Tag Archives: Linford Christie

Marcell Jacobs sets sights on 100m European title with a point to prove

At the time, few people would even have noticed Marcell Jacobs’ two previous European Championships appearances. In 2016, he finished 11th in the long jump; two years later he failed to progress from the 100 metres semi-finals.

That he lines up in Monday’s 100m heats as Olympic champion shows how much life has changed for the Italian over the past year: from an also-ran to the event’s biggest star.

Not since Linford Christie in 1992 has a 100m Olympic champion hailed from Europe. Three decades on, the world’s premier sprinter returns to the European stage with huge uncertainty over what the week might entail for him.

If Jacobs’ stratospheric, unexpected rise to the pinnacle of the sport last year was not eye-catching enough, his subsequent performances – or lack of – have added layer upon layer of intrigue to a man whose sudden emergence prompted raised eyebrows worldwide.

His triumph at last year’s Olympics, in a European record time of 9.80 sec, came just three months after he had broken the 10-second barrier for the first time.

History has not always looked kindly on athletes making huge strides in short periods, and questions were asked of Jacobs, 27, when it emerged that he was associated with a nutritionist, Giacomo Spazzini, who was implicated in a police investigation into the distribution of anabolic steroids in March 2021. Spazzini has since been cleared of any wrongdoing by an Italian court, while Jacobs told Telegraph Sport this year that he had “absolutely not” taken any illegal substances.

“I understand that people were surprised, but that’s because for most people my name came into their homes at the Olympics,” he added. “My victories represent extreme hard work – hard work that nobody saw, hard work that was blood, sweat, tears and injuries.”

Marcell Jacobs shocked the world with his Tokyo 100m triumph CREDIT: REUTERS

Having opted to end his season immediately after that Olympic breakthrough, he returned to action at the start of the year when beating America’s defending champion, Christian Coleman, to the world indoor title. There has been little sight of him since.

A virus laid him low at the start of the outdoor season, and he arrived at last month’s World Championships in Eugene having raced at just two Italian meetings all summer, withdrawing from multiple Diamond League appearances at short notice due to various physical problems. After advancing from the heats in a season’s-best 10.04 sec, he pulled out before the semi-finals, citing a muscular thigh injury.

“A painful choice,” he said. “I am a fighter and this is why I decided to be in Eugene. Now, in order not to compromise the rest of the season by risking a more serious injury, I have to postpone the challenge.”

A few weeks on, Jacobs’ coach, Paolo Camossi, is optimistic. “He’s running free, he’s having fun,” he said, on the eve of the European Championships in Munich. “If we are here it is because he is fine and can compete.

“Marcell is the Olympic gold medallist and he is here to win, but it is not a race to be taken lightly. Falling is almost always the way to become stronger. “I would do it all again. Maybe I would recommend a double mask to avoid the rotavirus caught in Italy [in May].”

Source: telegraph.co.uk

Olympic 100m champion Marcell Jacobs furiously denies doping allegations

Olympic 100m champion Marcell Jacobs has furiously denied doping allegations and claimed his gold medal was won with “blood, sweat, tears and injuries.”

Jacobs, 27, shocked the world in Tokyo last summer when he took the title from America’s Fred Kerley by clocking 9.80 seconds.

His time represented a new Italian record and the third occasion during the Games where he had broken the 10-second barrier, having only done so once previously.

He later notched an historic double by helping the Italian team to gold in the 4x100m relay and was duly chosen to carry his country’s flag at the closing ceremony.

But adulation from his homeland was negated by skepticism elsewhere, especially when Jacobs announced he would be ending his season immediately after Tokyo.

Japan wasn’t the only time that the sprinter had been perceived to have over-performed last year, also taking the European indoor title in Torun in a personal best of 6.47 seconds.

Perception was further plagued following the Olympics when Jacobs’ former nutritional advisor, Giacomo Spazzini, was held in a police investigation dubbed ‘Operation Muscle Bound’ over the illegal distribution of anabolic steroids.

However, Jacobs himself continues to vehemently deny any personal wrongdoing, and when asked in an interview with the Daily Telegraph if he had taken performance enhancing drugs, emphatically answered “Absolutely not, and I would not.

“People think they can say whatever they want about you without understanding that sometimes what they say can be hurtful.

“The negative pieces hurt me a bit because what they did was put doubt over my victories. My victories represent extreme hard work. Hard work that nobody saw, hard work that was blood, sweat, tears and injuries.”

