Sunday, July 30, 2006

The Hall of Shame Gets Bigger

So now the Sprint King has joined the Endurance King in the Hall of Shame in the biggest Doping Double the sports world has ever known. First Tour de France winner Floyd Landis was told that he had failed a testosterone test. Now Olympic 100-meter champ Justin Gatlin has revealed that he too failed a testosterone test, with the result that he could be banned for life, since he has previously failed a stimulant test.

What can we possibly make of this? Only one thing: That despite increased drug testing, some elite athletes still feel compelled to mess with their biochemistries to reach the top rung in their sport. Since they pass the vast majority of their doping tests, we must assume that they have gotten pretty good at beating the system. And we must assume that others are doing the same.

Since they sometimes fail a test, we can also assume that either: (A) the testing is getting better; (B) it’s possible to “slip up” and make a mistake in your doping regimen; or (C) both of the above.

And that’s the good news. The doping kingpins know that they don’t have to catch everyone to level the playing field. They only have to catch enough to scare the red blood cells out of everyone. And “enough” isn’t many. If you’re an endurance cyclist or 100-meter sprinter, you’re going to think long and hard right now about your approach to your sport, because Floyd Landis and Justin Gatlin are the biggest catches since Ben Johnson. And Ben was a long time ago, 1988.

This is 2006, and the noose is getting tighter.

Landis is the Tour winner; no Tour winner has ever been banned. Gatlin has strands of Olympic medal dangling around his neck, and is also co-holder of the world-record in the 100 meters. No track athlete of his stature has been dinged before.

This is serious stuff. It means the doping officials aren’t afraid to go after the biggest stars. It means that we can be a little optimistic about the future of sports, even as some are ringing the death knell.

Not too optimistic, mind you. History has proven that the athletes and the chemists on their teams are often ahead of the Pee Police. And we can’t let pretty “stories” cloud our judgment. Landis comes from the land of Mennonites; he would never use drugs. Gatlin campaigns vigorously against drugs, and answers lots of emails from budding track runners. Surely this proves that he’s the real deal.

Sadly, no, in both instances. The only proof is a doping test. And the fact that you have passed 99 tests doesn’t mean anything if you fail the 100th. The rules are clear: You have to be 100 percent clean 100 percent of the time. Why should we expect any less? This isn’t a geography test, where a 99 percent score deserves an “A” or even an “A+.” It’s a pass/fail test, and if you don’t pass, you fail.

Again, let’s look on the bright side for just a moment. Somewhere a young rider or sprinter is thinking, “If the big guns can get caught, that means there’s hope for me, a clean athlete.” And this kid, this budding dreamer we all want to meet and applaud some day after some great performance, is gonna go out there this week and train hard. Really hard.

Because suddenly he’s got a chance.


At 2:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think we have to realize that a great amount (What % I dont want to guess)of people will lie, cheat and do whatever to get ahead in life. There is currently 1.5 million people in jail in the US and another 1.5 million on probation or parole. There is probaly another 3 million who haven't been caught yet!
Never mind the neighborhood kid who is a pain in the ass and a assortment of other"dishonest "people. Its human nature to do what can be done to get ahead. Sad but true.


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