Sorry for the lack of a post last week. I kind of went on a bender. Not a drink- yourself-to-death-Nicholas-Cage-Leaving-Las-Vegas kind of bender, but a bit of a bender nonetheless. It was my birthday on the 14th and there were a few events as part of the weekend. It was a mini-milestone,35 years, so a maxi-weekend was in order. Saturday, there was the Brewery Market in Hintonburg. It was a great event. Kalin and I met up with our friends and enjoyed pints of local beer … for over six hours. Sunday, my actual birthday, was the traditional dinner at the Highlander. As usual, a great time was had by all. Monday, Kalin and I had dinner with a few of my friends who couldn’t make it Sunday. Tuesday, while not an official birthday event, was the monthly Mill St. Tweet Up. It was a great end to four days of fun.
I’ve been thinking about the nature of cheating again. Once again, it’s the Lance Armstrong case that has me thinking about it. It’s not Lance, specifically, that has me looking at the bigger picture but that entire era of professional cycling. Earlier this week, the UCI accepted the USADA report and stripped Lance of his Tour du France titles. Despite promising defiance, Lance, himself, removed reference to his Tour victories from his Twitter bio.
A footnote to this whole affair is the UCI, in stripping Lance of his titles, decided to do what the Grammy Awards and many other music industry awards did when confronted by the Milli Vanilli controversy and elected not to award them to the best finisher who didn’t dope.
Yes, I just compared Lance Armstrong to Milli Vanilli. I’m sorry if I insulted the talented vocalist who actually sang those songs.
If you think they did this because they couldn’t find a finisher who didn’t dope, you’re probably right. Most of the competitors who finished second and third behind Lance have already had those titles revoked for positive drug tests. Since so much time has passed, verifying the blood sample of the guy who in came in 38th in 1999 is just too difficult. The cleanest finisher probably finished so far back he didn’t actually have to provide one.
For purposes of our discussion, here’s how the dictionary defines “cheat”:
Lance certainly cheated in pretty much every sense of the word. There were long standing rules against what he did and he did it anyway.
Everyone else did, too. It was the dirtiest era of a dirty sport. Yes, the UCI had rules against performance enhancing drugs, but did a pretty piss poor job at enforcing them. Laws without the promulgation of force have no effect. I think Aquinas said that.
Most sport federations are often behind the proverbial eight ball when it comes to doping and testing techniques are often catching up to the drugs they’re testing for. There’s a reason why samples are kept for years. It’s so they can be examined as the testing techniques catch up to the masking techniques hiding the drugs. They’re even worried about genetic enhancements.
With hero after hero being taken down by testing agencies, we’ve become socially conditioned to not believe in human greatness in athletics until some drug test confirms it. Look at the reaction to the gold medal swim Ye Shewan did in London this summer. Even one of the top people in the IOC’s anti-doping agency said the obsession with doping was detracting from the majesty of sport.
No offense, bud, but when your old boss, Dick Pound, goes around saying things like only 10% of dopers ever get caught and can’t open his mouth without levelling an allegation, you can forgive us if our default mood is skeptical. You still can’t differentiate some illegal drugs from Propecia, a legal prescription drug to counter baldness.
I was a bit of a witness to this in my last year as a fatty. I was back in New Brunswick to work a number of events that my boss was attending. The biggest was the opening ceremonies of the IAAF Junior Track and Field Championships. Track and Field geeks can correct me if I’m wrong about this, but this the age group prior to when atheletes would be able to qualify for the Olympics. I think the upper end of the age limit might have been 16. Beautiful opening in Moncton’s new stadium. There was even a girls race as part of the ceremony. After it was concluded, the winners were taken backstage and the performances continued. The ceremony ended with the medal presentation for the race. Why the downtime between the end of the race and the presentation? The winners, and a couple of randomly selected athletes, had been taken to a room and had urine and sweat tests administered.
That’s how deep-seated the suspicion upon athletes has become; they’re testing teenagers at the equivalent of the world’s biggest high school track meet.
