A little rant on dopers…

It was with disappointment, but not necessarily shock, that I read about a fellow competitor, Blaza Klemencic, testing positive for EPO.  (With improved testing, a sample from 2012 was retested) http://www.afp.com/en/news/klemencic-gets-provisional-ban-international-cycling-union

Blaza was the kind of person that would try to start a race with two feet clipped in and holding onto the start rail (both rule violations) when everyone else started with one foot down and both hands on their handle bars.  After warnings from officials she would do it again the following week.  Some people will cheat to get ahead, but most respect the rules of the game.

I choose to believe that mountain biking is 99% clean, although this revelation shook me a little. I have been fortunate to win a lot and to know that when I haven’t won, it was because I wasn’t at my best.  It wasn’t that others were impossibly fast, they were just better riders on the day. I made mistakes technically, tactically or just didn’t have my best legs.  I have the confidence of knowing personally that you can be the best in the World riding clean. I have faith in others I have seen rise to that top step on the podium, like my Canadian and Luna teammates.  I feel surrounded by good honest people. If there are dishonest racers out there, I do not feel you do yourself any favours turning yourself into a victim. If every time someone passed you in a race you thought you hadn’t a chance because they’re a doper, you would just deflate and give up.  Racing is already tough enough without starting a race feeling defeated.

How did Blaza’s actions affect me?  Well, If the ban from 2012 was still in effect I may have finished 3rd not 4th overall on the World Cup this year without her finishing ahead of me twice, so on paper and financially she had an impact.  But honestly, I don’t really care about that.   What I care about is how she casts doubt on our sport, Olympians and World Class athletes in general. There is already enough skepticism of athletes out there.

When a top 15 rider dopes to get results many people willingly jump to the conclusion that you can’t be faster than that without help, rather than concluding that SHE couldn’t or wasn't patient or hard working enough to find out.  There is skepticism of what is physiologically possible, often thrown out there by people with limited knowledge of physiology or elite performance.  People that are “good athletes” or have read a few articles or texts, or coached a talented rider and have difficulty believing that someone else could actually be significantly faster than themselves (ego doping) or their athletes.  I don’t know many people that would look at a nuclear physicist and assume that to have their intellect they must have somehow cheated, but that is the attitude elite athletes must contend with.  

Let’s be honest, to be truly world class you are different.  You likely have an excellent VO2 max, a high ability to transport and utilize oxygen, the ability to maintain lean body mass while producing high power, a good immune system, an ability to handle time zone changes, an excellent work ethic, a strong mind, tactical awareness, confidence, passion, technical skill … there is a lot that goes into being a World Class athlete and not everyone has it, but some do and by thinking people are doping because they are incredible athletes is such a heart break, and that is the atmosphere dopers create.  

It is sad that some athletes prematurely give up on their own abilities or are so intent on winning at all costs that they cheat.  For those in the sport system I think we can do a lot for future generations by promoting a well-rounded approach that emphasizes success in life, not just in sport.  I imagine people resort to cheating when they feel sport is all they have or their performance is their only value. 

Encourage athletes to go to university or trade school, to have something outside of sport where they are successful - so that winning isn’t everything.  Value them as people and for their contributions to a team. Value their effort, not just their performance.  Show them that when someone cheats, they lose what they value most; the respect and acceptance of their peers and the pride in having worked hard for something.

There are a lot of harmful ideas out there, one of the most appalling is that, “You should just let all athletes dope”.  These people obviously don’t have family members in high level sport.  You would never wish potential long term medical problems on a family member. You do not want to see high school kids doping if they ever want to have a hope of reaching the NFL or NHL. You do not want to see great athletes decide to quit sports because they feel they have no chance of success unless they dope.

In the end, what makes dopers losers, is not a limitation of physiology, but a limitation of integrity. They owe every clean elite athlete an apology, their nations an apology and every person that has ever looked up to them an apology.

Comments

voodoobike said…
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Kika said…
I agree that the problem is not limited to athletes, but in the end we are responsible for our choices and actions. There should definitely be consequences for staff involved, and you are starting to see lists of banned support staff. People will cheat for the reward of winning, money or not, and feel justified, there are many examples of this, but that doesn't mean we can't or should not take positive action to make it less appealing.
Chris Hubick said…
I love this post Catharine!

