Are professional sports turning a corner in the steroid era? Or, to put it more hopefully, are we turning a corner out of it? There are tentative signs of change in two sports that have been famously tarred by the performance-enhancing brush, cycling and baseball. A pair of exercise physiologists, writing in the New York Times on Sunday, believe that the latest Tour de France was the cleanest since 1990. They cite slower times on moutanin climbs and credit cycling's adoption of a "biological passport" testing system, which "aims to detect the underlying markers of doping rather than the doping products themselves."
As far as baseball goes, the most notable aspect of this season has been its own drop in production. Home runs have plummeted since the pumped-up glory days of Bonds, Sosa, and McGwire, when players went untested, and this year pitchers are more dominant then they have been in decades. While cycling has toughened its testing, the biggest advance for baseball is that there is testing at all, and that former folk heroes have been disgraced.
Of course, there are all kinds of caveats to drop in right about now. We know that pitchers also took steroids back in the pumped-up glory days, and many observers credit the drop in run production to the widespread use of a new pitch, the Mariano Rivera-inspired cut fastball. We also know that just last year all-time slugger Manny Ramirez was caught using even after he'd been caught before, while the winner of the 2010 Tour de France, Alberto Contador, tested positive for clenbuterol. We know that just as testers catch up, athletes move on to something new and less detectable.
Beyond that, we hear very little about steroids in the NFL, the NBA, track and field, swimming, and other sports, even though athletes across the board are bigger and better than ever. We also hear and read, despite a fair share of rumor mongering, very little about steroids and tennis.
For 2010, however, the ITF has taken a step back. Rather than put a "Tests per Tournament" PDF up, the way it did in 2008 and 2009 — see 2009's here — it has settled for a "Testing Summary" for 2010 — find it here. Instead of telling us that Federer or Nadal or Djokovic or Serena or Maria were tested out of competition on a specific date, we find out how many total tests were administered at, say, Indian Wells — there were 63, in case you're wondering, 32 men and 31 women. After having seen the individual names in the past, this information is now maddeningly non-specific.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
The upshot is that the testing program is less transparent for observers of the game, and for fans who want to believe that tennis is clean, that its testing system may be getting stronger and making a difference. Whatever the reasons behind the change, by withholding information that it once released, the ITF is providing more fodder for conspiracy theorists because it looks like it's hiding something. Should we, now that out-of-competition blood testing has begun, feel like tennis is turning any kind of corner in policing steroids? Despite that hint of positive news, it's a little harder to know.
For more news, go to Tennis.com
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