Maybe sports should give up the ghost on enforcing prohibitions on performance enhancement and just go to an all-doped format like SNL did in the 1980s (Unfortunately NBC Universal is pretty good about keeping its content off YouTube, so I can’t find a region unrestricted clip. Trust me, kids, it’s hilarious). If we’re going to treat athletes, pro and amateur alike, as dopers until proven clean, maybe we should just let them dope. After all, if everyone does it, it’s not really cheating.
It’s not cheating, unless you’re the corporate sponsor of the one honest athlete of the games.
Oh, you thought this was about athletes’ safety and the purity of sport, didn’t you?
Before they dropped his ass, when was the last time you saw Lance cycling without the Nike logo on his uniform? The companies that sponsor events and atheletes have a vested interest in two things: 1) their guy winning, 2) their guy winning in such a way he doesn’t drop dead at the finish line. Dead atheletes make horrible spokespeople. Same with ‘roid rage cases. Sponsors want to see their athletes’ photo on a box of Wheaties, not a mug shot on the Smoking Gun. There have been plenty of cases where sponsors have been culpable in their athlete’s doping, and the bad publicity is enough to drive share prices into the toilet.
For those of us that compete in sports for the fun of it, there’s no rationale for this kind of cheating. First, it’s expensive. There’s a reason why sponsored athletes engage in this type of cheating. They can afford it. If athletes lived off winnings alone, they’d probably take home less after expenses than you and I do. For people like us who do a couple of events a year, the payday just isn’t there.
It’s harmful. One of the side effects of some performance enhancement drugs is shrunken testicles. Given that Lance already lost one to cancer, you’d think he’d be concerend about the viability of the other one. Nope. The desire to win trumps all. My desire to one day have a family trumps my desire to cross a finish line first.
For those of us who are on that weightloss journey, cheating means departing from the nutrition plan or slacking off on the exerices. In that instance, you are truly cheating yourself. I know. Remember, I was there. Every now and then I couldn’t resist and indulged a little bit. My usual nemesis was movie theatre popcorn. There were also a few special events where I didn’t have good options available or just plain indulged. Each time, the consequence was that I was up a pound or two. That was a pound or two I had to lose before I could post a net loss for the week. I had to discipline myself to think that every time I weighed in up a pound it would be another session before I reached my goal. Those additional sessions cost me money. Frequent readers will know while I don’t mind splashing out money, I do mind not getting the value for the expenditure. Only I could control the value I got from my sessions, so it was up to me to be disciplined.
Shortcuts didn’t help much, either. One fat burner supplement taught me a valuable lesson in reading labels.
In the end, it doesn’t matter if you’re a professional or amateur. There are rules in life, written and unwritten, enforced by a series of consequences and rewards. I think we’ve all learned in the last few weeks the answer to the question, “Who exactly are you cheating?” In the end, it’s yourself.
When did cycling become the Thunderdome? I suppose given London’s notoriously wet weather some Olympic events that in previous games had been held outdoors were designed to be indoors this time around.
I was watching the women’s omnium finals when Canada’s Tara Whitten narrowly missed winning the bronze medal. The CTV announcer stated as the medals were awarded, “And Canada’s Tara Whitten failed to make the podium.” (Emphasis mine)
Failed? The fourth best woman in a sport I hadn’t heard of until Tuesday was just told by some faceless voice, that she had failed.
Between the sportscasters casually dropping the “fail” word and the usual collection of armchair coaches and haters on Twitter and Facebook, I was getting annoyed. I even posted on Twitter:
Let’s banish the word
#fail when talking about Olympians. They failed to medal? Dude, you failed to get off the sofa.
It’s easy to criticize when you’ll never face the consequences of your words. You won’t do better because you’ll never be on that stage. You’ll never miss the podium because you never played the game.
Reminds me of this diddy by none other than the one true captain:
Paula Finley finished a triathlon injured. She came in last, but she finished. While some cartilage in her hip may have failed, her will, her instinct to finish the race did not. In recent months, I’ve become something of an expert on the subject of tough gingers. Paula, you’re up there with the toughest.