The definition of sport is an activity we do for fun. It's a game. We compete because it's fun, and because it drives us each to be the best we can be. Lining up with our fellow enthusiasts, setting out the rules of the game, shaking hands, declaring may the best man (or woman) win, giving it our best, and then going out together afterwards to talk about the experiences we shared - that's sport. Sport is about sportsmanship. It's about camaraderie. Isn't the first thing we're all taught as kids that it's not about if you win or lose?

The problem is, sport is also great entertainment, and it's a big industry. And with all the pressures of being a professional athlete, it can make it really hard to keep sight of sportsmanship. But if you do lose sight, if it becomes purely a job, or if you can't lose graciously, you shouldn't be competing. Working hard to gain advantage is one thing, but you should always feel in your heart that it's a fair advantage within the spirit of the game/rules, as once you're willing to cross that line, to gain unfair advantage, then it's not sport any longer, it's just theatre. Once you go there, you're becoming less of an athlete, and more just an actor. Then, as a professional, you won't really be there to compete, but more just for marketing and to sell products, and the more that happens, the more the sport will degenerate into pure spectacle. We can't let that happen, because there's no fun in working to compete if it's just a big charade, and nobody interested in sport will be inspired to watch it either.
fedegu said…
best thought on doping read in the last months
Russell Baker said…
Fantastic post from a fantastic athlete. Well said Catharine !

I also like the expression of athletes having something outside of sport in which to be successful.

Here in Australia, we have never had one of our mountain bikers return a positive test. Are we doing the right thing, are we lucky - or is there simply no money in the sport? But if one of our mountain bikers does receive a 2 year ban for use of a prohibited substance, then our selection policy is that they will never again be part of an Australian Team - i.e., a life ban from representing their country. They may return to racing after serving their ban, even at World Cup level, but you will never see them again in our national colours.

Russ Baker AM
President, Mountain Bike Australia
Russell Baker said…
Fantastic post from a fantastic athlete. Well said Catharine !

I also like the expression of athletes having something outside of sport in which to be successful.

Here in Australia, we have never had one of our mountain bikers return a positive test. Are we doing the right thing, are we lucky - or is there simply no money in the sport? But if one of our mountain bikers does receive a 2 year ban for use of a prohibited substance, then our selection policy is that they will never again be part of an Australian Team - i.e., a life ban from representing their country. They may return to racing after serving their ban, even at World Cup level, but you will never see them again in our national colours.

Russ Baker AM
President, Mountain Bike Australia
Kika said…
I like that Russ. It was sad to see the Belgium team bring back Filip Meirhaeghe as a development coach years back (he is no longer in that position). What message does that send to youth?
Kika said…
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Robert Carroll said…
Voodoo, we as responsible adults always have a choice! Your don't blame the playa, blame the game, is the shittiest , lame ass excuse, that will perpetuate the next generation of riders to dope! Cycling needs to come out of the shadows of this...it's not my fault...I had to in order to make a living...it's bullshit, and your comment just perpetuates the victim of their own choices...Pantani died from guilt and remorse, and ended it with doping his life away...one way or another!
Jane Ravenshaw said…
I think you have earned a big rant on dopers (not just a little one)
Jane Ravenshaw said…
I think you have earned a big rant on dopers (not just a little one). Good start!
Dusty Downs said…
Well said!
Anonymous said…
Catherine, you are the shining star of the MTB sport in Canada. I love your articles. Well written and congratulations on an amazing season. You inspire my competitive spirit
Cris LaBossiere said…
Great post. There have been many great athletes who have passionately spoken out against doping, "what am I on? I'm on my bike, 7 hours a day! What are YOU on?" Then it turns out they're the biggest dopers out there.

Totally agree that dopers have had a very damaging affect on sport. So many dopers that it can be difficult to trust who says what. I'm interested in whether or not other athletes coached by Blaza Klemencic's coach are also dopers. We've seen that doping is usually heavily promoted by the coach and the team doctor, and that these folks are often the suppliers of the drugs.

When an athlete tests positive, more often than not, others on the team, and the team coach and doctors are implicated as well. Get the dopers out of the sport, and get rid of the pushers and suppliers too.

