Tuesday, August 01, 2006

When Heroes Aren't Heroic

Following the end of the Tour de France, I posted a piece on the Human Spirit in Sports that praised Tiger Woods' effort at the British Open and Floyd Landis' comeback at the Tour.

It pains me to read today that Landis' positive test for testosterone levels over the legal limit appears to be due to exogenous steroids, not a result of his naturally high hormone levels as he has claimed since testing positive.

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I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt and had defended him in conversations at work. But I feared the reality would come out the way it has. He doped. He got caught.

There are many who say that everyone dopes at the highest levels of many sports and only the dumb ones get caught. I have said this, and for the most part, I think it's true. And it saddens me that I believe that.

When I was growing up watching the Dodgers or the Steelers on television, the players on those teams were super heroes. Steve Garvey was a god, not a womanizer; Terry Bradshaw was my hero, not a drunk and a wife beater. I wanted to be those guys.

We seldom heard about those things as kids back then. We weren't so bombarded with media as kids are today. Now when an athlete commits a crime or tests positive for drugs, kids know about it. They might even see it as a badge of honor. How else do you explain the popularity of Allen Iverson?

Some days, I wish I still had the innocence I once had. I wish kids could grow up with that innocence now the way I was fortunate to do.

When Landis won that 17th stage with such a brave and powerful performance on the bike, I really wanted it to be heart and passion and courage that pushed him up those mountains, not an injection of testosterone.

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Unknown said...

While things can be policed at the current time, it does make me wonder if the end of the age of professional sports is in sight.

People are going to want to be healthy and the best -- and the means to achieve these ends are going to be getting more and more curious and murky. As genetic means and nanotechnology becomes common people will be able to improve their performance in ways that will be widely available.

I fear we one day won't know what winning is. A "winner" could be a purely passive performer behind a skilled crew of alchemists who have designed an Event Matrix.

Steve said...

Bill, I wonder if and how testosterone injections shortly before or during the actual race could have improved Landis' performance.

Tom, you make an excellent point. As sports technologies continue to advance, won't the performances of world-class athletes be more and more the result of these technologies? Indeed, I sometimes wonder how much of a difference there really is between using steroids or other illegal performance enhancing compounds and using legal performance enhancing technologies such as improved nutritional supplements, training methods, and equipment.


william harryman said...

Thanks for the comments guys.

Steve: From what I understand, the injection was probably given right after the stage in which he bonked (16), so that when stage 17 started, his test levels were much higher than his competition (seriously improved recovery). The results would be mostly psychological (increased confidence, decreased perceived exertion), but there would be some physical benefits as well (strength, recovery).

The reality is that most of these guys cheat in some way or another (mostly EPO to increase red blood cell count). Some critics have equated modern gear (lightweight bikes, and so on) with the other kind of "gear" (slang for steroids). They argue that it should be anything goes -- whatever it takes to win.

Tom: You're not far off on the alchemists thing. For example, in bodybuilding (where cheating is the rule), the winner is only partly based on genetics and work in the gym, the rest is based on the "coaches" who administer the right drugs at the right times and manipulate the diet just so. One mistake in timing and the whole thing collapses. One injection can be the difference between looking HOOOOGE, or looking flat and soft.

And the new frontier is genetics -- some say only a year or two off. They can now "turn off" the myostatin gene (nature's limit on muscle growth). Soon, bodybuilders and other athletes might be using this technology to build muscle -- no drug test on the planet can detect it because it's a genetic tweak and we can't test for that at this point.

Calling Dr. Frankenstein . . .