Thu, Aug. 22

Drugs and Olympics go hand in hand

An Olympics just wouldn’t be an Olympics without a drug scandal.

This week we’ve seen one Olympic champion stripped of a medal for a failed drug test. Another Olympian who withdrew from competition because of an injury came up dirty on four separate tests earlier this summer.

Of course, both athletes claim innocence. They portray themselves as victims.

Maybe, they’re right. But let’s face it, athletes will cheat and they do cheat.


The answer is simple. Without drugs, a lot of them wouldn’t have a chance of winning, or even reaching the Olympic stage.

Take, for example, the case of Canadian Ben Johnson, the short-lived Olympic champion sprinter who ran away from the legendary Carl Lewis in the 1988 games. He was exiled from the Games just a few days after his world-record victory in the 100-meter dash.

Johnson wormed and lied his way back into the sport a few years later. But it was a different Johnson. He claimed he was working his way back into competitive shape. The truth was, he was competing without the benefit of drugs. Without them, he was, at best, a mediocre athlete. On the international circuit, he was relegated to "B" races.

In time, though, he was back in "shape," having set an indoor world sprint record. That record was later revoked after Johnson failed another drug test and was exiled from the sport. Earlier this summer, there was a news report of a thief stealing a handbag from Johnson in Italy. Johnson attempted to chase the thief down. He lost the race.

Clean, Johnson was a very ordinary athlete. Chemically enhanced, he could destroy Carl Lewis, the greatest track and field athlete in Olympic history.

It’s not just athletes such as Johnson who give their sport and the Olympic Games a black eye. The International Amateur Athletic Federation has talked tough about drugs for years. When push comes to shove, though, they play patty-cake with the athletes. Johnson, for example, was initially "banned for life" from the sport. Eighteen months later, he was reinstated. A Cuban high jumper banned from competition for a failed drug test was reinstated just in time to compete in Sydney and won a silver medal.

Athletes believe they can beat drug tests by "cycling" their intake of banned substances and using "masking" drugs to manipulate the tests. Further, the IAAF has taught them that if they do get caught, the penalty will not be severe: A little public embarrassment, a brief suspension during which time they can really load up on steroids, an insincere apology, and then they are back — bigger, stronger and faster than before.

Society, too, shares a burden of the blame for drugs in sports. We idolize Mark McGwire for breaking Roger Maris’ home run record. We ignore the fact that he readily admits to taking a performance-enhancing drug that is illegal for an Olympic athlete to ingest.

The temptation to cheat is too great.

Especially when sport’s governing bodies really don’t care … and neither does society.

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