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Behind the Scenes at the Sydney Olympics

Forged Medals

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 Olympics: Dope.
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 of his medal and world record. The Canadian runner later admitted that he had been systematically using steroids since 1981.

The 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 it was 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 medals 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 Medical Panel, 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 other countries.

Then, suddenly one morning in September 1998, reality started to set in: three-time Olympic gold medallist and 100-and 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 her 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. Many 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 soon after 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 their lives due to the systematic use of anabolic steroids.

But 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 in 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 in men's 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 illegal performance substance creatine?'' (an ergogenic substance that supports the muscles), replied affirmatively.

This is 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 in 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.

Obviously, 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, with 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'', said Kimmage. He continued: ``If I go out there and try to compete in the Tour de France, based only on the energy of one meal, I will not be able to finish, never mind get a medal''.

According 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 on 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 words, 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 super-show, which will be materially wealthy, but morally bankrupt.

According 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 occur in 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 to enhance their biological characteristics. Two, or possibly three, decades down the road, professional archers and shooters will have electronically supported infrared mechanisms transplanted 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. If the records cease to break, then the audience will get bored. Television will look for action elsewhere, and, the members 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.

© The News Insider 2000

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