A high school classmate of mine, Jane Thorton (then Rumball), knows this subject far better than I ever will. She was on the women’s eights rowing team in the Beijing Olympics. I kind of boycotted those games because I thought the whole process of awarding those games was ginned by the IOC to pre-determine the outcome. Well, that and I’m a bit of an artifact from a previous generation that sometimes has to be reminded that the Cold War is over and, thankfully, we won (an effect of having spent a disproportionate amount of my adult life on the last enlaves of Marxism in the western world, university campuses). I followed the rowing events because of Jane. It was the only event where I had a proverbial dog in the hunt. Due to the time zone differences, the events were almost always on while I was at work. Thankfully, my office had a television. I even went so far as to put the rounds and what channel they were on into my Outlook calendar so I wouldn’t miss them.
All my co-workers and pretty much every New Brunswicker working on Parliament Hill crowded into my office to watch Jane go for the gold in the final. When she came up just short of a medal, fourth place, I was pretty sad for her. Having worked so hard for so long, I could only imagine how she felt. She recently posted this article from another Olympian that pretty much summed it up for her.
As that afternoon went on, I thought to myself, “Someone you’ve known since a teenager is on the fourth best rowing team … in the world! Whow. That’s pretty awesome.” I was pretty proud of Jane that day. I still am.
We haven’t crossed paths in forever, so if you read this, Jane, I just wanted to tell you that your success was part of the inspiration I drew on when I decided to change my life last year. Whenever I felt a case of the quits coming on, usually when the alarm was going off on a dark winter’s morning, I would think of the inievatable early morning rows that you probably did to get Beijing. If you could get to an Olympic final, I could at least my arse to the gym.
One of the armchair experts responding to my tweet mentioned that our athletes are paid to train. True for the ones in high profile sports that can get corporate sponsorships or some money from Own the Podium. Of course, the ones who aren’t so lucky, like discus or any of the events that involve guns, are part-time athletes. We don’t have the glorified Spartan agoge that China seems to train all its athletes in. We let our athletes seek out the best available trainers. For many of my east coast friends, getting the quality trainers that can get an athlete to the games meant leaving the Atlantic provinces for Montreal, Toronto or even the United States. It’s not just jobs we leave home to find. Since there are so many more events in the summer games than the winter games, the vast majority of our athletes are part-timers. Since we concentrate our funds on the events that have the likeliest chance of medals, if they’re going to be able to train for an event we don’t traditionally do well in, they’re going to need to earn a living.
The pay to train model may in fact be exasperating things. Look back to Paula Findley. As Simon Whitfield pointed out, she was injured for the past year to the point she had not actually competed in the last year. Yet, her previous coaches trained her while injured. He didn’t come out and say it, but the implication is if she took time off to have the injury treated properly, they wouldn’t get paid to train her.
I write this as someone whose pastime is training for races I have no hope in hell of actually winning. I’m not a 110 lbs Kenyan in my early twenties. I’m a 160 lbs Acadian-British-Scottish Canadian in my mid-thirties. I may have exceeded even my own expectations Ottawa Race Weekend and every other race I ran, but I didn’t win. By the Ricky Bobby-ian logic of the haters, I failed.
Strange, it never felt like failure. It didn’t feel like the silly “participant” ribbon they give out on sports day in elementary school (I always found that rather condescending). It actually felt pretty damn good. Unlike the winners, who I would see being escorted off the track in wheel chairs, I actually get to leave the race grounds under my own power (at least until the adrenaline wears off). I wouldn’t even call the thousands of runners who finished after me failures, either. They crossed the start line and the finished line. In doing so, they did something very few people ever attempt. The failures are the thousands more who could do it, but never try.
Forget winning. I’m failing.
I’ll probably never make the Olympics. I’m the age when Olympians retire. I doubt I’ll ever win a half marathon. That’s not going to keep from either the start line or the finish line. Want to call me a failure? You’ll have to get to that finish line before I do to earn that. Unlike the Olympians who want to save their sponsorships, I’ll tell you what I think about you, too. You may have noticed, I have a gift for words.