Thursday, May 27

Lessons on doping from Landis and Charlie Francis...... or why I can't take testosterone

Do you believe Floyd Landis?

The UCI, cycling's international governing body, doesn't. Whatever he says.

2008 (or thereabouts):
Landis: "I didn't dope and no one around me was doping either."
McQuaid (head of UCI): "He is a lier; you can't believe a word he says, he's been caught fair and square".

Landis: "OK, I admit it, I was doping, but so was everyone else".
McQuaid: "He is a lier; you can't believe a word he says."

I made up the quotes, but they accurately reflect what was said.

Much has been made of the fact that Landis denied doping and launched a long and expensive attempt to get his "conviction" overturned. Which means he is deceitful, right?

Well, no, not really. If you read the emails that have caused the current ruckus it is obvious that Landis's resistance to the positive test was based on the FACT that he knew he had been stuffed up. He tested positive for a drug he WASN'T taking, and the test failed to pick up what he WAS taking. That's from his emails. Combine that with the fact that he was well aware which of his rivals was doping and getting away with it, it's no wonder he protested so loudly and so long.

Cycling - or more particularly the Tour de France - is in the hot seat about doping for two reasons.

First, it is the hardest sport in the world, and looking at TdF performance, especially in the mountains, compared to other sports it is that much more obvious to external observers that it is simply impossible to compete at that top level without medical assistance.

Some of that is even legal: I recently found a posting about the 2008 Tdf that said - "Today's Cycling News mentioned that 76 of the 180 riders who started the Tour de France had a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE)."

The TdF, as the pinnacle of the sport - way above the Olympics - is the place where riders use everything they can get hold of to enable them to survive. I started riding a bike seriously in 1967, the year Tom Simpson died on the Ventoux.

Track and field is at LEAST as dirty as cycling and has been that way for at least as long. East Germans anybody? Which brings me to the second reason cycling is taking all the flak - it is because cycling's governing bodies are crap at cover-ups.

Compare and contrast with some of the other well-known sports like track and field, football, American "foot"ball, baseball and so on.

Track and field is a good one to look at. You could write a book on athletes who have been found positive but let off the hook for various "technical" reasons. Marion Jones - never found positive. ONE East German found positive in 20 years. Are you kidding me?

You can see the same pattern in the major pro sports that have been mentioned here - for instance the spurious post-dated "medical exemptions" for American NFL players caught using testosterone and/or HgH.

It seems that pro sport seems to appeal to an amazingly high number of sick people: people with life-threatening asthma, people with "testicular disease"....

How to "solve" it?

The first thing that needs to be done is to overhaul the proscribed list and chuck out half the listed drugs. It is time to accept that competing at a high level demands that athletes are allowed access to the same degree of medical support as they are entitled to as "civilians".

That means setting limits, as cycling has done for hematocrit, for example. With that set, let riders use EPO to achieve it if they need to. Set biochemical limits and test for those, not for drugs. Not sure how to apply that to out and out stimulants - but maybe set upper limits for levels disclosed in urine samples, as is already done for ephedrine and caffeine.

I'll declare a vested interest here - as a masters athlete I am not allowed to have my testosterone levels topped up, even to "normal" levels, despite the fact that there is sound medical evidence to show that low testosterone may be a risk factor for major diseases. I wouldn't get a TUE for it. Now, if I was a pro footballer...

* Charlie Francis, coach of former world's fastest human Ben Johnson. and briefly also a coach of five-time Olympic medallist Marion Jones, wrote a fantastic book on sprint training - and doping. "Speed Trap" explains how he realised that unless he imported the entire East German system to Canada - training plus full-on medical support - his athletes would never be competitive at international level.

No comments: