy Wariner (400 meters) and world champions Lauryn Williams (100 meters) and Allyson Felix (200 meters)--are mercifully absent from the pages of Shadows. They are the future, as track soldiers on again, slightly under the radar of public outrage. This book reminds us that they are cursed to run under suspicion.
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