National marathon champion Stephen Scullion believes the string of high-profile doping cases in athletics has caused many athletes to lower their expectations at major championships.
Former marathon world record holder Wilson Kipsang was handed a four-year-ban earlier this month for failing to submit accurate anti-doping whereabouts on four occasions. Scullion, who has a marathon best of 2:11:52, believes more athletes are now aware they're in an unfair race.
"When you see these really incredible performances, the danger is you would push yourself beyond the natural limits and risk injuries, illnesses, or losing a load of weight to try match these performances," he says. "A lot of athletes will do long-term, serious damage chasing those results that might not have been real."
Scullion finished second in last year's KBC Dublin Marathon behind Othmane El Goumri, nine months after the Moroccan returned from a two-year doping ban. The more doping cases he reads about, the more he lowers his expectations.
"Do I believe that winning Olympic and World Championship golds is possible right now? Maybe you're not a dreamer because you consistently see doping bans, and a bit like in cycling, why a lot of people become domestiques, they decided (doping) wasn't for me and (I) knew what it took to be the absolute best. It taints my motivation a little bit because I see: was it ever a level playing field?"
Scullion has been at home in Belfast since March and has twice tried to return to his usual training base in Flagstaff, Arizona, only to be denied permission to travel. He plans to go altitude training in Switzerland soon before targeting his third straight national 10,000m title next month. He may be in line for selection for the Tokyo Olympics but with doubt growing over the Games taking place, he's taking nothing for granted. "It is people's dream to be part of it," he said.