Sport science has come a long way. We know how to help an athlete perform at very high levels, and like you elude to, when good training is matched to physiological and psychological attributes world class performance is the result, and you don't need doping to get there.

I stopped watching the Tour after the Armstrong et el fiasco. I know there are non-dopers in the peloton, but for me it just wasn't enjoyable to watch anymore. I don't know who is genuine and who isn't, and I know the sport is tainted on many levels.

I'm an enthusiast myself, still racing MTB after 30 years and see myself racing in my 50's and 60's. I watch MTB world cup races. I've watched you and your peers duke it out and have been inspired to get out and raise my abilities just a little more.

I really, really hope that MTB is more clean than road. I don't want to watch cheaters, I want to watch people experience their personal best. I want to see the bad days too. I want to see the struggles and the comebacks. I want to see the dominators gracefully fade and the newbies carry the flame. Sport is very culturally important to me and watching the worlds best is exciting and inspiring. Dopers make that all fake. Dopers suck.

A caveat for dopers though.. A doper will usually be suffering self worth issues and psychological distress so although they should be out of the sport, it should be recognized that some kind of rehabilitation and personal repair is needed for them. Throw them under the bus in a sporting context, but where appropriate try to have some empathy for their humanity.. as hard as that may be.

If there was less systemic pressure to win at all costs and more emphasis on personal bests and balanced physical and emotional health in sport, I think we would see fewer athletes turning to drugs. Get rid of the coaches and doctors who push athletes to dope.
Kika said…
Hi Cris, thanks for your thoughts. I think the reason relatively few athletes write more than a brief tweet about doping is because you feel that no matter what you say people are going to maintain their previously held opinions on athletes. By expressing an opinion you have to be prepared for both positive and negative feedback and there have been too many convincing liars and disappointments of late for many to just trust an athlete’s words at face value, however I also think it is important for people needing to feel hopeful about sport to know that there are many successful clean athletes out there.

I entered regular international racing as a privateer in 2007 when both testing had been improved and financial incentive to cheat would have been much less and was very optimistic about my competitors integrity. I had hoped that when Marga Fullana tested positive in 2010 the women’s field had seen the last of a dirty era departing the sport. Obviously there are still people that will choose that path, but hopefully much much less than before and I think you can continue watching women’s mtn biking and feel good that you are watching an awesome and clean match.

Like you alluded to, I think you do need to separate an action from the person. Someone making a bad choice does not necessarily mean they are a bad person, but I would like to see more riders taking self ownership, not giving an excuse or a flat out denial. I think a lot of riders can at least grudgingly respect or forgive the doper that can admit their error, apologize and move on. I have no idea what it would be like to be a 20 year old that only wants to ride bikes and being in an environment where drugs were deemed necessary, but it would suck and good people can make bad calls.

Likewise, rather than seeing optimism that our sport is clean as naivety, I wish more people could be hopeful and give athletes the benefit of the doubt, but with so many positives tests across all sports at this time I also understand why that is difficult. In my opinion it is worse to have an innocent rider accused of doping than having a guilty one get away with it and important to stay focused on what you can do to be your best rather than what the competition may or may not be doing.

I join you in planning to be a life long mtn biker, being inspired to raise my abilities and enjoying participating in and watching clean sport.
Ryan S said…
Why is Chris Carmichael still associated with so many teams? Same difference. Neither one should be around the sport, yet for some reason people always embrace with open arms...
Dave Healey said…
thx, Catherine, for this. good words, and not an easy, straight forward path to finding truth in the sport without resorting to many sly means, some legal, some not. i enjoyed also the article from cycling tips, Why Cheat, on some of the possible psychology of cheating. and witness the drama amongst the automakers with VW's admission of bending rules; Broke My Heart, where it doesn't only affect oneself, but many, many others. finally, a good watch to see where the sadness of all of this can go, is to watch Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler. sobering, to say the least.
Joe in Durango said…
"Encourage athletes to go to university or trade school, to have something outside of sport where they are successful - so that winning isn’t everything." - Great idea. Also redefine "success" from its current narrow definition. I like what Scott Mercier (formerly of US Postal) said, that he viewed himself as the winner and all the other cheaters as the losers.

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