John Leonard, the Executive Director of the World Swimming Coaches Association (WSCA), believes that the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro will be the most steroid-infested Olympics in decades – at least for the sport of competitive swimming. He warned the public to be prepared for “a nightmare of doping in Rio”.
Leonard has been around the sport long enough to recall the stunning domination of female swimming by the German Democratic Republic (GDR), better known as the former East Germany, from the late 1960s through the late 1980s. Not a single female swimmer failed an anti-doping test but everyone knew they were using steroids.
The state-sponsored doping was officially confirmed after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany when a group of former East German coaches admitted systematic doping has taken place for decades in East German swimming. The subsequent release of East German doping dossiers provided even more insight into the rampant steroid use of the time.
Many people consider this period to be one of the low points in the history of anti-doping efforts. With the founding of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in 1999, the fight against drugs in sports has never been more coordinated or more effective than it is today according to many anti-doping crusaders.
But Leonard does not share this enthusiasm for the effectiveness of WADA nor the fact that the International Swimming Federation (FINA) has long since adopted the WADA Code. To hear Leonard tell the story of the current state of doping, it is worse that than it has ever been and even worse than the period of rampant doping by the GDR in the 1970s and 1980s.
“I have been working in anti-doping since before 1980 and I don’t think it has ever been worse than it is right now… Things were very bad during the East German era, but right now it is not confined to a few nations,” said Leonard. “It is probably almost every nation on earth where there is doping going on.
“It is highly sophisticated, we are catching fractions of what is going on, there are giant loop holes. Number one is that athletes are very effectively using the concepts of micro-doping to stay below the radar screen and yet still get performance-enhancing effects.”
Leonard believes the WADA Code has too many loopholes that allow the practice of microdoping to thrive without consequence. Furthermore, the doping detection technology is antiquated and has not significantly advanced since the 1980s.
“The WADA rules and national rules, in many countries that don’t allow testing for a block in an eight hour time form 10pm to 6am which means you basically have eight hours in where you basically won’t be tested, that’s when micro doping works beautifully,” Leonard said.
Leonard has a big footprint in the sport of swimming. He’s been a top American swimming coach for over 41 years; he has been the WSCA Executive Director since 1980; and he’s served as the Executive Director of the American Swimming Coaches Association (ASCA) since 1985. USA Swimming, the national governing body for competitive swimming in the United States, has relied on Leonard’s ASCA Certification program to certify over 11,000 coaches over the past 25 years
However, in spite of Leonard experience and status in the sport, he has sacrificed considerable credibility by going a bit overboard in his accusations of doping in swimming. During the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, Leonard was vicious in his doping accusations against a young previously-unknown 16-year teenage swimming phenom from China who shocked the world with her swimming performances.
Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen won the gold medal in both the 400 meters and 200 meters individual medley. Her world record time of 4:28.43 in the 400m event and her Olympic record time of 2:07.57 in the 200m event still stand today. Based on her swimming performance alone, Leonard was convinced that Shiwen doped and never relented in his insistence of her guilt in spite of the lack of supporting evidence. Shiwen’s performance was “impossible” and “disturbing” according to the unrepentant Leonard.
The public found Leonard’s behavior so offensive that even USA Swimming sought to distance itself from Leonard’s wild accusations with a statement released to the press at the time.
“John Leonard … is not an employee, representative or spokesperson for USA Swimming, nor is he a member of the U.S. Olympic Swim Team or a part of the U.S. delegation here in London.”
Leonard has also been criticized for targeting foreign athletes in xenophobic doping accusations while sparing American athletes who have recorded similarly impressive performances. His favorite targets have been the Chinese and, most recently, the Russians. But he is silent when it comes to Americans who have shocked the world with their performances.
For example, 17-year old American swimmer Janet Evans defeated the steroid-using East German women to win three gold medals at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul. And at the 2012 London Olympics, 17-year old American swimmer Missy Franklin won four gold medals and one bronze medal setting a total of two world records and three American records. Franklin remarkably won the gold setting a new American record in the 100-meter backstroke only 15 minutes after she completed the 200-meter freestyle semi-final.
Leonard would never consider launching unsubstantiated doping accusations against American swimmers based on performances alone. Yet he has no problem doing it when it involves foreign athletes.
After being roundly criticized for his allegations during the 2012 Olympics, Leonard’s most recent anti-doping allegations have made it clear the he refuses to muzzled prior to the 2016 Rio Olympics. Leonard has already called out convicted dopers Sun Yang and Park Tae-hwan. But will Leonard continue to be so bold as to call out foreign athletes who have yet to be caught?
Halloran, J. (September 19, 2015). Rio Olympics set to be the most doped-up swimming event in history. Retrieved from http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/sport/rio-olympics-set-to-be-the-most-doped-up-swimming-event-in-history/story-fnvu5hy8-1227535059505