The Kansas Relays certainly has seen better days. First, a massive fight at the after-party (bearing the Relays' name) breaks out at Abe & Jake's Landing in April. Then, the headline act, sprinter Justin Gatlin, has a positive drug test that was conducted following his leg of the race at our hometown's meet.
It's too bad. Just when the Relays was ready to take two more steps forward, it takes two steps back instead.
I didn't follow Gatlin's every move that day, when he ran the anchor leg of the 4x100 before taking the urine quiz. I know he was at Abe & Jake's that night, posing for pictures with fans at the club and hangin' out like any normal fastest man in the world. That is, before a massive brawl broke out inside, outside, at the inside hallway leading to the outside, and wherever else a bar fight could break out.
After a lot of pepper spray was sprayed by the Lawrence Police Department to control the melee, the bar closed early, and police told everyone to go home. Gatlin left with an escort, steering clear of all the trouble - and subsequent headlines - from what I could see.
Now, Gatlin made headlines anyway. The Olympic champion is insisting he has no idea how the positive test came about. His coach, Trevor Graham, says a therapist devilishly massaged testosterone cream into Gatlin's legs shortly before the race. His lawyer said the Gatlin team was trying to reconstruct what happened here in Lawrence to figure out, apparently, who could possibly have entered his body and dropped off a big bag of testosterone before sneaking out.
Gatlin could've been framed. He also could've been served a mysterious "testosterone and tonic" drink at Abe & Jake's that night. It could be that the Lawrence Police Department's pepper spray is laced with testosterone, and all 10 million of us there that night now can run faster.
I personally haven't noticed a change.
It could be a false positive, a natural testosterone level in an unnatural body (cyclist Floyd Landis' unsturdy excuse), a switched-at-birth urine cup, a practical joke, a bad dream or just what it is on the surface: a fast, fast man in a tainted sport who was caught cheating like too many others.
I don't know the answer, but any way you put it, it doesn't make the sport of track and field - or the Kansas Relays - look good. No, this isn't the Kansas Relays' fault. I'm not trying to say that. But in a full-court press effort to bring fans to Memorial Stadium every April, seeing another athlete go down in performance-enhancing flames makes the sport less and less credible.
Marion Jones - who's lived under a cloud of steroid suspicion despite never getting formally busted - was the Kansas Relays' headline performer in 2005. Now Gatlin, the 2006 headliner, has an even darker cloud hovering over his head.
It stinks. Pretty soon, fans will stop caring altogether, and the Kansas Relays' strategy of bringing in big names will flat-out fail.
After all, why should we come back, when we're not sure if what we're watching is the real deal or a chemistry experiment?