NEIL WILSON: Supplementing success is not shameful, just stupid
THE NEIL WILSON COLUMN / An exclusive, authoritative series from Sports Features Communications
(SFC) So the sport of track and field is dead. Or so the doomsters and Casandras would have it after a weekend when some of the world’s fastest athletes were identified as drug-takers, Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell among them.
They spun it the same way when Ben Johnson tested positive at the 1988 Olympic Games. Again they were spinning the obituaries when Marion Jones was revealed as a cheat and a fraud. The sport would die of shame, they said.
Cycling has also long gone the same way apparently, dead and buried because seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong was confirmed as a long-term user of performance enhancing drugs.
So that is two of the principal Olympic events, as John Cleese said of Monty Python’s parrot, off the twig, kicked the bucket and shuffled off their mortal coil. Ex-sports, no less, presumably like baseball and American football, two more sports where doping has been exposed.
Or are they? Could it be that the detractors and derogators are over-reacting just a mite using words like devastating and shameful.
Do I not remember how, years after Johnson and Jones’ exposures, every seat for track and field was over-subscribed at the Olympic Games last year, and that every ticket for the two-day Olympic Anniversary Games there this month sold out within two hours, all 120,000 of them.
And did the LA Dodgers’ attendance not rise this year to an average of more than 44,000? And am I imagining the huge interest being generated this month by the sans-Lance Tour de France across Europe and the multi-national corporation confirming its sponsorship already for next year?
What those whose knees jerk most quickly ignore is context. They do not wait for the facts. We are likely to discover, it seems, that Gay and Powell are guilty of nothing more than inadvertent ingestion of a substance contained in one of their health supplements.
Gay, according to Sports Illustrated, has been consulting an anti-aging specialist who dispenses homeopathic and herbal concoctions. Powell’s test revealed a synthetic stimulant, oxilofrine, used as fat-burner which, as a natural product, is found in extracts of bitter orange.
Ian Musgrave, senior lecturer in pharmacology at the University of Adelaide, blogs that Powell’s defence of “never-knowingly” taking drugs is a “very real possibility”. He says that contamination of supplements is widespread and that one report found 70% of weight-loss supplements contained ingredients not listed on the label.
So guilty as charged because athletes are responsible for anything they ingest. But not shameful, just stupid, because no thinking athlete would take a supplement these days after the recent experience of others.
And Powell’s punishment at least might not be so devastating. Amy Dodson, an amputee athlete who took oxilofrine, was suspended for just six months. Mike Rodgers, a US-sprinter rival of Powell, received nine months for another stimulant ingested from an over-the-counter product.
Already this year a Czech tennis player and an Australian boxer found to have taken stimulants inadvertently by similar means received sentences of months rather than years.
So wrong, yes. Guilty, yes. But rocking sports to their foundations, hardly.
Let’s stop throwing around silly words such as devastating and shameful every time a competitor is caught. Instead let the first reaction be to put out the bunting and celebrate. What each doping case tells us is that that WADA is on the ball and winning the war.
Slowly but surely they might even get across a message to athletes - never use supplements. They aren’t always what they say on the tin.
NEIL WILSON reported his first Olympic Games in Munich in 1972. He has since covered another nine summer and nine winter Olympics for various newspapers, including The Independent and the Daily Mail with whom he has worked for the last 19 years as Athletics and Olympic correspondent. He was Britain's Sports Journalist of the Year in 1984 and is the author of seven books.
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