EPO cheat Christian Hesch stripped of Blue Mile title, banned from races

Canadian Running talks with race organizers and newly crowned champ Peter Corrigan about the fallout of the Hesch scandal.

It appears that the Christian Hesch scandal has a Canadian connection.

Hesch, a American journeyman elite runner, admitted earlier this week to the New York Times that he has been doping for two years, using EPO, a banned substance. In the process, the 33-year-old has said that he has collected $40,000 in earnings from winning or placing in various races across North America.

One of those races was the Edmonton Blue Mile road race, which was held in May down Whyte Ave.

Hesch won that race running a 4:14.2, narrowly beating out Canadian Peter Corrigan by three tenths of a second. For his effort, Hesch pocketed $1000 and the prestigious title on his resume, while Corrigan went home with $700.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vh6Uxn6FnPo[/youtube]

Now the Blue Mile race organizers are looking for answers from Hesch. The race’s elite coordinator David Brown has reached out to Hesch, asking that the runner give back his winnings from the race.

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Brown has indicated that he will allow the American anti-doping agency USADA sort out the details of Hesch’s punishment, which will likely be a two year ban from competing at sanctioned events.

In the meantime, it doesn’t look like Hesch will be welcomed back to any Athletics Alberta organized races. “Our race, the Edmonton Blue Mile, is a part of the Edmonton Athletics Festival that is put on by Athletics Alberta and its supporters,” Brown told Canadian Running in an email on Friday. “Hesch has been banned from taking part in any elite status races put on by this organizing group. That means he could never again race the Blue Mile or take part in other elite events like the Donovan Bailey Invitational.”

Brown indicated that the official results will now state that Corrigan won the race, removing Hesch’s name from the list of finishers.

Corrigan, a 23-year-old who recently began training in Toronto full-time, is the Alberta 1500m record holder. Being able to add the Blue Mile title to his resume is important for the middle distance runner, as he attempts to piece together enough funding to continue training at a high level.

Corrigan was surprised by the New York Times article, and that he had been beaten in May by a racer that was doping.

“I certainly never suspected Hesch of cheating,” Corrigan said. “I found it quite remarkable that at the age of 32 or 33 he was able to continue to run the times he had been running at a much younger age,” Corrigan said from Toronto on Friday. “However, since these times weren’t anything out of the realm of believability, I never suspected the use of drugs.”

Hesch became a member of the prestigious sub-4:00 miler club earlier in 2012, when he ran a 3:58 at the Falmouth Mile. After that race he boasted about being the only runner in American history to run both a sub-4:00 mile and qualify for the U.S. Olympic trials marathon. He did so by running a half-marathon under the 1:05 cut-off. He placed third at the 2011 Rock ‘N’ Roll Seattle half-marathon with a qualifying time of 1:04:32. He did not, however, end up competing in the Olympic trials in January of this year.

The runner from Hollywood, California became known this year for his braggadocio when he stopped with only a couple of hundred meters to go in a race and did push-ups before crossing the finish line for the win. He only won that race, the Rock ‘N’ Roll Providence half-marathon, by a matter of seconds after including the stunt. Afterward, he laughed off questions about the purpose of his antics from reporters, saying, “Why? Why not? You can’t always be so serious about it.”

But Corrigan isn’t laughing about Hesch’s unfair advantage at the Blue Mile race.

“I’m thoroughly disappointed to find out this news. In this particular situation, I’m also very angry,” Corrigan said. “It’s always frustrating and disheartening to learn that athletes in this, and any other sport are doping. These feelings are even more so when the situation affects you directly. I felt cheated, robbed, and lied to.”

Nevertheless, Corrigan is finding a way to be somewhat lighthearted himself about the whole situation, pointing out Hesch’s less than gracious race strategy. “The worst part was the guy sat on me for 1525m and out-kicked me in the last 75m; the least he could have done would have been to lead it!”

Both Corrigan and Brown feel confident that they will be able to resolve the financial matter between them. “(Blue Mile race director) Matt Normington and Dave Brown are both good friends of mine,” Corringan said when asked about how he thinks the issue will be handled moving forward. “Matt and the Running Room (a main sponsor of the Blue Mile) have been sponsoring me for going on five years now, and I know Dave was just trying build up the Blue Mile into a race that athletes come from all around to race at. They have already done so much for me and the sport that I don’t expect them to do much more than they already have.”

Brown has indicated that they are exploring potential legal action against Hesch if he does not give back his winnings. Athletics Alberta also paid for Hesch’s travel and accommodations as an elite runner in the Blue Mile.

Corrigan told Canadian Running that he spoke to Hesch before the race in May and even went to dinner with him. “Hesch is definitely a character. He has a very strong personality, and I could see him rubbing people the wrong way. To me, he seemed like a reasonable person in the limited time I spent with him before the race.”

Since the New York Times article was printed, Corrigan has actually been in contact with Hesch and feels that the American is still trying to cover his tracks somewhat. “He says he only took the drug to get over injuries quicker and get to where he would have been without the injury or drug.” Corrigan said of his interaction with Hesch, as well as in reaction to Hesch’s extremely active social media presence in the wake of the scandal. “This is exactly the purpose of doping — to recover faster so that you can train harder and more often. It may not have been in his system while racing — which if the doper is at all educated, it shouldn’t be — but every time he toed that line after the first injection of EPO, he was racing on the drug.” Hesch has repeatedly stated that he did not use EPO or any other PED to improve race performances specifically.

Corrigan feels that there should be zero tolerance for drug cheats, even lesser known elites such as Christian Hesch, citing that the augmented training effect that an athlete gains over the course of months or years using EPO or similar substances will provide for an unfair advantage that can never be undone. “I strongly believe in a “one and done” policy. Get caught doping once, you’re banned for life.”

Canadian Running reached out to Christian Hesch via Twitter for comment, asking if he was planning on giving back his winnings to the various races where he won or placed.  Hesch responded late Sunday night:

that’ll be answered by actions, not words…..least i think i read that somewhere.

Editor’s note: an earlier version of this article indicated that David Brown was with Athletics Alberta. He is in fact the elite coordinator of the Blue Mile race and was hired by Athletics Alberta.