Thursday 14 December 2017

Olympic medalist wants to 'tweak' events rather than strip clean athletes of world records

Kelly Sotherton attends a photocall ahead of taking part in the Virgin London Marathon at The Tower Hotel. (Photo by Ferdaus Shamim/WireImage)
Kelly Sotherton attends a photocall ahead of taking part in the Virgin London Marathon at The Tower Hotel. (Photo by Ferdaus Shamim/WireImage)

Matt Slater

Kelly Sotherton believes athletics should "create a new slate" by tweaking the events rather than throwing out the existing world records.

Sotherton retired from the sport in 2012 with one Olympic bronze medal to her name, but has recently been upgraded to two more bronze medals after rivals at Beijing 2008 failed drugs tests when their samples were reanalysed.

So the 40-year-old, who competed in the heptathlon and 4x400 metres relay, is acutely aware of the sport's doping problems and welcomes the current debate about resetting records from before 2005, which is when athletics started to store anti-doping samples for reanalysis.

However, Sotherton has deep concerns about the unfairness of withdrawing records held by clean athletes.

Speaking at the Sport Resolutions conference, she said: "We all know that some of the records are completely out there, like (Florence Griffith-Joyner's) 100 metres and 200 metres records, and (Marita Koch's) 400 metres, but not all of those records were achieved by people who cheated.

"Scrapping those records is unfair on those athletes. And what about my pre-2005 performances? Did they happen? Does this apply to national records, too?

"But I am open to the discussion - for the greater good of the sport it's a good thing.

"Perhaps we could change the events, though. We did it for javelin in the 1980s.

"Could we go back to yards or run 101 metres instead of 100 metres? We create a new slate and have new records."

Earlier on Thursday, another of Britain's most famous multi-discipline female athletes, Dame Mary Peters, added her voice to those urging world athletics chief Lord Coe to reject the plan to retire pre-2005 records.

The proposal, which has already been backed by European Athletics, calls for an overhaul of how governing bodies recognise records.

The new criteria for ratification would be that records can only be set at major events, athletes must have been drug-tested a minimum number of times in the last year and have no doping convictions.

But it is issue of storing samples for 10 years that has provoked the most outcry, given the fact that pre-2005 records cannot meet this stipulation through no fault of the athletes involved.

Current world record-holders such as triple jumper Jonathan Edwards, long jumper Mike Powell and marathon runner Paula Radcliffe have all strongly criticised the idea, as have several other British and international athletes.

IAAF president Coe, however, is understood to be supportive of the idea and it is on the agenda for the next meeting of the IAAF Council in London on July 31.

And, speaking to Athletics Weekly on Monday, Coe said he "welcomed the debate" and, if anybody had any other ideas "let's have them".

Peters, who won a gold medal in the pentathlon at the 1972 Olympics, has known Coe for nearly 40 years and was the British athletics team manager at the 1980 Olympics, where the Englishman won the first of his two Olympic 1,500m titles.

She said: "I hope he'll listen to people like me and not take away records from those who have earned them.

"My plea today is not to punish the innocent and take away their records but to get after the cheats."

Sotherton agreed with her on this point, saying she would prefer if the IAAF and anti-doping authorities focused their efforts on improving testing and teaching young athletes to compete clean.

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