Glasgow medallist tells Mark Woods his sport is cleaner now but ‘suspect results’ still too prevalent
The dawn ring on the doorbell is the expletive-filled curse of the athlete. The price of credibility, costed in lost sleep. “The sport is getting cleaner,” Mark Dry insists, a positive voice amid the flurry of claims focusing on athletics doping regimes and a system which is still presumed to be one step behind those with intent to cheat.
The hammer thrower, a Commonwealth bronze medallist in Glasgow last year, is currently ranked 12th in the world in the wake of a fling of 76.93 metres in Loughborough last month that secured the Scottish record. There are, he confirms, no strikes against his name when it comes to missing a test.
Yet the Highlander attests to alternative methods of deception that cannot be detected in a laboratory. Each spring, when shot putters and hammer hopefuls traverse the globe in pursuit of the distances required to qualify for major championships, there are marks recorded that simply defy past form.
They come, Dry says, with whispers of doctored equipment, lighter and thus with less gravitational pull. “I noticed I’d gone down a place in the world rankings to someone I’d never heard of before,” he explained. “There’s a guy from Uzbekistan that’s just thrown 76.95m out of nowhere. Maybe he’ll drop another one, we’ll see. It can change with conditions but some of these are thrown in the middle of nowhere. Mine was done at Loughborough, not a small competition. We know everything is legit. But there are always suspect results.”
Add that to the long list of issues that will confront either Seb Coe or Sergey Bubka following August’s elections for the presidency of the International Association of Athletics Federations. Yet as the investigations and counter-claims surrounding the Nike Project in Oregon and the body of work of coach Alberto Salazar continue, the incessant speculation is inevitably undermining those who are excelling by fair means not foul.
It is easy to argue that track and field suffers from a lack of transparency. Yet a persuasive case can be made in the strength-based disciplines that systematic scrutiny has been effective. Gone are the days of steroid-fuelled bodybuilders from the Eastern Bloc who set records which have not recently been surpassed.
“It’s not at the standard it was,” Dry says. “So many names were caught so it has cleaned up. People used to say it was just throwers who took drugs and got massive but throwers aren’t going to take EPO like you’d do for endurance events. People just say drugs and think it’s about pills. Most of them are recovery agents and every event uses them differently.
“Through the ages, you’ve seen sprinters, endurance runners, throwers. Throwing did have a bad rap but it’s not just us, it’s not just athletics, it’s rugby, cycling, everybody. I think it’s good it’s all coming into the public eye.”
Next weekend’s UK Championships in Birmingham double as the trials for the forthcoming world championships in Beijing. As with several members of the Caledonian contingent, 27-year-old Dry has legitimate claims for a place in the British team. He has achieved one qualifying standard already. A top-two finish, and one more throw beyond 75 metres prior to the 27 July deadline, and he will automatically secure his selection.
It is no sure thing. The domestic pool of talent in hammer is presently deep. California-based Englishman Nick Miller has thrown four centimetres further, while Glaswegian Chris Bennett is chasing both men vigorously. New UK under-20 record holder Taylor Campbell will surely soon join the fray.
Two years ago, Dry feared he would remain well off the mark. The frustrations multiplied for the amiable man from Morayshire. His physique sagged. No longer. The turnaround has been effective. Now supervised by Chris Black, whose Scottish mark he overhauled, Dry will instead pursue a maiden British title with China firmly on his mind.
“It’s not just the record,” he says. “Just extending my personal best shows I’m improving and all the work I’ve put in is paying off. All the years I’ve committed to being full-time, putting my career on hold. I saw other athletes holding down jobs but still getting longer distances.
“That was hard to take. I was getting to the point where I was wondering if I was doing this for nothing and thinking: ‘is this going to pay off?’ But finally it’s coming through and I feel ready to move forward. I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in. I’m lighter but I’m stronger. My technique is great. That’s all come together.”