Imagine a sprinter ran 9.58 seconds at an obscure all-comers meet, then shows up in Rio running 10.10 seconds. You would be an idiot not to ask questions about a performance drop off like that of more than 5%. Perhaps the track was short; maybe the wind gauge was faulty; or even that the athlete was not subject to rigorous out-of-competition drug testing. There could be legitimate reasons for the drop off too: the athlete could now be injured, or just choking more than anyone in history. Either way, such a deviation requires some type of explanation. Unfortunately, these types of performances happen all the time in our sport and no one asks about them. It is the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about.
But with the sport bumbling from one doping scandal to the next, the frustration with cheating in our sport is reaching a new high and a few people are finally starting to speak up. A Finnish newspaper put together a list of 17 suspicious marks last week. And, earlier this month, Finnish thrower Tuomas Seppänen spoke out about suspicious Iranian results on Facebook after missing out on the Olympics by one centimeter.
In the throwing events, suspicious marks are even more prevalent. That is why it consistently takes several meters less than the Olympic standard to make the Olympic final in the throws. I like to boil down the problem into a simple formula I composed a few years ago:
absurdly high qualifying standards + few mainstream competitive opportunities = more cheating and doping
No matter how high the standard, people will find a way to reach it. And when you push events to the periphery of the sport, cheating becomes easier. While the IAAF would like you to think that Russia is the only problem with track and field now, our issues are not exclusive to Russia and the IAAF is not doing anything about them. In fact, the most suspicious cases do not even come from Russia. Below is a list of the 5 most suspicious marks in my event, the men’s hammer throw, leading into Rio. And trust me, I could make a list like this for nearly every event.
Disclaimer: Before I get into the list, here are a few disclaimers. First, appearing on the list is not an accusation of guilt. I am just saying these marks are suspicious and warrant a closer look due to the entirety of the facts and circumstances. Perhaps there is an explanation, and if the athletes would like to let me know, I would be happy to tell his/her side of the story. I am just presenting the facts. Second, just because marks are not on this list does not mean they are legitimate. I could have easily doubled the number of throwers on this list. Third, as mentioned above, the hammer throw is not the only event affected by this problem. It is just worse as hammer throwers are not allowed in mainstream competitions like the Diamond League and standards are so absurdly high that this encourages athletes to cheat. So, with that being said, here you go.
1. Oleksandr Dryhol (Israel) – 77.70 meters
Four years ago, Dryhol surprised the world with a toss of 79.42 meters. What was surprising was not just the result, but that he threw it at the age of 46. Soon after, the amazing result was shown to be hardly that. At the Olympics, Dryhol threw just 69.57 meters to place nearly dead last. Then the next year he tested positive for steroids.
This year he is back from his suspension and competing now for Israel. At the age of 50 he hit a season’s best of 77.70 meters at the same venue as his big 2012 throw. To put the mark in perspective, it is not only 6 meters beyond Jud Logan’s world record for the 50-year-old age group, but also with a heavier hammer as Logan’s mark was with the 6-kilogram hammer. Not surprisingly, he lost nearly 10 meters at a major championship, managing just 68.10 meters at this month’s European Championships. It appears as though Israel has left him off their Olympic team, and rumors are also floating around that he is among the 45 new positives from retests of doping samples from the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. But if he does make it to Rio, I would definitely bet against him breaking 70 meters there.
2. Sukhrob Khodyayev (Uzbekistan) – 78.22 meters
You might be surprised to browse last year’s world rankings and see Khodyayev tenth on the list. I follow the hammer closely and never heard of him until an IAAF report this month stated that the 10th best hammer thrower in 2015 had not had a doping test in the previous 30 months. This thrower was Khodyayev.
After reading this, I did a bit more research. He had just two competitions outside of Central Asia last year: 72.63 meters at the Asian Championships and an even worse performance of 71.24 meters at the World Championships. This year he has managed just 71.50 meters in one competition. If you look back to 2012 he somehow threw just inches over the Olympic B Standard of 74 meters, nearly as far as his best with the 6-kilogram hammer that year. But when he came to London he hit just 65.88 meters at the Games.
3. Roberto Sawyers (Costa Rica) – 77.15 meters
Falling second place to Dryhol’s 77.70 mark in Jablonec (Czech Republic), Costa Rican Roberto Sawyers added three meters to his season’s best too. The next week Sawyers went even further at nearby Liberec. There must be some magic in the Czech Republic, because a few days before the meet he threw just 69.72 in Halle and 67.24 meters in Forbach. Directly after, he threw 69.44 meters in Cork.
Last year was more of the same story: he also threw his season’s best of 76.37 meters in Jablonec and his next best mark was just 71.63 meters. And he followed up his performance in the Czech Republic with throws of just 70.95 meters at the Pan American Games, 70.42 at the NACAC Championships and just 66.64 meters for near dead last at the World Championships.
4. Hassan Mohamed Mahmoud (Egypt) – 78.39 meters
It’s always a bit strange when an athlete comes back from a doping suspension and throws even further. In 2013 Mahmoud threw 78.21 meters and just three days later tested positive. His ban ended in February, and already in March he threw a personal best of 78.39 meters in South Africa to qualify for the Olympics. His average result in Europe this summer has been just 70.75 meters.
5. Pejman Ghalenoui (Iran) – 77.18 meters
Ghalenoui has not just one, but two outliers this year. Back in April, he started his season with a few competitions over a two-week span: 68.54 meters, 75.96 meters, and 70.59 meters. I’ll let you guess which one raised my eyebrows. He then took stepped away from competitions for nearly three months before appearing again on one of the last days in the Olympic qualification period to throw the Olympic standard of 77.18 meters in Belarus. Belarus has a well-documented history of shady results. In fact, the meet this mark came from is named for Ivan Tikhon, whose personal best of 86.73 meters (just one centimeter short of the world record) was perhaps the most suspicious mark in history due to the distance and his history of doping. It has since been annulled.
The results in Belarus were even more suspicious since Ghalenoui’s teammate Kaveh Mousavido also had a big toss there. Mousavido has been on the scene longer than Ghalenoui, having thrown 73 to 74 meters for the last 8 years. He was even quite consistent at that level at the London Olympics, throwing just a half meter off his season’s best then. But he jumped up to 77.40 meters in Belarus. A big personal best at age 31 is not unheard of, but is also a rarity in our sport. Both athletes were also coached until the end of April by Adrian Annus, although he is no longer associated with them.