On his dubiously timed break from the sport, Jacobs insisted it was down to physical exhaustion, and not a ploy to avoid scrutiny, claiming he “needed to regenerate my mind and body.”

Jacobs started out in professional athletics as a long-jumper, and in 2016 was crowned national champion and listed 10th in the IAAF rankings.

However, he missed the Rio Olympics due to a hamstring problem and then three years later switched to sprinting, citing the regular injuries he was picking up in long-jump.

Olympic gold represented a meteoric rise in the discipline, and he became the first European athlete to triumph in the event since Linford Christie at the Barcelona 1992 Olympics.

How far has fight against doping really come since ‘dirtiest race in history’?

Thirty years ago today, Ben Johnson crouched on his starting blocks before the 100m Olympic final in Seoul, waiting. A gun went off. And he went supernova. Even now there is a visceral thrill watching him burn off his rivals from between 30 to 70 metres – those tiny legs whirring at an almost impossible velocity, as if the race replay is being played at double speed, while they strain in vain to catch him – as he lifts one finger in the air in triumph.

After his lap of honour, Johnson was asked which he treasured more: his gold medal or a world record of 9.79 seconds. “The gold medal,” he replied. “Because they can’t take that away from you.”

We know what happened next. A day later, traces of the anabolic steroid stanozolol were found in his body. Johnson was stripped of his glory and dignity; the rest of us our naivety. The dirtiest race in history, they call it now. Given six of the eight finalists have failed drug tests, perhaps that is right – but, given the ongoing ineffectiveness of the anti-doping system, would you bet on it?

Johnson certainly had his suspicions about whether things were much better in the modern era when I spoke to him in 2013. “Victor Conte made this drug called the Clear that could go through your system in 10-15 minutes,” he pointed out. “And if you look at some athletes in the last two or three Olympics, they’re hyper. You can look in their eyes. This is not normal. It’s crazy.”

With hindsight, the signs that Johnson was juicing were obvious. His shoulders and back were armour‑plated with thick muscle. He could squat three times his bodyweight. And his eyes had a lemony tint – a tell-time sign of performance-enhance drugs. As one US coach who saw Johnson a few days before the 100m final told Sports Illustrated: “His eyes were so yellow with his liver working overtime processing steroids that I said he’s either crazy or he’s protected with an insurance policy” – a reference to rumours from the 1987 Rome world championships that the IAAF, the athletics governing body, was covering up positive tests.

At the time the IAAF denied it. But history has subsequently shown it has form in this regard. It was only two years ago, after all, that four senior figures were banned for causing “unprecedented damage to the sport” by extorting €450,000 from the Russian marathon runner Liliya Shobukhova in exchange for hiding her doping violations.

Russia was in the news again last week, with the World Anti-Doping Agency’s decision to welcome it back from the cold met with almost universal anger. Certainly Wada should be performing better. It is supposed to be the world’s policeman, but doesn’t catch enough villains. Many believe it is also too close to the International Olympic Committee, which has been accused of favouring geopolitics above clean sport in the case of Russia. Insightful minds – such as Renee-Anne Shirley, the former head of Jamaican Anti-Doping – also want far more external scrutiny from independent experts, too.

But at least we can say this for Wada. It has ensured there is a harmonized structure of rules across sports and countries – which was not the case until 1999.

Remember that at the 1988 US trials, Carl Lewis failed three tests for a stimulant which should have led to him missing the Olympics – only to get off because the US Olympic Committee decided his use was “inadvertent”. Lewis, who won the 100m gold in Seoul after Johnson’s disqualification, later admitted he was not the only one – in fact “there were hundreds of people getting off”. See, it’s not just the Russians who have bent or broken the rules.

Closer to home, most people also forget that when Linford Christie tested positive for the banned anabolic steroid nandrolone in 1999 he was initially cleared by UK Athletics. Only later was he suspended for two years after the IAAF overturned the decision. At least such naked conflicts of interests are less likely now.

But the system remains far from ideal. Shirley, who bravely blew the whistle on the fact only one out-of-competition test was done in Jamaica before London 2012, also fears many countries only pay “lip service to clean sport” – “because they’re all about placing high on medal tables at major Games”.

As she also points out, testing is ineffective – with only around 1% yielding a positive result – and skewed towards inadvertent doping rather than catching serious sophisticated doping at the elite level.

