Behind the Scenes at the Sydney Olympics
27 September 2000
Watching the action unfold daily at the
Sydney Olympics, it is interesting to see how many athletes
pray before and
after they compete. If one didn't know better, one would
think that they put their faith and hope in their respective
deities. Yet, unfortunately, an increasing number of allegations
have been appearing daily, confirming that there is only
one god worshipped by the majority of athletes in these
The use of performance enhancing drugs today is more widespread
than ever before in the history of international competition.
The organizers know it, the Olympic Commission knows it,
the athletes and their coaches know it, and the spectators
know it: sporting competition is in the midst of its deepest
crisis in peacetime history.
The true dimensions of this crisis
began to appear twelve years ago in August 1988. At that
time, Olympic gold medallist,
and 100-meter world-record holder, Ben Johnson, of Canada,
was caught competing under the influence of a powerful
steroid called Stanzolol. By September, he had been stripped
medal and world record. The Canadian runner later admitted
that he had been systematically using steroids since 1981.
International Olympic Commission (IOC) and the International
Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF) tried their best to
block all memory of the incident. However, two years later
the American 400-meter world-record holder Harry Reynolds
who was found doped up. Following that, in the summer of
1992, two-time Olympic shot-put winner Katrin Krampe, of
Germany, was caught doped up during an international meeting
in South Africa. Additionally, the top British long-distance
runner Jason Livingstone was disqualified from the Barcelona
Olympics after being subjected to an unannounced drug test.
Following the end of the Barcelona Games, all three of
the medallists in women's shot-put were stripped of their
after they tested positive for steroids.
In October 1994,
an unannounced extensive drug test was carried out during
the Pan-Asian Indoor Athletics Championship in
Hiroshima, Japan. No less than 25 members of the Chinese
team were caught doped up, thus confirming the International
Federation's suspicions that Chinese athletics are institutionally
based on the systematic doping of athletes. During the
Hiroshima Games, the director of the Olympic Commission's
Prince Alexander De Merod, characteristically remarked
that he did not believe that the Chinese athletes were making
greater use of anabolic steroids than did athletes from
Then, suddenly one morning in September 1998,
reality started to set in: three-time Olympic gold medallist
200-meters world-record holder, Florence Griffith-Joiner,
of the United States, lost her life from a heart attack
at the age of 38. Her death, which could possibly have been
caused by the extensive use of anabolic drugs, gave reason
to many sports analysts around the world to question the
extent to which her remarkable records were outcomes of
natural physical ability. Griffith-Joiner's 100 meter-record
stands at 00:10:47, while her 200-meter record stands at
the amazing time of 00:21:34. The respective personal bests
of her successor, American super-athlete Marion Jones,
do not exceed the relatively humble 00:10:61 and 00:21:62.
have remarked that Griffith-Joiner's records are so unnatural
that they will remain unchallenged for at least a decade.
``Many people will pay their physicians an urgent visit
tonight,'' British heptathlon champion Jane Flemming remarked
hearing the news of Griffith-Joiner's death.
Deaths similar to that of Griffith-Joiner's are anything
but a rare phenomenon in the world of international athletics.
It has been calculated that, during the past 11 years,
more than 100 athletes of all kinds and levels have lost
lives due to the systematic use of anabolic steroids.
such statistics have proven unable to shake the habits
of the athletes. Two American sportsmen of world fame, Dennis
Mitchell and Randy Barns, recently admitted that they have,
in the past, made use of the illegal substance testosterone.
A few days before the 1999 Open Door World Championship
Seville, Spain, former world champion in women's 200-meters,
Marlene Ottey of Jamaica, and her coach, former 100-meter
and 200-meter world champion, Linford Christie of Great
Britain, were caught doped up. So was the world champion
high jump, legendary athlete Javier Sotomayor of Cuba.
The above instances are worrying because they only constitute
the top of the iceberg. A recent poll, organized by a British
national newspaper, revealed that most of the anonymous
British athletes who were asked, ``Do you make use of the
performance substance creatine?'' (an ergogenic substance
that supports the muscles), replied affirmatively.
hardly news. The extent of illegal substance use and abuse
in athletics can be confirmed by common sense.
