Jewish World Review August 19, 2004 / 2 Elul, 5764
Time to rethink steroids at the Olympics?
Chiseled muscles, colorful matching Adidas warm-up suits and bags of empty syringes. The Summer Olympics are back, and this time with almost as many drug testers as athletes.
In Athens, a three-story laboratory was built exclusively to prevent athletes from taking steroids, part of the International Olympic Committee's anti-doping battle which has been going on for 30 years, ever since an Olympic cyclist died from taking steroids at the Rome Games in 1960.
More than 100 people at the 2004 games are working around the clock drawing thousands of urine and blood samples to test for the hormone that stimulates red blood cell production and the human growth hormone that builds more muscle, with the goal to catch dopers. These doping "controls" were presumably put in place to ensure an equal chance for all athletes. But regardless of taking performance enhancers, how equal is the playing field in the first place?
Let's say for a moment we allowed doping for all Olympians. Yes, it sounds farfetched, but who doesn't drink a cup of coffee in the morning to perform better at work? Think of the opportunity in Athens: the world's best athletes, the top pharmaceutical companies and expert physicians, all working together to help the athletes win the gold. And this could even increase the sluggish ticket sales and boost attendance!
Who wouldn't tune in to watch swimmers slicing through the water like dolphins or gymnasts soaring higher on the uneven bars or runners leaving smoke in their wakes? Just imagine the new world records being set!
But of course there are purists who would not partake for their own reasons.
There have been many clean gold medal winners who were committed to winning because they practiced harder, were more determined and better athletes, even when their opponents were doping. To be realistic, even if doping were allowed, we would still not achieve the IOC's goal of equality for everyone. It is impossible.
American athletes arrive at the Games having trained in superior facilities and with unquestionably better gear: aerodynamic swimsuits, ultra high-tech sneakers and titanium bicycles - all designed to optimize human effort - just like steroids. Compare that to the athletes who spent years training in inferior conditions and probably couldn't even afford a pair of sneakers. In either case, whether there is doping or not, "equality" across the board is unrealistic.
Olympians train to be the best in the world and deserve every chance. If the IOC really wants to provide equal opportunities for every Olympian, maybe they should start by giving everyone equal access to the top facilities and the best gear. Obviously this is impossible. The world will never be equal.
Ultimately we know that athletes will do whatever it takes to win --- whether it's practicing harder or taking steroids. And there will always be inequalities that cannot be controlled. So the next time we read about an athlete who was disqualified because he or she used drugs, maybe we should not look at it so much as cheating, but as evening the playing field.
Comment on JWR contributor Felice Cohen's column by clicking here.
© 2004, Felice Cohen
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