Performance enhancing drugs and the Olympic ideal

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(Host) Commentator Mary McKhann reflects on Lance Armstrong, performance enhancing drugs and the Olympic ideal.

(McKhann) We’ve already experienced one history making sporting event this summer. Last month, Lance Armstrong rode into the record books as he claimed his sixth consecutive Tour de France victory.

Starting tomorrow, the pageantry of the Olympics will unfold from the place where the Games were born, and reborn. Greece was the birthplace of the ancient Olympic Games, and the first modern Olympic Games were held in Athens in 1896.

But both events have been tainted with charges of drug use.

The accusations against Armstrong have pretty much disappeared in the wake of his historic feat. He has always denied doping and has never tested positive, and I really want to believe him. He has become such a role model for millions of cancer patients and survivors, and it is hard to believe he would risk letting them down.

Doping charges also loom large against US track and field athletes, although that, too, seems to have quieted down in recent weeks. Right now, it looks like Marion Jones will be competing, although she does not seem to be in anywhere near the form she was in four years ago. Like Armstrong, Jones has never failed a drug test and vehemently denies doping.

But some of today’s drugs are nearly undetectable. And no doubt, there will be more drugs coming down the line that will defy detection. And while this year’s Olympics will have the most stringent testing ever, officials are also warning that this could mean slower times and no new world records. Do fans care? Or do they just want the excitement?

With the exception of a few small, offbeat sports, the Olympics is no longer about amateurs. The ideals which the Games set out to exemplify don’t really play much of a role any more. While there is plenty of pageantry and the competition is intense and fun to watch, the Olympics no longer seem to be, in the words of the Olympic oath, “in the true spirit of sportsmanship, for the glory of sport and the honor of our teams”.

Interestingly, the oath now also contains the words: “committing ourselves to a sport without doping and without drugs.”

If it’s all about winning, there will always be drug cheats. And without a level playing field, how do you compete if you really do want to play fair? There are no easy answers to these questions, and I’m not sure they can ever be answered satisfactorily.

So in the meantime, I’m just going to tune into the Games and enjoy what promises to be a great spectacle.

This is Mary McKhann from the Mad River Valley.

(Host) Mary McKhann is a freelance writer and editor of the Snow Industry Letter.

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