No easy answers ahead on Olympics doping

The Sydney Olympics clearly provided what everyone hopes all Olympics will: a rousing good time and good sports.

There was keen competition and plenty of goodwill. There was a nice mix of seriousness of purpose and giddiness and silliness. Everything was just ducky.

Except for the performance-enhancing drugs.

This is truly a sticky wicket.

Everyone would much prefer to ignore the issue or, better yet, have it go away on its own. No such luck. It lurks everywhere.

It's easy to rail against drugs, cluck in dismay, point fingers. But it is far harder to think of solutions.

Romania seems to be the poster child for bad behavior these days. Two of its weightlifters tested positive, its gold-medal-winning, all-around gymnast Andreea Raducan had her medal recalled for a drug violation, and its world-record holder in hammer throwing, Mihaela Melinte, was banned. She was taken from the Olympic Stadium moments before she was to compete.

A Czech weightlifter was dismissed from the Games for a positive test. So was a hammer thrower from Belarus and a rower from Latvia. And the beat goes on.

But what galvanized attention was the bombshell disclosure that reigning world shot put champ, C.J. Hunter of the United States, tested positive four times recently. That he is married to America's top woman track star, Marion Jones, adds to the frenzy.

The question arises, perhaps unfairly: What did she know and when did she know it?

Athletes always deny, deny, deny. Hunter is no exception. At a press conference - with famed defense attorney Johnnie Cochran at his side - Hunter said, "I don't know how this happened or why this happened, but I'm going to find out...." His explanation is that he wouldn't do anything like this because track and field doesn't mean that much to him.

Jones says she expects the legal system "will clear his name."

Another celebrity US athlete, cyclist Lance Armstrong, bristles at doping questions: "I'm really getting tired of having to defend my sport." He says the issue is "way overblown" and that in the end, cycling "will be proved to be one of the most innocent sports." The problem, he suggests, is, "If you have a good ride, they say you're doped. If you have a bad ride, they say you used to be doped."

About this same time, it was announced that a Czech cyclist, Jan Hruska, tested positive and would not be permitted to compete here.

If there were some sort of reasonable - or even unreasonable - solution, it would be considered. But there are so many cultures, so many agendas. Some nations simply don't care. That prompts the idea that maybe there should be a Clean Olympics and a Dirty Olympics. Contestants would pick their venue.

Somehow the issue of drugs at the Olympics seems as intractable as peace in the Middle East.

The idea that an athlete wants to win fairly and squarely is as outmoded as high-buckle shoes.

Of course, the main technique now is to get better and better drug tests for more and more drugs. Yet, the crooks are always ahead of the cops.

In a perfect world, there would be one drug test that would detect the presence of any of the banned drugs. This is not a perfect world.

The problem is getting desperately out of hand. Millions of youngsters are growing up around the world witnessing how much performance enhancers can help. Before long, they're seeing that they can't win without them. If everybody else is doing it ... well, we've all heard that argument too much.

Sadly, drugs work in athletic competition. Will steroids make you bigger and stronger? Yup.

What would help would be a sea change in world morality. Of course, that seems unlikely. But do you have a better idea?

If something is not done, and pretty quickly, the Olympics will simply fall out of favor with the public. It will be viewed as having all the legitimacy of professional wrestling.

The International Olympic Committee could not control cheating that involved paying athletes who were supposed to be amateurs. So the IOC simply decided to let anybody compete. That's why the US had the basketball Dream Team here and pro- tennis star Venus Williams and others. The same avenue won't settle the drug issue. You can't tell young athletes to put anything they want inside themselves and come compete.

Education isn't the answer, because the performance enhancers work: The athletes clearly have been educated on that.

Now what?

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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.