Having been in Rio de Janeiro for the last week, I have watched from afar at every twist and turn as the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) fight-back against various doping claims brought to it by the unlikely Anglo-German alliance of the Sunday Times and ARD,
What is clear - and has surprised me, along with most other people - is just how ferociously the IAAF has responded to the allegations.
Claims of how more than 800 athletes, including many from Russia and Kenya, had given blood samples that were "highly suggestive" of doping or "abnormal", were not just “sensationalist”, according to the governing body, but “seriously incorrect assertions”.
From speaking to people far more informed than myself, it appears there is some credence to this defence.
While the Athlete Biological Passport system introduced in 2009 compared readings for abnormalities over a large period of time, the data within the database leaked to the journalists is being taken in isolation, thus increasing the risk of athletes being wrongly accused. Led by two respected anti-doping experts, the study did analyse multiple readings from individual athletes, but there is certainly some risk of too much being made of specific readings, particularly when so few people have seen the information.
There are, of course. many other reasons why results can be skewed: pregnancy, a miscarriage, illness, training or sleeping at altitude and more, and the trick is looking at results over time and seeing if there is a genuine, and legal, reason for a fluctuation.
I may be missing a crucial point here, but the thing that still confuses me is why, if the journalists have all the information at their disposal, they cannot ignore the inevitable legal pressure and release the names of those implicated?
The Sunday Times was certainly not reluctant to name names in its investigations in corruption during the 2022 FIFA World Cup bidding process. Names may emerge over coming days but this reluctance so far suggests to me that their information may not be as conclusive as they are trying to lead everyone to believe.
As the IAAF has argued, they have achieved some good things in recent years.
It appears likely that some of those implicated, such as Russian race-walkers, may be already caught or under investigation, perhaps because of some of this data. Unlike some other governing bodies, the IAAF have also been good re-evaluating old samples and catching people retrospectively, and deserve praise for that.
And yet they have certainly not been perfect and this is what surprised me about the vehemence of their response.
The problem is that everyone has heard these defences before, time and time again. A “zero tolerance” approach, a “war being won against doping cheats”, and all the rest of it.
But then they turn on the television and there is Justin Gatlin, the disgraced American in the form of his life at the top of the global sprinting stakes. Alongside him a muscle-strewn thrower who has returned from a doping ban looking bigger, and propelling the discus further, than ever before. Or a distance runner who has barely competed all season yet turns up at the Championships running world-leading times.
At least in cycling there does seem to have been some genuine improvement in general levels over the last few years; in athletics this is less apparent, so people are unsurprisingly more sceptical.
Strongest in his counter-attack has been Britain’s IAAF Presidential candidate Sebastian Coe.
The allegations are a “declaration of war on my sport”, the two-time Olympic champion turned London 2012 head honcho proclaimed, adding in an impressively impassioned manner:
“I take pretty grave exception to that. This, for me, is a fairly seminal moment. There is nothing in our history of competence and integrity in drug-testing that warrants this kind of attack. We should not be cowering. We should come out fighting."
Now in defence of Coe, he has a strong record where fighting doping in sport is concerned stretching back to the 1981 Baden Baden Conference where he spoke as part of the inaugural International Olympic Committee (IOC) Athletes’ Commission alongside the likes of current IOC President Thomas Bach.
But, whatever truth in his latest words, they appeared out of touch with public opinion and an attempt to prioritise Presidential votes over principles. “Sebastian Coe must take his head out of the sand on doping,” read one British newspaper editorial this weekend, while some have even compared his stance with that of former International Cycling Union Presidents Hein Verbruggen and Pat McQuaid at the height of that sport's doping problems.
Both now and when allegations first surfaced last December his rival Sergey Bubka has appeared more measured in his responses, although I am reluctant to praise the former world pole vault record holder's approach too much until he has walked-the-walk as well as talked-the-talk. Ukraine, the country where he heads the National Olympic Committee, is among the top five countries in the world at the moment when it comes to doping cases, with 13 of its athletes currently serving bans.
For all the still-important talk about improving the broadcasting of athletics and increasingly female participation, it is clear doping is the biggest challenge facing the sport, it just wins less votes. And if Justin Gatlin does beat Usain Bolt in the World Championships later this month - as the IAAF must be praying he won’t - criticism will continue to rise and rise.
By that stage we will have a new IAAF President in place and the time for serious judging will begin.
While better targeted testing and more stringent analysis of old samples will undoubtedly be pursued, Bubka is suggesting he will continue with the old methods of working alongside the World Anti-Doping Agency, albeit with greater transparency and in a faster and more "simplified" way.
In his 100-day plan manifesto, meanwhile, Coe speaks of an independent agency operating entirely separately from the IAAF.
"To get the trust back, we now have to take the international testing away from any challenge there might be with it being too close to the federation,” he declared. “We need to farm it out to an entirely independent organisation.”
It will be interesting to see if and how this will work in practice. But it does seem a necessary step, due to the public perception of underlying problems if nothing else.
And, whatever the actual substance of the latest wave of allegations, it is important the IAAF treat all cases respectfully and seriously rather than fighting fire with fire and attempting to drive them all back under the carpet. Because they won’t stay there for long.