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Alex Hawley

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More Drugs Please, We're Athletes

Posted: 30/08/2012 21:50

Last week seems to have been the week of the Armstrongs. If they weren't being stripped of cycling medals they were passing away and being eulogised around the clock by the great and/or good. I'm not going to comment on the latter case: enough tributes have already been paid to Neil and I don't really have a strong opinion on whether they went to the moon, a recording studio in Nevada or both.

However I will start by mentioning the other Armstrong-related news from last week, which was that, apparently, Lance Armstrong has been accused of taking some kind of strange potions to help his cycling performances. Well duhhhh. Call me a cynic, but when a professional athlete takes time off his sport to have genital reducing, life threatening cancer I wouldn't have expected this to have improved their performance, as apparently was the case with Lance I-have-the-most-masculine-name-in-the-world Armstrong. From my limited understanding of the human body such an ordeal might actually weaken a person, not strengthen it. Perhaps, the comic books were right and all that chemo actually gave him super powers, albeit powers limited to pedalling and strangely similar to those obtained by using other performance enhancing drugs.

A few weeks prior to this all the finger pointing was directed at Ye Shiwen and her amazing performance in the women's 400m medley. My first thought on hearing about this was 'what a dreadful name to give to a race'. As I recall, a medley should be an assortment of chocolates or at a stretch chocolate flavoured biscuits, none of them chlorine flavoured. To get my hopes up, thinking gorging had finally been given Olympic status, only to realise it was just a bunch of swimmers trying out the most inefficient ways to cross the pool, was devastating.
Obviously it's a bit suspicious when a country dominates a sport, like China did with their 5 golds from 34 events, as opposed to Britain's 7 golds from 10 events in the cycling. Seems the Chinese were even sneakier than we thought: disguising their cheating by not winning enough. Clever, clever.

Anyway, whether or not all, some or none of the above were full of Getafix's magic brew is beside the point. I'll repeat what I've told both of my twitter followers. If you want to stop worrying about drugs in sport, just stop testing. If we presume that everyone is doing everything they possibly can to win, then it's safe to assume that everyone will be on drugs and it's definitely a level playing field again. In face we could have testing to make sure that people are on drugs to prove that they were at least trying. If you were a favourite and finish outside the medals, you'd better hope your pee is glowing; any colour other than orange or blue and serious questions will be asked.

What is and isn't a banned substance keeps changing anyway. It used to be anabolic steroids were out, other stimulants and they'd look the other way. Now the rules and regulations have tightened up the banned list includes everything from steroids to blood doping to cocaine to P.G tips (those piano playing monkeys had to be on something).

If the biggest worry is that it's 'unfair' then there are plenty of other unfair things to worry about. How about standardising the equipment being used, so that the space-age cycles being used by team GB aren't up against the Ivory Coast's octagonal-wheeled penny farthings? They do this in baseball (have standardised bats, not penny farthings) and nobody complains there...well, except about all the drugs of course.

It's also 'unfair' that some people were born with enormous advantages when it comes to their chosen professions. If you're 6'11" with a crazily long torso, arms hanging down to your ankles and webbed feet then chances are you'll be ok at rowing or the front crawl. Some sports, like boxing even take this into account. Here's a thought: if you're 17 and 17 stone maybe long distance running or gymnastics aren't for you.

Perhaps people don't like the fact that it's 'unnatural'. What 'natural is what's in its natural state. Why are we so worried about what things are like before they get better? There's nothing natural about being selected as a 3 year old future Olympian, getting up at 5am to swim 1000 lengths of the pool before a breakfast of oats, raw eggs and abuse. It's not natural to swear off junk food and alcohol until you've retired to the commentary booth. If we want athletes within certain norms they should be tested to make sure they have a reasonable amount of Vodka and KFC in their system. Obviously only employees of the Colonel would be able to administer the latter test, as only they know the recipe.

If we get real for two seconds and admit that everyone is training really hard, this then implies that we should basically reward people for their genetic gifts...which is, of course, largely what we're doing already. if you're short with little T-rex arms and a penchant for sinking, it doesn't matter how much you want it, you're not going to beat Michael Phelps.

One more thing (for now). Some silly people seem to imagine that those top, high profile athletes caught taking performance-enhancing drugs wouldn't be any good if it weren't for this 'artificial' help. Probably not the case. This isn't an eighties movie: those doling out the drugs probably aren't that interested in seeing what happens when they give their best drugs to average athletes. They wouldn't bother. Only the best get the juice in the first place. They also seem to think that drugs replace training. Not so. All the athletes, juiced to their yellow eyeballs or not, train crazily hard. In fact some of the steroids are to help with muscle recovery so they can recoup more quickly between sessions and train even harder than their lazy, clean rivals.
The only good point I have heard in favour of being a bit cautious before getting rid of testing altogether is that a lot of these drugs do irreparable harm to the athletes concerned. Despite her passing every test put underneath her, rumours still persisted that Florence Griffith Joyner's performances weren't entirely down to plyometrics and early nights, and her death at age 38 didn't do much to quell these. There have been numerous other cases of athletes, especially cyclists, passing away before their time due to blood doping and other now illegal techniques or drugs.

Fair enough; these are tragic and you might say avoidable cases. However the decisions to take these drugs are in the hands of the athletes, just as they are with people who want to take recreational drugs or drink too much alcohol or smoke too much or take up sky-diving, play Russian roulette or snort lines of pure Sherbet. They know the risks, but it's their choice. Of course there should be restrictions, just as there are restrictions with these other activities. There should be an age of consent. Until you're 18 you have to make your way purely through talent and a little bit of hard work. After that, if you're old enough to make a poor voting decision, you're old enough to make an even sillier drugs one.

 

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