Former Olympic sprint star Lee Evans speaks out against drug usage

The growing use of drugs among athletes has caused a lot of shock waves this year - especially with all the publicity on the subject at the Pan American Games. How could it happen? Why did it happen? When will it stop? What's going to be the situation at the Olympics next year?

One man who thinks he might have a solution for all of this is Lee Evans, a two-time Olympic gold medal winner who represented the United States in the 1968 Games in Mexico City and the 1972 Games in Munich.

''My reaction to the steroid situation at this year's Pan Am Games is one of sympathy for the athletes who were taking drugs or abandoned the Games either in support of their teammates or for personal reasons,'' Evans explained. ''I feel that many of these athletes were pressured into taking steroids. They probably felt they had to in order to retain a competitive edge over their Eastern Bloc opponents who are known to use steroids regularly as part of their training program.''

Lee also voiced the hope that, in view of the crackdowns that followed the Pan Am scandals, athletes will no longer feel pressured into taking potentially dangerous substances to remain competitive.

''It simply isn't necessary to winning,'' he added, ''because I never took steroids and 15 years later two of my world records still stand.''

The records Evans established came during the 1968 Olympics in the 400-meter dash (43.86 seconds) and as a member of the United States 4x400 relay team, which set a world mark of 2:56.1.

Those Mexico City games are still remembered, of course, for the controversial black power salutes made by Tommie Smith and John Carlos on the victory stand after the 200-meter event. It was less than 48 hours later when Evans, Larry James, and Ronald Freeman, all of whom are also black, finished 1-2 -3 in the 400 meters. Evans, like Smith and Carlos, was a student at San Jose State University, where black militant Harry Edwards had been calling for such protests. Many wondered, therefore, what course his group might follow, but although the trio wore black berets and waved their fists a few times, they basically conformed to tradition, removing their berets and standing respectfully at attention during the playing of the national anthem.

Nowadays Lee is coaching three young track stars with Olympic hopes of their own: Billy Hicks, Warren Edmundsen, and John Smith. And as for the drug question , he tries to impress upon them that the use of well-planned nutrition in the preparation process can act as a stronger supplement to training than any drug.

To be sure, the use of body-building substances like steroids is not generally connected with sprinters anyway as much as it is with athletes competing in strength events. Evans says runners sometimes take them too, however - not for the race itself, but months earlier in the belief that they increase one's stamina and ability to train. And it's this idea he is trying to discourage.

''I'm convinced that the same benefits offered by steroids in the training process can be reached with special nutritional programs,'' he said. ''The athletes I'm working with for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics are training with a special combination of spirulina, bee pollen, and ginseng, all of which are considered natural foods.''

The 36-year-old Evans graduated from San Jose State in 1970 and subsequently coached college sprinters for two more years. He then moved to West Africa, where he resided for the next seven years. In 1975, he became a national coach in Nigeria, putting together that country's 1976 Olympic team.

Asked how he can further help a world-class athlete like John Smith, who is a 400-meter specialist like himself, Evans replied:

''I can't do a thing for Smith's technique. In fact his technique is better than mine when I was setting records. What John can learn from me is how to put the race itself together. Basically I teach strategy and how to avoid the pitfalls of being superstitious, which can sometimes happen to an athlete if he isn't careful.

''For example, some athletes get the idea that if anyone breaks their concentration by trying to talk with them only a few minutes before they compete , then they are going to lose. I keep telling them they can't afford to let themselves get spooked or blame other people for their failures. In track you run in a lane; that lane belongs to you and it doesn't change, so there is no reason to worry about the other guy.

''When I was at my peak as a runner, I trained one hour a day, five days a week. First I'd get my body warm and loose by jogging a mile. Then I'd alternately jog 50 meters and sprint 50 meters until I felt I'd used up just about the same amount of oxygen I'd require in a race.''

In regard to the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, Evans thinks the US will have its best track and field team since 1968. He still thinks, however, that to do things right we need more year-round training for our athletes similar to what the Russians have been doing for many years.

''Although the United States has a tremendous amount of raw talent available, it doesn't get nearly the individual attention and coaching that the Soviets provide automatically,'' Evans said. ''All that individual attention at the world-class level is what often gives the Russians what I call a competitive edge. We could have that edge too if we also provided year-round training for our athletes.''

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.