Salmon’s Soapbox: Sport’s good name has been tarnished for good

Roger Bannister breaks the four-minute mile barrier in 1954 in Oxford ' his time was recorded as 3:59.4
Roger Bannister breaks the four-minute mile barrier in 1954 in Oxford ' his time was recorded as 3:59.4

Craig Salmon looks at the way doping has affected the credibility and popularity of sports such as athletics and cycling

The sad passing of legendary middle-distance runner Roger Bannister at the age of 88 last weekend got me thinking of a vivid childhood memory of mine.

It was July 1985 and I was marooned in a tent on a 
campsite with my family in the South Wales seaside town of Tenby as a storm of epic 
proportions raged.

As the temporary holiday home flapped almost uncontrollably in the wind, I along with my mum, dad and sister, took refuge with our feet 
resting on plastic fold-up chairs to protect us from the rainwater which was gushing under the canvas like mini-rivers. Despite the adverse weather conditions, my dad still, somehow, managed to tune-in our black and white portable television ready for the big sports event which was happening later that evening.

The Dream Mile – a race held at the Bislett Stadium, in Oslo – was one of those occasions in the sporting calendar which compelled families to sit around their television sets – even if there may have been a mini-hurricane blowing outside.

The fact that the UK were particularly blessed with middle-distance runners around the 1980s may have had something to do with it, but athletics was hugely popular back then.

Not known for her huge interest in sport generally, there was something about athletics which stoked the inner fire in my mum, and I always recall her shouting encouragement at the television as various GB runners of that era entered the home straight in major races.

On that particular wet and stormy night in Wales, we watched Steve Cram break the world record for the mile – emulating fellow countrymen such as Sebastian Coe, Steve Ovett and Bannister, who historically set a new world mark for the distance in 1954 when he became the first man to break the four-minute barrier.

While memories such as Cram’s world record will always remain magical, the sport has certainly lost its appeal to me and, by the looks of it, many other people.

The spectre of doping and the unravelling of state-sponsored cheating has tarnished athletics irrevocably.

While stars such as Usain Bolt, Jessica Ennis and Mo Farah have ensured that track and field remains a centrepiece of the Olympics, I must admit I can’t remember the last time I watched the ‘Dream Mile’ or indeed any of the other Diamond League meetings.

Where once I knew all of the top sprinters in the world , these days I struggle to name one.

It’s a shame that such a great sport has been tainted in this way and that unfortunately there will always be a cloud of suspicion hanging over all athletes no matter how clean they are.

A similar fate hangs over the sport of cycling. Not that long ago I had Lance Armstrong high on my all-time list of the world’s greatest sportspeople – that is until the seven-times Tour de France ‘winner’ was exposed as a drug cheat.

And this week’s damning report by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee accusing Chorley cyclist and 2012 Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins of crossing the ethical line when applying for therapeutic use exemptions (TUEs) for banned medication means we are left wondering whether we can trust these sports ever again.