One of the self-evident truths of the Olympics, besides the absurdity of woefully unprepared host nations being hosts, is the presence of performance-enhancing drugs.
Citius, Altius, Fortius – the Olympic motto – means Faster, Higher, Stronger, to which modern science says, “Would you like that in pill form or as an injection?”
It’s not cynicism that makes some people think that the Games are a pharmaceutical sham. It’s a recognition of what has gone on in the past and a knowledge that times continue to be cut and heights cleared by people who shouldn’t be doing so. And, in some ways, what’s perceived as negativity is protection against getting burned again, the way so many innocents did by Lance Armstrong in the Tour de France.
On Thursday, the International Olympic Committee revealed the number of Russian athletes it would allow to participate in the Summer Games, despite a widespread, government-led doping program. It was interesting to watch how different news organizations chose to interpret the development in their headlines.
CNN.com: “IOC bans 118 of 389 Russian athletes from Rio Olympics after reports of doping”
Yahoo.com: “IOC approves entry of 271 Russian athletes for Rio de Janeiro Olympics’’
The first headline seems to laud the IOC for a law-and-order approach. I prefer the second headline, which, if it were given headline truth serum, would read: “What a joke!’’
No Russian athlete should be taking part in the Rio Games, given the country’s massive doping scheme and the ensuing cover-up. But the IOC has a backbone with the tensile strength of toothpaste and thus 271 friggin’ Russian athletes will take part in the Olympics. So much for the IOC’s pledge to hand out the “toughest sanctions available’’ to Russia.
Now, let’s not be sanctimonious here. The Russian drive to win for the glory of country and at all costs is certainly a huge part of this. But so is the rationalization that “everybody else is doing drugs so why shouldn’t we?’’ That’s not unique to Russia. It’s what pushes many athletes, regardless of country, to cheat.
Armstrong, who won seven straight Tour titles, was certainly right about one thing after he was exposed as a massive fraud: Many of his competitors were using PEDs. He saw the sport as an arms race, and he saw to it that he won that race too. The difference here is that an entire country cheated, helped along by its scientists and state security. That’s why Russia shouldn’t be anywhere near Rio.
(Armstrong would have been best buddies with Russian president Vladimir Putin, another bully who lashes out at everyone who disagrees with him in any way. Where Armstrong used lawsuits to intimidate his detractors, Putin uses prison cells.)
If you don’t want Olympians’ failed drug tests crushing your spirit again and again, I would suggest you assume that a decent number of competitors in track and field have used or are using PEDs. So, too, with swimming. Weightlifting? You’re kidding, right?
For some reason, the Olympics still have the faintest sheen of purity and amateurism to them, even though both ideals hit the road a long time ago. It’s why so many people were appalled when Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson turned out to be a steroid cheater of epic proportions and when Irish swimmer Michelle Smith sabotaged her urine samples with alcohol.
Same with baseball. Lots of people were upset when it became apparent that Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Roger Clemens were supplementing their God-given gifts with man-made assistance.
But we’re particular about where we place our indignation. An NFL player tests positive for PEDs, says he unknowingly ingested a banned substance, gets a four-game suspension and returns to a shrugging fan base. Nobody cares. That’s because we expect our football players to be as big and nasty as possible. They’re “warriors’’ who fight athletic battles. They’re not real warriors, so who cares if their bodies aren’t real either? Strange, twisted thinking, but there you are.
PEDs should be rooted out of sports wherever they are. I don’t understand the thinking that athletes should be allowed to put anything into their bodies that they want.
Should we take for granted that competitors are cheating? For self-preservation purposes, yes.
Should we allow them to? No way. It’s not what sports are supposed to be about, and there are too many health concerns.
The IOC says it cares about getting drugs out of the Games, but if that were true, there wouldn’t be a hint of Russia in Rio for the next two weeks. Instead, the message is clear: The IOC doesn’t care one bit.