Marpole-Bird: Pride, not drugs should spur athletic accomplishment

May 25, 2010, 12:41 a.m.

On May 20, Floyd Landis, thirty-four years of age, a professional cyclist and former winner of the Tour de France – the sport’s most prestigious honor – admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs for the majority of his cycling career. In addition to ensconcing the cycling world in one more drug scandal, Landis also accused other top cyclists, including seven-time Tour de France winner and media darling Lance Armstrong, of doping as well. Landis’s stated reason for coming clean is that the burden of the lie was too great to bear anymore. However, that feeling of personal exoneration has come at a high price.

Already stripped of his 2006 Tour win a year after winning the race, Landis now must admit to lying to a grand jury, in addition to surely falling even further in the eyes of his peers and former followers. However, as Landis emerges as the next in a long succession of professional athletes to be found guilty of using performance-enhancing drugs, one must ask if the sporting world has any integrity left.

If sportsmen and women, from baseball slugger Jose Canseco, to sprinter Marion Jones, to football player Brian Cushing and cyclist Michael Rasmussen, are so intent on using drugs to take them to bigger and better performances, should we just let them? At least there would be no false hope in their integrity, no expectation of anything else. You could rest assured that virtually every good athlete on the planet was using something that did not come naturally to him or her. Would that not just make everything easier?

May 12, 2010 saw the passing of controversial sprinting coach and Stanford alumnus Charlie Francis after a five-year battle with cancer. Although a brilliant athletic mind, Francis is best remembered for coaching infamous drug cheat Ben Johnson to the 1987 World Championship title in the 100 meters and then the 1988 Olympic gold medal in the same distance before Johnson tested positive at those Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. Though he did not deny any allegations of supplying his athlete with the anabolic steroid stanozolol, Francis was banned from the sport for life for his refusal to admit wrongdoing.

I had the fortune of knowing Charlie Francis as a high school track athlete (unofficially of course), and he maintained from when I knew him to the day he died that no sprinter would ever make it onto the world or Olympic stage without the aid of performance-enhancing drugs. Perhaps Charlie would rethink that in light of Usain Bolt’s recent assault on the barriers of human performance, perhaps not. Nevertheless, he is most certainly not alone in that sentiment, and there is a very good chance that the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and International Olympic Committee (IOC) are not catching half of the drug cheats in sport. So, with increasingly more money in developing drugs than in testing for them, are organizations like WADA wasting their time and money?

Although many may have lost faith in the integrity of the sporting world, to allow performance-enhancing drugs to be used without opposition would be to sacrifice the very essence of sportsmanship.

As sport has become commercialized, it has been tempted by, and taken on, many undesirable elements. Whenever there are regulations or limitations, there will also be those who seek to push them. In sport, such as any other commercial venture, breaking the rules can, unfortunately, pay dividends. However, a distinction does and should exist.

Purists will tell you that competing in a sport shows you exactly who and what you are. It illuminates you to your very core, and for better or worse bares your qualities; you cannot run from it and you cannot escape it. Pitting your very essence against that of another is what true competition is. It is not only proving to those around you but also proving to yourself the strength of your own resolve and what you are capable of.

Every accomplished athlete I have known has shared one thing: a completely unwavering belief in his or her own ability. They believe themselves capable of beating all comers under all conditions, without fear or favor. Those athletes would not cheat, for they believe too strongly in their own ability to resort to that. There is honor in that; there is integrity in that. There is no integrity, honor or sense of accomplishment in a competition between pharmacists.

Invariably, athletes will reach a point in their career when improvements are no longer forthcoming and they can aspire to no greater honors. At that point, rather than sinking to drug use, those athletes should just accept that they have taken all that they can from sport. Having achieved all that they can, these athletes should realize that it is time to move on and perhaps consider giving something back instead of stealing undeserved and tainted glory.

Justin Marpole-Bird is not a big fan of the Pharmacists Sports and Recreation League. Tell him the latest PSRL news at [email protected].

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