The top finishers in GO! St. Louis should expect the VIP treatment. They also should expect the USADA treatment.
Organizers at GO! adopted a novel strategy for this year's half-marathon, offering $40,000 in prize money for the top finishers in the race. The prize money is the fourth-largest offered at the distance in the country and has attracted an elite field of up-and-comers. They also took the smart approach by taking on the added expense of drug-testing.
GO! will follow the protocols established by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency for drug-testing. The organizers didn't have to do this, but are wise in choosing to do so.
"We all agreed that drug-testing was an expense you have to budget for if you are going to put up any kind of significant prize purse," Ben Rosario, director of GO's elite athlete program, said in an email. "You owe it to the clean athletes running the race and you owe it to the sport overall."
To many race organizers, particularly not-for-profits who stage one event a year, the expense is prohibitive. And, not only does it require the expense of analyzing the samples but it involves following 14 pages of guidelines to set up the proper on-site facility and chaperoning.
So, why bother?
The issue came to light this week in an excellent story by espn.com's Bonnie Ford, which, in case you didn't click on the link, focused on the case of Jynocel Basweti. Recently sanctioned for doping offenses by his native Kenya, Basweti has won 17 marathons in the U.S. since 2006. After reading the story, you get the impression that it's easier to get away with cheating at the grass-roots level because of a lack of testing.
GO! wants to rise above suspicion, much to the relief of the competitors. Aaron Braun, one of the favorites in the half, tweeted: "That is very good to know. Clean athletes have greater peace of mind at races that have drug testing."
I know that the cases of Lance Armstrong, Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Braun, Marion Jones, blah, blah, blah have left sports fans fatigued and cynical on the subject of PEDs. But, Ford's article and GO! suggest a different approach: the clean-up needs to move to the grass-roots level, regardless of cost.
GO! is doing its part, which has inspired even weary, jaded me to do mine by spreading the word. If the cheaters know about the testing, maybe they'll be smart enough to stay away.