It is the TNF50 this weekend in San Francisco. iRunFar as per usual did a race preview and what a line up! The $10,000 prize money a huge incentive to attract top runners for a last big push before a well earned end of season rest.
The iRunFar article was updated on Nov 27th with a last minute entrant: Elisa Desco from Italy.
I firmly believe that many in the San Francisco race would not know who Elisa was unless they followed WMRA (World Mountain Running) or Skyrunning. Elisa in recent years has performed exceptionally well in Skyrunning and in 2014 was crowned Skyrunning World Champion for the SKY distance in Chamonix.
iRunFar went on to say:
[Added November 27] Italian mountain runner Elisa Desco was just added to the entrants list. I don’t believe she’s raced longer than 46k before, I do think this is her first race in the U.S., and I know this will probably be the flattest trail race she’s participated in, but she is a likely podium favorite. She’s been a regular on the international Skyrunning circuit for years, and this year she finished third in the Sky division of the Skyrunner World Series, including a win of the just-over-a-marathon’s-distance Matterhorn Ultraks. From 2010 to 2012, Elisa served a two-year ban from the IAAF after she tested positive for EPO at the 2009 World Mountain Running Championships.
I was well aware of Elisa’s positive test and lets be clear here, since 2012 I have spent a great deal of time with Elisa and her husband, Marco De Gasperi. De Gasperi himself a 6x WMRA champion and legend in the world of mountain and Skyrunning.
Many a long night talking with Marco discussing the positive test. (I would like to be clear here and state that I am being as impartial as I possible can.) It’s a story of how Marco tried to fight to clear Elisa’s name, a story of what he considered major flaws with the testing procedure and a fight for honour. One that he eventually had to give up on. He wrote an article in 2011 on his own website. I provide a Google translation of that article, obviously this is not a perfect translation but you get the gist! HERE
From a USA perspective, Facebook exploded with a series of very angry posts. Ethan Veneklasen in particular commented on multiple channels:
I am DEEPLY disappointed to see that Elisa Desco (Italy) was added last week to the start list for this weekend’s North Face Endurance Challenge and is widely considered a favorite for the podium. From 2010-2012, Desco served a two-year ban from the IAAF for testing positive for EPO at the 2009 World Mountain Running Championships.
For the last several years, we have speculated about whether doping has arrived in our beloved sport. If there was any question before, let me be clear…that day has arrived! This is VERY, VERY sad indeed.
On a related note, I am delighted to see that US Skyrunning is taking proactive steps to move the International Skyrunning Federation toward enforcing lifetime ban for convicted dopers.
The can of worms was well and truly opened. No bad thing! It’s good to get the PED debate out in our sport and ensure at this very early stage that PED’s are not tolerated or accepted in our sport.
I 100% agree that I do not and will not tolerate drugs in any sport and of course, in particular the sport I love, watch, follow and photograph.
However, is Elisa getting a fair deal? Has this turned into a witch hunt?
The facts are when Elisa tested positive, no lifetime ban existed for doping. She was sentenced for 2-years, she did her time and she is now back. This of course does pose the question, ‘should runners be allowed back?’
Elisa has been drug tested 2-times in the last 18-months (maybe more) and both tests were clean. To clarify, one of those tests were made at the Skyrunning World Championships in Chamonix where she was crowned world champion.
Elisa may very well have taken PED’s? The ban would suggest so but Marco and Elisa 100% say not! Of course, Lance did the same and look how good a liar he was.
Should athletes receive lifetime bans? Yes, if we are 100% sure that they cheated, then yes! But I would want those tests to be 100% secure. I am not sure that is always the case and this has been discussed elsewhere. Questions have been raised about Elisa’s positive test! This is not a post to fight for Elisa, not at all. It’s a post to say that we sometimes need to take a step back and this case provides a great opportunity for debate and a catalyst for change.
Today, 5th December, Runners World have posted an article HERE and the headline says:
Ultrarunners Want Convicted Doper Out of Weekend Race
Powerful headline and some of the contents in the article make for interesting reading. 2014 race winner, Magdalena Boulet says: “I guess the kind way to say it is that I’m disappointed that the race organization allowed her into the elite field,” This was followed up with, “I don’t care if a doper served their ban and are technically eligible to race. If they still want to run for the love of the sport, they are welcome to, but I guarantee that they would slowly go away,”
Fellow podcaster, Eric Shranz commented, “For a sport that values camaraderie and inclusiveness, Desco will be on the outside of that group due to her past, and that’s a place she’s earned,” Schranz said. “But then again, maybe we need her to podium this weekend to really force an honest conversation about how we want to grow as a sport and how we’ll handle the PED problem.”
