By Jay D. Prince
The list of names is becoming seemingly endless. It’s a list that includes Carlos Almanzar, Uwe Ampler, and Laura Azevedo. Who? Okay, how about Lyle Alzado, Jose Canseco, Marion Jones and Roger Clemens. A quick Google search came up with a laundry list of athletes, both the obscure and the very well known, who have both admitted to using steroids or been suspected but unwilling to confirm accusations.
If you ask people what they think of the controversy surrounding steroids or, more broadly, “Performance Enhancing Drugs,” I suspect you will find the topic to be polarizing—either you see no problem with using any means at one’s disposal to push their athletic limits, or you see it as cheating. Personally, I’m on the cheating side of the fence. But even more disturbing for me as a sports fan is feeling betrayed, disheartened and just plain sad.
I’m not so naive as to think that PEDs are not tempting enough for our sports heroes to simply brush aside. In fact, I am quite certain that we as sports fans contribute in some way to the draw of artificial help when it comes to chasing records, huge salaries and notoriety. After all, one of the most common phrases in sports is…”Records are made to be broken.”
But sports are built on purity of passion and challenging our limits. If you want to improve your time in a marathon, you put in endless hours of training. If you want to swim faster, you put on your suit and goggles and dive in the pool—for some at five o’clock in the morning. If you want to improve your stamina on the squash court, you put in your time doing intervals off the court and star drills on it.
When we play the games we love, we call the ball down if it bounces twice; we keep our “foot wedge” in the golf bag; and we move our wheelbarrow seven spaces on the Monopoly board instead of the eight we’d really loved to have rolled when our playing partners aren’t watching. To do otherwise would be cheating.
And now we have Lance Armstrong. I have been a fan of cycling since I started following the Tour De France in the late 1980’s. For some reason, Armstrong caught my attention in 1993 when he won his first-ever stage in the famed race. Like so many across the globe, I was glued to his story after being diagnosed with testicular cancer and ultimately recovering and winning his first Tour in 1999.
I read his book (It’s Not About the Bike). I was mesmerized by his inhuman climbing in the Alps and Pyrenees and his equally inspiring time-trialling efforts. The whole “LiveStrong” phenomenon and development of his cancer-fighting foundation (livestrong.org) is admirable. The recognizable yellow wrist bands can be found everywhere, and they spawned a unique approach to fundraising the world over. Even U.S. SQUASH used blue wristbands to promote donations to the association.
The question about whether or not Armstrong was using PEDs or some other “undetectable” form of enhancement has been raised for years. He’s always denied accusations. Personally, my opinion has evolved from “I don’t think he has,” to “I hope he hasn’t” and now to just bitter disappointment.
I’ve ridden the 206-mile Seattle-to-Portland cycling extravaganza in a single day and, afterwards, felt nothing but admiration for the athletes that put themselves through the rigors of training for the Tour de France and every other cycling event in the world. My training for that ride was the simple fact that I’d been playing a lot of squash. Were I a professional athlete I’d like to believe that I would never succumb to the pressures of artificial assistance.
My hope is that one day all of sport will clean itself up; that fans and media will focus on the human sacrifices made to become the best at a chosen sport rather than frowning when a record isn’t broken. And that I will never again feel the anguish of watching a sports hero’s reputation go from “LiveStrong” to “LivesWrong.”