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.