Shorter: Independent testing is necessary

A positive development, according to Shorter: "Cheaters no longer have control of the narrative." George Burns/Oprah Winfrey Network/Getty Images

Few people understand the role of performance-enhancing drugs in endurance sports better than Frank Shorter. The 1972 Olympic marathon gold medalist and 1976 silver medalist was an NCAA champ at Yale and is considered by many to be the man who spurred the recreational running boom.

And few people have the insight into the inner workings of PED investigations than Shorter, an erudite intellectual with a law degree who encouraged the development of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and served as its first chairman from its inception in 2000 until 2003.

Ten years after stepping down from USADA to work on other projects, he's encouraged by the progress to clean up PED use in sports but believes additional independent testing is still necessary.

"I am actually optimistic," Shorter said. "I think of that old adage, 'Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me' is gaining traction. People are much more aware now. But it won't work without total independence. Otherwise the potential for conflict of interest is always there."

Shorter has been a strong voice for decades, pushing for the need for stricter drug-testing criteria and independent agencies. The 1998 memo he sent to Barry McCaffrey, then the director of Office of National Drug Control Policy, contributed to the formation of USADA in 2000. He was also part of a USOC delegation that attended a 1999 IOC meeting in Lausanne, which led to the formation of the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Shorter came close to winning double gold medals, leading the 1976 Olympic marathon in Montreal until getting passed late in the race by eventual winner Waldemar Cierpinski of East Germany. Cierpinski, who also won the Olympic marathon in 1980, was later discovered to have been part of a systematic state-sponsored East German doping program.

While Shorter at one point advocated for an official review of past performances of those later implicated in PED use, he brushes aside questions about the past. He's more interested in the future and the fight against drug use in the sports he has long championed. Even off the record, he was careful not to accuse athletes, who, it turns out, he knew were doping.

"You just become a focus and draw attention to yourself if you do that,” Shorter, 65, said, talking over the steady rhythm of a spin bike at RallySport Fitness Club in Boulder, Colo. Pressed on rumors circulating about a few individuals currently competing in track and field and other endurance sports, Shorter said he is not interested in that discussion, either.

"I have never ever talked about individuals," he said. "It has always been about setting up a deterrent process so it is not aimed at any individual or any country. I've had to be very careful. My first rule is to never jeopardize anything USADA is doing."

Shorter is no longer on the inside of the agency, but he follows its work closely. He said he’s pleased the rampant drug use in cycling was finally exposed as part of the Lance Armstrong investigation, but suggests it's just a start.

"It is not a 'yeah, yeah,' type of thing,” Shorter said, insisting there is no gloating over Armstrong's fall from grace and startling confession of long-term drug use that he and others long suspected.

"The American tendency is to think that it is not that bad," Shorter said. "Well, it was that bad. We are all humans, and we want to believe that people are good, that things are not that bad. This has made people realize that yes, in lots of areas, things can indeed be that bad."

Shorter knows one reason people were hesitant to confront those suspected of using drugs is because many alleged dopers would put considerable pressure on the accusers or create elaborate stories about why they were getting bigger, faster or better. Numerous reporters and media outlets covering the Tour de France were threatened with legal action if they published negative or suspicious stories about Armstrong and his cohorts.

"Journalists used to buy their convoluted arguments," Shorter said. "Recently, there has been a shift, particularly with regards to journalists. The cheater would get lawyers and could sue you into bankruptcy. The irony is that people could not feel safe telling the truth. You could be right and wind up broke. But things have changed. Cheaters no longer have control of the narrative."

For years, stars such as Armstrong, Marion Jones, Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds and others denied drug use, despite some unusual circumstances and considerable hearsay evidence. Shorter testified before Congress, along with commissioners Gary Bettman of the NHL and Major League Baseball's Bud Selig, amid the baseball drug hearings in 2005.

"The whole point of this is that it is changing now because people are not afraid to ask the questions, including journalists," Shorter said. "I hope journalists take this in the right fashion, but they were deceived by Mr. Armstrong. It is a mea culpa out there for everyone who was deceived by him."

As he peddled, keeping his heart rate at a steady 120 beats per minute, Shorter elaborated on the two main points he sees coming out of the Armstrong investigation and confession -- a freeing up of people to question suspected and rumored dopers, and the increased need for biological passports overseen by an independent agency completely unattached to sport federations and professional sports leagues.

A biological passport is an electronic record that develops and tracks a series of biological markers of an individual throughout an athletic career and make it easier to note trends that could indicate blood doping, hormone treatments or use of other PEDs.

The development of biological passport testing began in the late 1990s with the hopes of having it ready for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. However, it wasn't until last summer’s London Olympics that biological testing was implemented for six sports: cycling, modern pentathlon, rowing, swimming, track and field and triathlon. Biological passport testing was first introduced by the International Cycling Union (UCI) in 2008, but its use has become increasingly complicated with the development of designer drugs that have the same molecular structure as those naturally produced by the body.

Shorter said the advent of the biological passport is a starting point to keeping sports clean, but only if every sport -- including major professional sports like football, baseball and basketball -- adopts its use and the testing and auditing processes are uniform and independent.

FIFA introduced biological passport trials in 2011 and hopes to have all players in the program before the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Roger Federer recently urged tennis to pursue a wide-scale biological passport program. MLB has an agreement in place with its players union to add such a program but a timeline has yet to be established.

But, Shorter insists, the program has to come from the top down, likely under the control of WADA, which primarily presides over Olympic sports. Allowing a sport's international federation, a national sanctioning body or an independent professional league to administer testing and auditing leaves too many possibilities for improprieties, Shorter said.

"If you want to solve the problem you have to have a totally independent, transparent agency with no conflict of interest doing out-of-competition biological passport testing, with the results handled by that independent authority," he said.

As for a proposed truth and reconciliation commission that would give doping athletes a clean slate after a confession, Shorter remarked sarcastically, "Sure, let's do the commission, so that [an athlete] can get off no matter the magnitude of what [he or she] did."

Such a commission, if organized by USADA or WADA, would only work if "each case were to be evaluated with regard to the thoroughness of the individual's testimony," Shorter said. "Hopefully the members of any commission would honestly decide whether or not the particular athlete was telling 'the whole truth and nothing but the truth,'" he said.