TYSON GAY – “Beneath The Fold”

Monday morning, July 15, armed with the NEW YORK TIMES, USA TODAY, Peach Snapple and a sugar doughnut, I slide into my car and turn on WUCF ( 89.9 FM – jazz station ) and settle back to get caught up on all the latest printed news. As I turn over the front page of THE NEW YORK TIMES there is a picture of Tyson Gay – bottom right. In newspaper parlance and lore, the front page of a newspaper is divided into two halves, stories above where the paper is folded and stories below where the paper is folded. Stories that occupy space “below the fold” are not supposedly as critically important as those ” above the fold “. But no matter, there was Tyson Gay on the front page of THE NEW YORK TIMES. Not the front page of the sports section,….. but the front page of the paper itself ! So despite the fact that he is “below the fold “, it is still very big to be on the front page of the TIMES.

I had heard the gentle rumblings over the weekend through the gossip grapevine of track and field that Tyson had some drug test issues, but really did not want to have to seriously delve into it because I have such great respect for Tyson and the way he had carried himself all these years I have known him since 2005. When I think of Tyson I think of the World Championships of 2007 in Osaka, Japan. He won the 100 and 200, going four rounds in each event. That meant a total of eight races in five days. Morning afternoon of one day, afternoon and evening of the next day. One rest day and repeat a similar pattern. By the time we arrive at the 4 x 100 relay Tyson is beyond tired,…he is exhausted! Our conversation goes like this:

Tyson, how are you man ?

Coach I am really tired,….. but I will do whatever you want me to do.

Tyson, you have already won the 100 and 200. You beat Powell in the 100 and Bolt in the 200. You do not owe any one anything !

Coach, I’ll do whatever you want me to do !

O.K. let me think about it.

As head of the High Performance Program for U.S. Track and Field, I also had responsibility for the relay programs. My most trusted associate is Orin Richburg, former head coach at the University of Washington, and now at New Mexico State. I know I am going to get the most honest and objective input from him. I also meet with John Smith and Jon Drummond . Drummond is working with Tyson and John is coaching the other two relay candidates Leroy Dixon and Rodney Martin. Curtis Frye, who had coached both Dixon and Martin at the University of South Carolina came over to offer some advice.

Brooks, If you are thinking of anchoring Martin, he can have quick feet and leave too early under pressure. I suggest you lead him off.

Curtis, thanks for the input. I’ll keep that uppermost in the decisions we make.

Richburg reminds me that Tyson and Wallace Spearmon worked together in 2006 when we ran the 5th fastest time ever with Spearmon at second leg and Tyson as third leg. They had also ran together at the University of Arkansas, so the amount of time needed to work on passes was greatly reduced. I had already decided that if we used Tyson it would be at third leg. I did not want to risk him on anchor and chance getting him dramatically run down by Powell,…. and diminish his money making leverage later in the year. It is both amusing and annoying to hear, or read, about all the critics and “experts”, and their vomit about the relays. Basically the relays self-select. What seems like a wide array of choices and alternatives at our nationals fades into the mist when it comes time for the relays.  At the end of eight days of sprinting and running, it is very difficult to find four fit and healthy sprinters. I think back to 2003 at the World Championships in Paris. By the time the 4 x 100 came around, we had the world’s fastest relay team sitting on the sidelines. Maurice Greene,  the former world record holder at 100 meters, Tim Montgomery, the current world record holder, along with Jon Drummond, the best lead off leg in the world, and Cobey Miller, fourth at the American nationals, were all sidelined and unavailable. So our winning team was made up of three guys who had run the finals of the 200 the night before the qualification rounds, who had to come back the very next morning to qualify and went ahead and won the 4 x 100 finals over a good British team.

In 2007 we decided that we would go with Martin as lead off ( thanks Curtis ), Spearmon as second leg, Tyson on third leg and anchor Dixon. Dixon was nervous about having to anchor against Powell. In trying to address his anxiety I stated:

Leroy,….all we want from your ass is a 9.20 leg on the anchor. That is what the AVERAGE college anchor leg runs. By the time you get the stick the outcome will have already been decided and all you have to do is stay calm and exe-damned- cute !!

John Smith, sensing my approach was only making Dixon more anxious, came over and took Dixon’s arm and said:

Leroy, let me show you what he’s talking about.