Look no further than at the culmination of every respectable
athletics event, the 100-meters competition. Numerous sports
scientists, biologists and physicians have remarked that,
even if natural human physical capabilities are developed
to their absolute extreme, it is virtually impossible for
a human being to run 100 meters faster than 00:10:50. In
order for this time to be reduced, human muscles have to
be artificially strengthened, the lungs have to be enlarged,
the heart needs to beat faster than normal, and the blood
needs to be thicker than normal -that is exactly the effects
that steroids have on athletes. The fact that the world
record in men's 100-meters currently stands at 00:09:70 proves
the most indisputable manner possible that the systematic
use of anabolic steroids is functionally intertwined with
the most impressive performances of the world's top athletes.
the reason that most of these athletes have yet to be discovered
competing under the influence of steroids
is not that they do not use such substances. Rather, it
has to do with the fact that they take the necessary precautions,
such as to stop taking the substances 14 days before the
official games. This allows their body to absorb all traces
of steroidal use.
Another disarming example of the extent
of steroid use can be found in cycling. Cycling is the
sport in which it is
thought that athletes make the most extensive use of anabolic
drugs, after weight lifting. In 1998, the famous annual
Tour de France was stigmatized by scores of doping revelations,
allegations of coach-sponsored doping, and also resignations
of officials, and punishments of athletes. During the turbulence,
numerous anonymous sports physicians noted that, no matter
how well trained an athlete is, it is unrealistic to expect
them to cycle 5,000 kilometers in 3 weeks without the use
of anabolic steroids. Also, the former professional cyclist
from Ireland, Paul Kimmage, revealed that all cyclists,
out any exceptions whatsoever, make systematic use of steroids.
``Since everyone else is doing it, you cannot insist on
abstaining, unless you are not interested in the medals'',
He continued: ``If I go out there and try to compete in
the Tour de France, based only on the energy of one meal,
not be able to finish, never mind get a medal''.
to the official Constitution of the IAAF, the use of steroids
is not only dangerous for the athletes' lives,
it is also immoral. This is because use of such substances
breaks the rules of fair play, as well as the biological
rules of athletic competition. According to the latter,
an athlete's performance must be conducted and evaluated
the basis of his or her natural biological and physiological
abilities, without the extra support of artificial physio-psychological
substances. At the same time, however, the Federation unofficially
recognizes that, in the absence of anabolic steroids, the
Games would not be so spectacular: phenomenal super-athletes,
such as Griffith-Joiner would not appear as often as they
do today; personal bests, national, Olympic and world records
would not be broken on a monthly basis; the global audience
would not be as interested as it is today in the competitions,
and thus, the sponsors would not wait in line to submit
ludicrous sums to athletic events around the world. In other
the Federation is called to choose between two different
visions of the future of sports: namely, between a morally
wealthy, but materially poor and less exciting athletic
environment, and a spectacular and televisually attractive
which will be materially wealthy, but morally bankrupt.
to Simon Easom, a philosopher with the Department of Sports
Philosophy at De Montfort University in Britain,
the televisual times in which we live leave the Federation
little space for choice. For Easom, the current use of
steroids is but the introduction to all that is going to
the future. The pressure for increasingly improved athletic
performances will lead professional athletes to having
heart, lung and other major organ surgeries, in their attempt
enhance their biological characteristics. Two, or possibly
three, decades down the road, professional archers and
shooters will have electronically supported infrared mechanisms
in their eyes, shot-putters will receive artificial help
from bionic arms and legs, while long-jumpers will resort
to the use of electronic nerves.
According to Easom, neither
the audience, nor the Commission, nor even the athletes,
are going to raise significant objections
against such changes: ``Today, numerous athletes subject
themselves to blood transfusions a few days before official
competitions in order to have all traces of steroid use
disappear from their organism. If they are willing to go
to such pains
for the sake of competition, then why wouldn't they resort
to heart transplants in order to improve their performance?''
As for the audience and the Commission, Easom says that
they remain captives of the laws of the television market.
the records cease to break, then the audience will get
bored. Television will look for action elsewhere, and, the
of the Olympic Commission will go on the dole. The solution
is obvious: whatever substance has the ability of enhance
the athletes' performances, and hence enhance the competition
and the visual attractiveness of athletics, is going to
be legalized, sooner or later.
In conclusion, if you thought
that doping at Sydney is bad news, just hold your horses.
In a few years, you may look
back to the 2000 Summer Olympics as the last time humans
competed and performed as humans.
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