On publication of the Runners World article, Ethan Veneklasen who was very vocal on social media said via his Facebook page, “Very glad to see Runners World covering this important issue! Thanks to all who have contributed to helping get this discussion going. #cleansport”
I agree. This is a discussion that almost certainly needs to take place. Elisa unfortunately is now at the centre of this debate. Her presence in San Francisco is now compromised and should she decide to run, I can’t help but think it will result in an early withdrawal. This debate and all the negativity will have a huge impact on her and many reading this will say; good!
Four points are raised:
- Are The North Face making a mistake in allowing Desco to run? (TNF50 does not have drug testing or a policy re convicted dopers.)
- Should a positive test, irrespective of when that happened, mean that a runner should be banned of life?
- How do we confirm that a positive test is 100% positive?
- The ultra community have a voice, they are saying in this scenario, “Sure the rules say 2yrs and back in, but the community doesn’t!”
I often tell a story, when I was cycling at elite level. Caffeine was a banned substance. If I had too many espressos or too much Coke, I could run the risk of being positive in a test so I had to be careful. Now caffeine is okay and even gels are rammed with the stuff. You can take as much as you like and it does boost performance. But it’s legal now. What is okay and what is not ok becomes cloudy; my advice is stick to the rules. The athletes who really want to perform/ win will always look for an advantage. I just want that advantage to be a legal one. Of course in Elisa’s case the drug in question is EPO, you don’t accidentally take EPO! It would require planning, deception and money. Ultimately this is a completely different story and I firmly believe why the reaction has been so severe.
The positive test is what everyone jumps on, I get that. A definitive proof that Elisa doped!
Like I said, we all make mistakes and I get the ‘one strike and out’ scenario. However, my bank took £22 out of my account years ago. I told them they were wrong in no uncertain terms. ‘No!’ they relied. “It’s not possible for us to make this mistake.’ I battled on for 3-months. It wasn’t the money that was important, it was the principal. Eventually I had a letter from the bank confirming an error had been made due to an ‘anomaly.’
In the above scenario it was just £22. With drugs in sport and PEDS it may well be a ruined career and life ban. Of course, if we can 100% confirm that someone was cheating, lets ban them. I just want a ban to be 100% – are we there yet?
Ian Sharman, race director for the U.S. Skyrunner Series, is pushing for life bans for convicted dopers for all Skyrunning events globally: “This isn’t a reaction to an individual, but a response to the widespread doping uncovered recently in athletics in general. We can’t change our rules at this point without the rules being changed for the entire International Skyrunning Federation, so that’s where we’re aiming to make the change so we can send a clear signal that cheating isn’t acceptable,”
Anthony Forsyth commented on a Facebook in response to a comment I made:
“From my perspective the frustration is not towards Elisa, who is doing what she can, but towards TNF that are allowing her to race. There is a general consensus that we want a clean sport – on this we agree. But there is also a general consensus that those who have cheated, who have stolen prize money and results from other athletes, have had their opportunity to be a part of our sport, of our family, and have crapped with contempt on that opportunity. They are no longer welcome. The term witch hunt refers to the guessing of guilt. Guilt has been proven. Sure the rules say 2yrs and back in, but the community doesn’t. As I said, my vent is with TNF. In allowing her to race they have misunderstood our sport, our family and our values. They need to educate themselves. And people need to stop buying their stuff until they do.”
The above is a powerful statement and one that I get. Anthony is clearly saying here this has nothing to do with if ‘doing the crime, so do the time!’ It is so much more, it’s about how the community are not prepared to accept back someone into the sport even though they may now be clean. It is very much the scenario, one strike and you are out!
On a final note to add fuel to the fire. On December 2nd CONI posted:
The Public Prosecutor’s office of NADO ITALY defers 26 athletes and asks for two years of disqualification. Dismissal is suggested for another 39 cases
Read the article HERE
Dismissal for 39-cases including
DE GASPERI Marco for the disputed accusations (art. 2.3 and art. 2.4 of the Anti-Doping Sport Code);
DESCO Elisa for the disputed accusations (art. 2.3 and art. 2.4 of the Anti-Doping Sport Code);
What are your thoughts? Would love to hear them.
Read THIS by Scott athlete, Andy Symonds. He nails it for me!
UPDATE 18th December, ELISA DESCO speaks with competitor.com HERE