He took him over to the warm up track and set him up in his position and slowly rehearsed him as to what he was supposed to do. In the mean time I talk again with Tyson.

Tyson,…you have had a great meet and no relay race is going to add or detract from that. I do not want you to feel you have to take the weight of the team. We expect Spearmon to bust it wide open.  All we need from you is a smooth exchange between you and him and you and Dixon.

Coach, I am gonna give it what I have.

Tyson, young brother, I know this. You are a quiet warrior and they are the most dangerous !

The race went off as scripted and we won. The U.S. won all four relay golds that year, which was promptly, politically and conveniently forgotten the following year. Later, too tired to run the open 100 at Zurich for mega-bucks, Tyson ran the 4 x 100 again in order for the other three guys to get a big paycheck. That’s the Tyson I am familiar with !

So there is Tyson “below the fold” on the front page of THE NEW YORK TIMES ! Busted and busted up. I had just talked with him a scant 11 days earlier in Lausanne, Switzerland. I was sitting in the warm up area mentally running a list of check points for David Oliver before his 110 meter hurdle race. Tyson walked by with his coach and agent:

Coach, I need to holler at you some time.

Tyson, I am sitting right here. You can holler at me right now.

O.K., I’ll be right back.

He walked over to his coach and agent, dropped his bag and returned to have a very intense and brief conversation with me. NO,…it was not about any problem he was having, he just wanted to make sure that I conveyed to a not- to- be mentioned third party that  he, Tyson, was very concerned about the person and really cared that things worked out well for them. I told him I would deliver the message and was impressed that he again showed that kind of depth and concern for some one else in this overly “first – person – singular” centered world.

It seems to me that there is one big, and very significant, thing that is being lost in all the sensationalism and media mangling that is going on. Back in the early 1980′s a scientist from Hewlett-Packard ( they made the gas spectrometer used for drug testing in those days ) Advised me:

There is nothing you can put in your body that does not have a foot print or identifying mark. We can detect down to one part in a billion and soon it will be be one part in a trillion. We can detect the chemical and atomic structure of things in space. Do you really think we can not detect stuff in the human body literally right under our eyes ? The only thing missing is motivation and money !

What is essentially taking place before our very eyes is the fact that the USADAs, WADAs, and testers of the world are winning the war on performance enhancement drugs. There is enough money, motivation and incentive present in the testing business for the testers to get out ahead,… and stay ahead of the cheaters. And just as the Hewlett-Packard scientist stated, the degree of sophistication of the testers is getting more and more advanced, making successful evasion less likely. The testers have reverse engineering capacity that they are on the brink of fully utilizing. They are gathering a reservoir and pool of  relevant information and data across several areas of substance abuse and science, and as they more and more cross reference this data, they will come up with even more sophisticated detection models, procedures and processes. Bottom line, they now have the money,  resources, knowledge, and equipment to “outscience” the cheaters ! Further, they have a greater capacity to predict the areas where cheaters may go, than the cheaters themselves, simply because they have won the “science arms race” of performance enhancement drug cheating.

There is one other very interesting parallel for me. The first instance of street drug use requires a small amount of the drug to attain the desired result and outcome. As adjustment, adaptation and dependency takes place, an ever increasing amount is necessary to get the very same result. The very same process is at work with the testers. To a great extent their existence and relevancy depends on their ever increasing need to make bigger and more bombastic busts. After Ben, Marion, and Lance, they now have to “stack” names in order to get the same bang as in the past. So now they couple and bundle both Tyson and Powell, despite the fact that they were tested and detected six weeks apart, they are announced at the same time in order to guarantee the biggest possible media splash. This need alone will drive them to an ever increasing drive to make the kind of busts necessary to create the necessary headlines they need in order to continue their existence. So like the addict and cheaters, they are caught up in an ever more demanding need for a bigger and better bust to address their own addictive behavior. This need is going to drive these people to greater effort and efficiency in what they are doing. So the cheaters are basically a very endangered species. They are going to be overwhelmed and outgunned at just about every juncture.  But arising from this is a  very basic and most serious concern. What about the abuses the testers will inevitably engage in as they pursue their own addictive drive to catch the cheaters ?

Thanks.

Brooks T. Johnson

( 407 ) 758 -0755

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