Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Clouds of Suspicions

So, the WADA and other anti-doping officials and organizations decided to retest blood and urine samples from the Tour de France, since several of riders had hematocrit levels higher than the normal upper limit of 49%. They got a little antsy, especially when Ricardo Ricco and his teammate Leonardo Piepoli were implicated in using a new generation of erythropoietin known as CERA (continuous erythropoitin receptor activator) which has a very long half life, but only requires a small dose to be effective. So they came up with some tests to actually detect CERA, and Stefan Schumacher was one who tested positive for the new generation of the drug. I hadn't really expected Schumacher to test positive; the doping officials stated that about 30 riders were under suspicion for having high hematocrit levels or trace amounts of drug metabolites which weren't enough to signal a definitive positive (if there even is such a thing as a definitive positive), but still enough to be detected. However, I didn't really expect Schumacher to be doping. Granted he did win 2 stages in the Tour, but the announcers didn't seem as fascinated or surprised with this accomplishment as they did with Ricco.
It's hard to actually gauge who dopes and who doesn't: a cloud of suspicion is usually proven right. The announcers never mentioned that Schumacher tested positive for amphetamines outside of competition or that he popped a positive for an amphetamine that was in an inhaler which was prescribed to him. Interestingly, Jan Ulrich also tested positive for amphetamines before becoming implicated in Operation Puerto, but he was further cleared due to lack of proof.
But the Tour de France looked pretty good this year: everyone looked tired coming across the lines (Marcus Burghardt gasped out answers to reporters' questions after winning the 18th stage) and the finish was close between Cadel Evans and Carlos Sastre, two riders who have had solid reputations of showing cycling talent and promise at young ages.
Lance Armstrong has always been under suspicion of doping, and that's unlikely to change considering the French's unsatiable hatred of him, especially since he's making a comeback. Apparently having a VO2 max off the charts, producing infinitesimal amounts of lactic acid despite heavy workloads, and solely training for the Tour de France year round instead of doing professional circuit tours isn't a good enough answer for the Tour organizers. Who knows.

However, if you do look at the list of athletes who have tested positive for minor drugs, such as amphetamines found in inhalers, a lot of them have tested positive for definitive performance enhancing drugs. Justin Gatlin tested positive in his younger years for a banned amphetamine which he claimed was in an inhaler that he was prescribed. He didn't provide a medical waiver for it, nor did he nor his coach attempt to talk to the "doctor" who prescribed the inhaler to determine if the medicine was on a banned list. Some years later, Gatlin tests positive for testosterone or an androsteroid which he claims his massage therapist used some cream that had corticosteroids in it which caused a positive test. And how about that Tim Montgomery? He was implicated in the BALCO scandal even though he never tested positive and recieved a two year ban which ended his athletic career. Now he's doing hard time for selling heroin in Virginia. Marion Jones, you say? Her husband C.J. Hunter, a shot putter and coach for UNC-Chapel Hill, attempted to make it into the 2000 Olympics at Sydney. He failed no fewer than 4 drug tests for nandrolone, but blamed it on dietary supplements he obtained from BALCO. Sensing a tarnished image, Jones decided to shack up with Tim Montgomery who also obtained performance enhancing drugs from BALCO and was strippedo of all medals and titles he'd won. So what's a gal to do at a time like this? Why, start training under coaches who have known to provide the best drugs and results for athletes! She trained under Trevor Graham, Charlie Francis, and Steven Riddick, all who have been accused of providing drugs for their athletes. All of Trevor Graham's athletes were implicated in using performance enhancing drugs. Charlie Francis is famous for setting up a doping regimen for Ben Johnson so he could do well in the 1988 Olympics. And all but two of Steven Riddick's athletes tested positive or were implicated in the doping scandal.

As of right now, the IOC is re-testing samples from the Beijing Olympics. I can only wonder how many Chinese athletes, weightlifters, cyclists, track-and-field competitors and marathon runners will test positive. Just because an athlete is under a cloud of suspicion doesn't necessarily mean that they're doping or cheating in some way. But honesty, if it looks like shit and smells like shit, what are we supposed to think?
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