I’ve got mixed feelings about seeing some of the best athletic performances in the history of the modern Olympic Games. From American swimmer Michael Phelps to Jamaica’s Usain Bolt’s running away with three sprinting Gold medals to Britain’s Cycling hero Sir Christopher Hoy winning his 6th Olympic Gold medal we have been witnesses to some incredible athletic achievements at the 2012 London Summer Olympic Games.
But ever since Canada’s Ben Johnson’s country crushing disqualification from winning the 100M dash at the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympic Games, for using performance enhancing drugs (PEDs), there will always be a cloud of doubt over every winner as we wonder if the win was clean. Are we witnessing great human achievements or scientific achievements?
Certainly Ben Johnson wasn’t the first Olympian to have used PED’s but he was the highest profile runner in the highest profile race to have been disqualified for using steroids. The thing was that Ben Johnson wasn’t the first high profile sprinter to have used drugs to enhance his performance but he was the first high profile sprinter to get caught.
In a recent article that I read in Sportsnet magazine Dr. Charles Yesalis, a retired Penn State professor who is a recognized authority with many years experience in the science of performance enhancing drugs, states that, “it’s never been clean.” And that-“if this were a basketball game featuring the drug-testers against the cheaters, it would be 84-3 for the cheaters.” Yesalis goes on to say, “It’s about money, and the money is driven by bigger, faster, stronger. And guess what? You get that through chemistry.” It doesn’t exactly fill you with confidence that things have changed or have been cleaned up in sports at all.
Apparently humans have been trying to enhance their performances for thousands of years. In fact, some of the athletes in Ancient Greece, who started the Olympic Games in 776BC, used to eat sheep testicles for extra doses of testosterone. Really? Doesn’t it make you wonder who and how they would have thought of that? Who would have been the first guy to think, “Hmmm…maybe if I ate these little gems I’d finally be able to beat that damn Alkides.” And so it began.
The greatest problem with all of these PED’s is that the clean athletes are included with the cheaters. Nobody looks at a winner without questioning their ethics. Canadian weightlifter Christine Girard, who’s competing in her second Olympics, says that, “When I started the Chinese girls were cute but more and more those same girls are looking more like men.” She calls it “evolution”. A competitor she saw in 2010 had “an impressive moustache” and at last year’s world championships the woman had a full beard. “I couldn’t believe it,” Girard said. “But there’s nothing you can do if they’re passing drug tests.” Girard feels a moral obligation to compete without the help of drugs and she is an athlete who wants to stand atop the podium driven only by her natural talent. “I am clean and that’s all that really matters, right?”
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) is fighting an uphill battle and it’s a war that they are unlikely to win but they cannot stop trying and I will leave you by quoting the final paragraph from the Sportsnet article which states:
“We can still watch the Olympics in awe. We can watch sports knowing there are natural freaks of nature and Type-A personalities who worked harder than any of us can imagine to swim, run and cycle faster than anyone before them ever has. We can know there are parts of the spectacle that are not only entertaining but also pure and natural human accomplishment. Even if we’re not sure which parts.”