Every time there’s an Olympic Games, I put on my doping hat and reminisce about olden days.
Ben Johnson. Marion Jones. Tim Montgomery. Michelle Smith. Tyler Hamilton. Just about every athlete who competed for East Germany from start to end (1949-90).
The dopers of yore waft through my mind like a slow-motion conga line of frauds. On and on in a parade of sculpted bodies, platelet-rich blood flow, deepened voices, clanging gold medals.
You see, banned drugs work.
Things such as anabolic steroids, EPO, human growth hormone, insulin, beta blockers, amphetamines and so-called brake drugs (to delay physical maturation) can make you faster, stronger, quicker, less fatigued, stiller when you shoot your rifle, a little more knife-like when you hit the water after a whirling, 10-meter drop.
It’s not like Olympic doping is new.
American Tom Hicks, the gold-medal winner in the marathon at the 1904 Summer Games in St. Louis, got a jolt of strychnine and brandy at the 22-mile mark from his coach, Charles Lucas.
Of course, while this might have sparked Hicks’ final kick, it also nearly killed him. (He had to be revived by four physicians after the race.) No matter, though, because he won!
In his book ‘‘The Secret Race,’’ cyclist Hamilton, the disgraced road-race champion at the 2004 Summer Games in Athens, pretty much described the impetus for all athletes who succumb to doping. For him, it came after he had been beaten soundly by a number of racers who were loaded on EPO, which helps make red blood cells.
Wrote Hamilton: ‘‘This was bull[bleep]. This was not fair. In that moment, the future became clear. Unless something changed, I was done. I was going to have to find a different career.’’
‘‘I joined the brotherhood,’’ he wrote.
The brotherhood and sisterhood of dopers have not gone away. Far from it. The doping testers might have gotten more savvy, their machines more precise, but the drug folks are always a step ahead.
Change a molecule here, finesse a diuretic there, get the epitestosterone level up closer to the testosterone level, find some new immoral dude — such as Victor Conte at now-defunct BALCO — to pass out fresh stuff such as ‘‘the cream’’ and ‘‘the clear,’’ and away we go.
So when I saw that one of the first gold medalists at these Beijing Olympics was cross-country skier Therese Johaug of Norway, I knew old times hadn’t vanished.
Johaug, a seven-time world champion, was banned from the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, because she failed a drug test. She blamed it on lip balm.
It’s possible she’s telling the truth. But cheaters have wept, sworn on their mothers’ graves and even — hello, Lance Armstrong, Mr. Doper himself — sued those who have said they were cheating.
By the way, in case you’re wondering, there is no moral exemption for doping in the Olympics. This from the Athlete’s Olympic Oath: ‘‘I promise that . . . [I will commit] to a sport without doping and without drugs, in the true spirit of sportsmanship, for the glory of sports and the honor of our teams.’’
One thing to remember: Doping often can benefit an athlete long after he or she is off the drugs.
Also, as previously noted, new steroids and such are developed all the time. Back when baseball star Barry Bonds and other jocks worshipped at the BALCO altar, the new stuff called THG (a k a ‘‘the clear’’) came from an organic chemist in downstate Illinois named Patrick Arnold.
Amphetamines showed up in the 1930s, and Russian weightlifters of the 1950s are credited (if that’s the right word) with spreading the gospel about the incredible power of testosterone.
The cheating won’t end, and we’re fools to think it might.
‘‘We’re way, way ahead of the tests,’’ Hamilton said a few years back. ‘‘They’ve got their doctors and we’ve got ours, and ours are better. Better-paid, for sure.’’
There’s big money in winning. Plus international — and political — prestige.
Why do you think the entire Russian team in Beijing is competing under the weird moniker Russian Olympic Committee? Why do you think they can’t show the Russian flag or play their national anthem? Because Russian athletes are so historically dope-dirty that they never can be trusted.
But we good-guy Americans might not be so clean, either. Who knows? It can take years before we find out.
Yes, the dirt may rise to the top. But at some point, it always sinks to the bottom.