Tuesday, December 21, 2004

More on performance enhancing drugs and what WE can do about it!

The following article by Scott Tinley is an interesting follow-up to the article in the times about the use of performance enhancing drugs. I have to say that I was horrified but not surprised when Nina Kraft was caught for using the performance enhancing drug EPO at the 2004 Ironman World Championships in Hawaii in October. Tinley always seems to have a unique perspective on things and I think it's a useful continuation of this topic.
Two things about Kraft's abuse bothered me the most. First that I found out about it on velonews.com, which is a cycling site. I had hoped (probably foolishly) that triathlon would stay out of the doping quagmire that cycling has put itself in. Second that when watching the NBC show about the Ironman Hawaii this fall I was extremely disappointed that they waited until the very end of the show to announce that Nina Kraft had been disqualified for testing positive and had admitted using EPO. If I hadn’t already known this information I would have been thinking “what a great performance” the whole show – that would have been cheating me out of the performance of the true winner - Natascha Badmann. I was happy and sad all at the same time to be thinking “NINA - YOU’RE DOPED UP”. I’m glad I knew but I wish that they would have made this clear to the less informed audience. NBC, you could have done a much better job with this and done the sport of triathlon and the entire sporting community a big favor! Also, lets not forget that Natascha Badmann deserved much more coverage for her outstanding race!


From Triathlete Magazine December 2004 Page 104

The Right Stuff
By Scott Tinley

Do you ever look upon your involvement in sport as you would a friend or family member? As someone that is now and may have always been inseparable from who you are? Have you ever sat off to the side while you watch yourself training and race, separate from your own existence, feeling proud that you have chosen and been chosen to be a part of something so fulfilling, so gratifying?
Oh there are days, to be sure, when the pain and rigor of your sport have given rise to self-doubt, insecurities, can-I-really-do-this kind of feelings. Buy you think that you can, and that ache in your legs is as controllable as a water faucet. It’s not simply the absence of pain upon completion of an event, but the presence of all that is good with sport. The finish line, the camaraderie, the people patting you on the back telling you how proud they are, and meaning it; it’s all part of the reasons you are out there. The questions are a natural part of the process, you remind yourself.
And then one day, likely during the spring when the days grow longer and the thought of races and longer rides and warmer water begins to push out the winter’s quietude, you see a real athlete in the mirror. Oh, he or she still has a family and school and a job-all good thing-but you bear witness. There is carnal knowledge in a thinner waist and the glow of skin that covers a well-oiled collection of hearts, lungs and fiber to move you over land and through a fluid medium with power and grace. You’re a jock, damn it, and proud of it.
And that’s when you realize that you are part of a tribe with tribal ceremonies, tribal brothers and tribal benefits. You are invested in your sport and it is invested in you. It’s a wonderful relationship, it is, but not without responsibility.
If a tribe is to survive, even flourish, rules are established and followed. Some rules are good, created for the benefit of fairness and safety, while others seem petty and political. But as a member of this tribe your choices are to try and effect change through political processes, follow the rules or risk it all and break the rules. There is a structure in place and you can choose or deny involvement.
And so it is as sportsmen that we feel robbed of a piece of our ownership in sport, our tribe defaced, when one of our own refuses to follow the rules and breaks them not in protest but in search of an advantage. It’s the same feeling that you might’ve had if you’ve ever experienced someone breaking into your car or your home. It’s not the loss of material possession-stereos and cameras and jewelry can be replaced-but the feeling of violation that turns out stomachs and catalyzes feelings of disgust, anger and even guilt at allowing this to happen.
People cheat in sport all the time and at every level. From the Olympics to the playground, we see it up close and from a great distance. And none of us are unaffected.
Regardless if the athlete is caught or not, those of us who feel ownership in a sport, who are well-vested, who want to benefit from the connection to like-minded individuals, will suffer that nausea that comes with violation. If a weightlifter from some eastern block country that we can’t pronounce is found guilty of doping, will it affect us directly? Not really. Do I care? Yes, because cheating is now institutionalized; a well-organized, well-funded enterprise that has found its way into the dark culture of organized sport.
If someone cheats in triathlon, or any sport for that matter, I take it personally, like they’ve come into my home and robbed me of something. Maybe it’s a part of my history or my memories of a life in sport. Maybe it’s that I want to remain in a collective that foregrounds ethics and fair play. Heaven knows so many other elements of our society, other tribes if you will, have re-defined ethical behavior.
The advent of tighter officiating, application of advanced science to drug testing and greater penalties, may or may not have made a difference. What is troubling is the fact that we need them at all. But that is utopian thinking, for sure. It is a part of the nature of man to gain victory at all costs and the emphasis on winning in our society has currently anchored this with the lure of fame and fortune.
In the end, I don’t put as much faith in the advancement of a police-state mentality to create fairness as I do in the tribe itself, as I do in the individual analyzing and then making their decision without exterior influence. Surveillance camera-consciousness is not the answer.
Is it too idealistic to think that we can police ourselves through peer pressure and internal education? I hope not. If the reason an athlete looks for an unfair advantage to win is because they want the respect and adulation of the peers, then it seems self-evident that they only have to realize they are jeopardizing all that they hope to gain. That should become the responsibility of the tribe to educate, and not some outside authoritarian group set up to catch the cheaters.
I will never forget the times when I would dance on the edge of drafting in a race and had peers I respect turn toward me and throw a darting look I could just as soon have been banned for life. These were my competitors but they were also my brothers, people whom I coveted acceptance from.
Reaching that level of ownership in a sport makes you a member of a family that must settle its differences at the dinner table, not in court. It also gives you a feeling of support that is immutable to any need or request. But is it your responsibility to enforce rules if you are simply another participant? Only if you are concerned with the long-term health of your sport.
I don’t know where drugs in sport will go, or any dink of cheating for that matter. We all make mistakes. We all want to win. We’re all human.
And you would hope that humans could handle other humans. Or at least you would hope that we would try. There may never be a last word on this issue. But shouldn’t one of the first be asked of the person in that mirror?
“Yeah, I like what I do. But am I doing right by the sport as it is doing right by me? Am I playing fair?”

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