Revoking records would be “complete nonsense,” Kratochvilova said this month through an interpreter while coaching at a meet in nearby Pardubice. “I have never taken banned substances,” she said.
Her case is extremely complicated and illustrates the murkiness that will challenge any good-faith attempt to reconsider who should be worthy of a world record.
This will be especially true of athletes who grew up behind the Iron Curtain and competed during the 1980s, when sport in the Eastern bloc was used as propaganda to promote communism.
Elite athletes there often had little or no choice but to participate in state-sponsored doping programs. To refuse was to risk not being allowed to train for the Olympics or other major international competitions, where victory could mean national glory and perks such as an apartment or a car.
For decades, questions have persisted about whether Kratochvilova’s heavily muscled body and speed were achieved naturally or augmented by the illicit use of anabolic steroids. She has always denied using steroids, and has attributed her physique and success on the track to the rigors of farm life as well as voluminous weight training and vitamins.
Yet, documents viewed by The New York Times indicate that Kratochvilova’s name appeared in 1984 and 1987 in association with Czechoslovakia’s secret and systematic doping program, known by the euphemism of “Specialized Care.” One document is a list of track and field athletes to be selected for a more centralized version of the program.
A second document detailed the results of an internal doping control test used to flag athletes who would risk testing positive for banned substances at international competitions. Kratochvilova’s test showed up as negative, according to the document.
The documents cast suspicion but do not provide indisputable confirmation that Kratochvilova used banned substances, antidoping officials said.
“Morally you could make the case, but not legally,” said Jaroslav Nekola, who became the founding director of the Czech Anti-Doping Committee in 1990, shortly after communism in Czechoslovakia fell peacefully during the so-called Velvet Revolution. (The Czech Republic and Slovakia officially separated in 1993.) He provided The Times a look at the documents.
Kratochvilova was born, and still lives, in the village of Golcuv Jenikov. As a girl, she worked on her uncle’s farm, harvesting beets and potatoes by hand. When Track and Field News named her athlete of the year in 1983, the accompanying story by a Czech journalist said, “At 12, she was already able to toss a pitchfork of hay into the loft as well as any adult farmer.”
While working as an accountant and training for the 1980 Moscow Olympics, Kratochvilova sometimes ran beneath streetlights at 4 in the morning before heading to her job. At those Games, even as a part-time athlete, she won a silver medal at 400 meters for Czechoslovakia.
She then began training full time here on a cinder track and forest paths. The stories about her immense willpower and strength are legendary in the track world. And whether they are repeated matter-of-factly, or told with awe or wariness, they remain astonishing.
She sprinted in spiked shoes on a frozen pond when snow covered the cinder track in winter. She ran repeats of 200 meters while dragging a tire filled with varying amounts of sand. To recover from surgery on her left Achilles’ tendon, she dashed through a foot of water in a pool, wore a weighted vest and placed a gas mask over her face to restrict her breathing and raise her pulse rate.
“It didn’t work very well,” Kratochvilova said. “I could barely see through the mask.”
According to Kratochvilova and her coach, she possessed such power and stamina that, in a single, several-hour session of weight lifting, she could hoist up to 25 tons. A Czech newspaper said it was 16 tons. Either amount, while not independently verified, would be extraordinary.
Miroslav Kvac, the coach, said Kratochvilova needed coaxing to nap between morning and afternoon training sessions.
“I had to lock her in a room because she didn’t want to sleep,” Kvac said.
“A cloakroom,” Kratochvilova clarified.
Still, her performances from 1983 — the world record at 800 meters and another world record of 47.99 seconds at 400 meters, since surpassed — have served as Exhibit A for supporters of the record-elimination proposal made by European Athletics.
Even if her record is abolished, Kratochvilova said, “It will still be in my head and the heads of others.”
It seems inevitable that any attempt to delete records en masse will end up before a judge or an arbitrator. Mike Powell of the United States has threatened legal action if forced to abdicate his 1991 world record in the long jump of 29 feet 4¼ inches.
Paula Radcliffe of Britain, who in 2003 set the women’s marathon record in 2 hours 15 minutes 25 seconds, has called the proposal a “heavy-handed way to wipe out some really suspicious records.”
Radcliffe said in a statement that it was “cowardly” to sweep aside all records “instead of having the guts to take the legal plunge and wipe any record that would be found in a court of law to have been illegally assisted.”
Yet for Eastern bloc athletes, the questions are potentially more complicated. How ethically responsible were they? By what standard should they be judged? Should they be stripped of world records because they competed in systems that have been discredited? Or should officials have to prove their complicity in doping case by case, relying on incontrovertible evidence instead of suspicion, no matter how well informed?
“There must be a reason given for the abolishment,” said Dr. Arne Ljungqvist of Sweden, a retired, longtime medical and antidoping expert with the I.A.A.F., the International Olympic Committee and the World Anti-Doping Agency.
“You cannot just start over again for no reason,” Dr. Ljungqvist said. “One can have suspicions, even well-founded suspicions. But as sports leaders, we have to have the proof. Unless we have proof, we can say nothing.”
To meet Kratochvilova today is to meet a former star who is not conspicuously muscled, as many found her in the 1980s. She is trim and more closely resembles a fit jogger than a chiseled champion.
On July 26, 1983, at a meet in Munich, Kratochvilova ran 800 meters in the stunning time of 1:53.28, shattering the previous record of 1:53.43. Only one runner has come within a second of her performance in the nearly 34 years since. The winning time in the women’s 800 at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro was a full two seconds slower.
On Aug. 10, 1983, at the world track and field championships in Helsinki, Kratochvilova set another world record of 47.99 seconds in the 400. Her record has been broken, but it remains the second-fastest time ever. On the official television broadcast, a British commentator said in evident wonder at her power: “Just look at the build of Kratochvilova. Built almost like a field event athlete.”
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