Every time there’s an Olympics, I put on my anti-doping hat and reminisce about the days of yore.
Ben Johnson. MarionJones. Tim Montgomery. Michael Smith. Tyler Hamilton. Almost every athlete who competed for East Germany from start to finish (1949-90).
Drug addicts of yesteryear cross my mind like a conga of slow-motion cheats. On and on in a parade of sculpted bodies, platelet-rich blood flow, deep voices, resounding gold medals.
You see, banned drugs work.
Things like anabolic steroids, EPO, human growth hormone, insulin, beta-blockers, amphetamines, and so-called braking drugs (to delay physical maturation) can make you faster , stronger, faster, less tired, calmer when firing your rifle, a bit more like a knife when hitting the water after a whirlwind 10 meter drop.
It’s not like Olympic doping is new.
American Tom Hicks, marathon gold medalist at the 1904 Summer Games in St. Louis, received a dose of strychnine and brandy at the 22-mile helm from his trainer, Charles Lucas.
Of course, while it may have triggered Hicks’ final kick, it also nearly killed him. (He had to be resuscitated by four doctors after the race.) It doesn’t matter, because he won!
In his book ”The Secret Race”, cyclist Hamilton, the disgraced road race champion at the 2004 Summer Games in Athens, describes quite well the impetus for all athletes who succumb to doping. For him, it came after being beaten soundly by a number of runners loaded with EPO, which helps make red blood cells.
Hamilton wrote: ”It was bull[bleep]. It wasn’t fair. At that moment, the future became clear. Unless something changed, I was done. I was going to have to find another career.”
“I joined the brotherhood,” he wrote.
The brotherhood and brotherhood of dopants has not disappeared. Far from there. Doping testers may have become savvier, their machines more precise, but drug addicts are always one step ahead.
Changing a molecule here, tweaking a diuretic there, bringing the epitestosterone level closer to the testosterone level, finding a new immoral guy – like Victor Conte at the late BALCO – to hand out cool stuff like ”the cream” and ‘ ‘the clear’, and off you go.
So when I saw that one of the first gold medalists at those Beijing Olympics was cross-country skier Therese Johaug from Norway, I knew the good old days hadn’t gone away.
Johaug, a seven-time world champion, was banned from the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, because she failed a drug test. She blamed the lip balm.
She may be telling the truth. But cheaters wept, swore at their mother’s grave and even – hello, Lance Armstrong, Mr. Doper himself – sued those who said they were cheating.
By the way, in case you were wondering, there is no moral exemption for doping in the Olympics. Excerpt from the athlete’s Olympic oath: ”I promise that . . . [I will commit] to doping-free and drug-free sport, in the true spirit of sport, for the glory of sport and the honor of our teams.”
One thing to remember: doping can often benefit an athlete long after he or she is off the drug.
Also, as stated earlier, new steroids and the like are being developed all the time. Back when baseball star Barry Bonds and other jocks were worshiping at the BALCO altar, the new stuff called THG (aka ‘the clear’) came from a southern Illinois organic chemist named Patrick Arnold.
Amphetamines first appeared in the 1930s, and Russian weightlifters in the 1950s are credited (if that’s the right word) with spreading the gospel about the incredible power of testosterone.
The cheating won’t stop, and we’re crazy to think it could happen.
“We are very, very ahead of testing,” Hamilton said a few years ago. ”They have their doctors and we have ours, and ours are better. Better paid, that’s for sure.”
There is a lot of money to be made. More international – and political – prestige.
Why do you think the entire Russian team in Beijing competes under the strange nickname of the Russian Olympic Committee? Why do you think they can’t show the Russian flag or play their national anthem? Because Russian athletes are historically so dirty they can never be trusted.
But we nice Americans might not be so clean either. Who knows? It may be years before we find out.
Yes, dirt can rise to the top. But at some point, it always sinks to the bottom.