Meanwhile, as we look back to that momentous day in Seoul, spare a thought for Calvin Smith, who was upgraded to Olympic bronze, but never got the credit or sponsorship his career deserved. “I was the best in the race, no matter what it says on paper,” says Smith, who never failed a drugs test and is widely considered to have raced clean in his career. “I did it in a way that was right, drug free, and many others cannot say that.”

Incidentally, not long after Johnson was busted Sir Arthur Gold, then president of the European Athletics Council, said: “The only people who will be caught for drugs are the careless or the ill-advised.” The tragedy is that, 30 years from Seoul, those words still ring true.

My dad used performance-enhancing drugs – it nearly killed him

In 1988 Linford Christie failed his first drugs test at the Seoul Olympics. That same year, my dad, Arthur White, won the first of four world titles in a powerlifting career that almost cost him – and us – everything.

Sometime in the early 80s, when I was still at primary school and the world of performance-enhancing drugs was still a crude and embryonic one, he sustained an injury. A bloke at the gym suggested steroids might speed his recovery. He was reluctant, but he needed to get better fast; he had a competition coming up. Over the years, steroids led to amphetamines, and amphetamines to cocaine. Before anyone knew it, everything imploded.

There is much discussion at the moment about the systematic use of performance-enhancing drugs. State-sponsored doping programmes (Russia) or endemic use within a sport (cycling and Team Sky) are inexcusable and need to be tackled at the highest level. Anti-doping programmes are still under resourced, despite recent promises by the UK government to increase their funding. But beyond the motivations for national glory and personal or corporate riches there is another, more basic human instinct driving drug abuse in sport that may be harder to combat: the desire to win.

As children, we were never in any doubt about the importance of sport – and specifically winning – to my dad. I was born on the way back from his first British championships. Holidays were planned around competitions, and took place only in locations with a gym nearby. We had a chest freezer in the garage full of whole chickens. We knew it wasn’t quite normal, but who ever gets to be world champion by being normal? In the world of amateur sport, when success comes with little promise of fame or fortune, systematic drivers of drug abuse do not always apply. In these cases, the same obsessive attitude that drives a person to succeed is the very thing that may make them susceptible to elite sport’s biggest temptation.

Perhaps because so few elite athletes ever admit to drug use even when caught, we rarely hear the stories of those around them who are affected by the physical and mental side-effects of performance-enhancing drugs. But you don’t have to look too hard at the gossip columns to piece together a likely picture. Steroid abuse affected my dad as it does many people. He became aggressive, overly confident and reckless. Like many athletes, he began using amphetamines alongside steroids to give him a boost, first for competitions, but soon much more regularly. He was a strong man, used to being in control. He began using drugs to improve his performance, but forgot they were also highly addictive and could alter his personality.

By 1989 he was addicted to cocaine and in debt. He had an affair and left us, the first of many times he’d do so over the next five years. He ended up in a bedsit, working as an illegal debt collector. Depression, a common side-effect of steroid abuse, led to binge drinking and suicide attempts. But when I railed against his latest betrayal, my mum would simply hold me and say: “It’s not him Emma, it’s the drugs.” I couldn’t understand it then, but I do now.

In 1993, my dad went cold turkey for the last time. He found a faith, started seeing a counsellor. When he registered at the doctor’s as a drug addict, they said his heart was the size of a football. With the combination of steroids and cocaine he’d been taking, it was amazing he hadn’t dropped dead of a heart attack. Others, such as the former World’s Strongest Man Jón Páll Sigmarsson, weren’t so lucky. He died that same year, aged just 32.

My parents rescued their marriage and in the years since, my dad has traveled the world telling his story. When asked why he did it, the answer is always the same. “Lifting was my god,” he says. “It was everything to me. The drugs just let me train harder.” The irony is that in his case, probably like many others, they didn’t make him that much better. In 1981, before he began using drugs, he won his first European championships. With a 340kg squat, a 197.5kg bench press and a 367.5kg dead lift, he was as good as he’d ever be.

Years later, I asked my dad about a survey I’d seen in a bodybuilding magazine. Would you take a drug, it asked, that would guarantee you became Mr Universe but gave you only 10 years to live? Chillingly, the majority of respondents said yes. “Of course,” he shrugged. “I would. Or I would have, back then. It was everything, winning.” Now that’s a powerful motivator, and one that it is going to be difficult to ever overcome.