The Last Page – The new name of the game

By Jakob Wartman

This is the first in a series of columns written in sports about sports. If you are a sports fan with a need to rant send it to [email protected]
Erythropoietin, methyl-1-testosterone, mestanolone, oxymesterone, simple blood doping, and the world of gene doping, the new name of the game?
This summer I witnessed one of the most spectacular moments in recent sports history when former Mennonite turned professional cyclist Floyd Landis bounced back from a day where he had bowed to defeat to win cycling’s most prestigious event, the Tour de France. His comeback came after stage 16; a day after the former mountain biker had relinquished the yellow leader’s jersey and an eight-minute lead to Spainard Oscar Pereiro. The next day Landis stunned the world with a 120 km solo breakaway that has been called “one of the most epic days of cycling ever seen.” He retook seven of the minutes he had lost to Pereiro and ended the day in third overall. Landis went on to reclaim the famed malliot jaune and wore it down the Champs-Élysées becoming the third ever American to win “the hardest race in the world.”

America saw another perfect story, another victim of medical difficulties (Landis suffers from a severely arthritic hip) overcoming the doubts of an entire continent to prove Americans can compete with the Europeans at their sports on their home turf. Landis’ story was going to be a story of true inspiration when things looked their worst, but now it’s not to be.

July 27th the news broke that a sample Landis had given after his now infamous stage 17 contained an unusually high ratio of the hormone testosterone to epitestosterone. It showed that Landis had been taking testosterone to boost performance and aid in recovery, illegal under the world anti-doping association and the doping protocols of the Tour de France. Landis has and still is insistent the test is wrong and has said “there are possibly hundreds of reasons why this test could be this way.”

I was disgusted, watching another sports great fall to the waste side. Unlike off the field antics, this wasn’t like the time my childhood hero was accused of spousal abuse or when ‘the freak’ Randy Moss ran over a traffic cop, this was an insult to the world of cycling and the greater sports world. The world had thought it had witnessed the impossible and apparently it did. Landis had deceived the world and cheated the sport in the most subversive way possible, using performance-enhancing drugs.

Landis isn’t alone. Cycling is littered with cases and accusations of doping. Former 7-time winner Lance Armstrong, possibly the most tested man on earth, continues to undergo accusations. The latest came on Tuesday when two of Armstrong’s former teammates admitted to taking EPO with Armstrong. But this is by no means a problem restricted to Americans. Italy’s Ivan Basso, Germany’s Jan Ullrich, and Spain’s Francisco Mancebo, who finished second, third and fourth in the 2005 Tour were removed before this year’s start due to doping allegations.

And this isn’t a problem restricted to cycling. Justin Gaitlin, the world and Olympic 100m champion and joint world record holder, and Marion Jones, a 5 time Olympic medalist, are the latest in a string of sprinters to test positive for performance enhancing drugs. Baseball has been cast under a shadow with allegations flying from former players about the use of steroids. It was apparently bad enough to hold a congressional hearing on the subject. Baseball’s lax testing policy makes many players suspicious, especially those who continue to hit balls into neighboring area codes, that’s you, Barry.
Where does all this leave fans and clean athletes, those that don’t manipulate science for their gain? Do we accept the drugs? Do we strength drug control? Or do we simply embrace the chance that we are going to be let down again?
Isn’t doping or “juicing up” just a fancy way of taking a shortcut during a race or say avoiding 2nd and 3rd altogether on the way to home? It seems like the polite way of cheating, no one sees it and what people don’t know doesn’t hurt them.

But simply ignoring the problem is like taking the ump out of the game or taking the ref off the field. To allow athletes to manipulate their bodies using synthetic means effectively destroys the playing field at the expense of clean athletes. How do clean athletes compete? As we have seen in cycling, they rarely do.

Should we hold athletes to higher standards than your average Joe? No, but remember if that average Joe starts to cheat at his job, manipulating profits, misappropriating funds, he gets the boot. The same should be true for athletes.

No more lax tests and two-year suspensions and no more excuses. Everyone seems to have some excuse for a positive test. “My masseuse rubbed it in;” “someone tampered with my food;” or “I had too much Jack Daniels the night before.”

It’s time the world held its athletes to the same on the job ethics everyone else lives by. Tests need to be mandated, penalties strengthened, because I think the world is sick of cheaters rising to the top and marring their sports and record books.