Drugs in Sport (and Triathlon)

prescription-drug-addictions

2012 was the year that I lost my sporting innocence.

It was in the back end of 2012 that USADA released their report on the US Postal Team and Lance Armstrong, outlining how they ran ‘the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping program that sport has ever seen’

It wasn’t that I was an Armstrong groupie, far from it. But, when somebody had maintained for years that they were innocent, had never tested positive (publicly at least) and had gone to the extent of suing people for libel, at the very least you want to give them the benefit of the doubt.

So when the USADA report was released, and Armstrong subsequently did his damage limitation on Oprah, to say I had become more cynical about elite sporting achievements is perhaps an understatement.

And unfortunately, while Lance has become the poster boy for EPO, the problem of performance enhancing drugs in cycling was around before he came onto the scene. In fact, at one stage, Lance was seen as part of the solution rather than the problem.

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Having only started taking an interest in cycling over the last couple of years, my knowledge of the cycling pre-Lance was limited at best.

It was only after reading David Walsh’s book, ‘The Seven Deadly Sins’, that I found out that cycling has already been through a doping scandle on this scale just over a decade ago. The 1998 Tour de France was overshadowed by the Festina affair, where one of the team assistants was found with large quantities of doping products in his car, revealing a culture of drug taking within the sport.

As a result of the fallout from the Festina affair, the 1999 Tour was named the ‘Tour of Renewal’, the premise being that it would herald a new beginning for cycling, free of doping.

The reality didn’t turn out quite like that. Not only did the peloton clock speeds greater than the year before (when a drug free peloton should have been slower), it was also the maiden victory for a cyclist who would go on to dominate the sport – Lance Armstrong.

So when cycling has already been through one false dawn, you can understand why journalists are still questioning the likes of Wiggins and Froome on the subject today.

Sadly, the Armstrong affair has not just tainted my view of athletic brilliance in cycling.

The words used to describe Armstrong in his heyday went something along these lines: once-in-a-lifetime, extrodinary, insprational.

Are those not the exact same words we use when we describe someone like Usain Bolt? I am not for one second suggesting that Usain has doped, but sadly for him (and me) the negative light from the Lance Armstrong saga stretches far beyond just the world of cycling.

Which brings me to triathlon.

It is fair to say that triathlon has not had doping scandles on the scale of those faced by other sports. This can be attributed to that fact that, by and large, triathlon is still a fringe sport. It does not offer the fame or financial glory offered by the likes of the Tour de France.

But triathlon is now one of the fastest growing participation sports globally. It is also becoming increasingly mainstream, with the likes of the Brownlee brothers now household names in the UK post the Olympics.

Given that increased participation and marketing reach typically bring more dollars, it would be foolish to assume that the sport is immune from the pressures that give rise to performance enhancing drugs.

Ross

Highlight of the week: Thanks to some tips from my swimming partner, Andrew Wiltshire, whose claim to fame is the towel he got from Commonwealth Games trials for New Zealand (it’s a great towel), I finally feel like I am getting to grips with the swim.

Lowlight of the week: Realising that the stereotype of year round sunshine in Australia is a massive PR stunt. It gets cold, and it rains, and it gets dark early. All of which cause massive problems for my ongoing training.

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