Monday, 15 July 2013

Fallen Idols

In light of the revelations surrounding Tyson Gay, Asafa Powell et al over the last 24 hours, I’ve reflected a lot on what drives people to take drugs and cheat. Ultimately, I think it can be boiled down into three main areas: greed, peer pressure and desperation. Obviously, if you are outperforming everyone else, you are going to be seen as an ideal candidate for a commercial sponsorship, and will be paid ever increasing amounts to appear at the most prestigious events. I don’t think it’s just the athletes themselves who are responsible in this instance though, but rather the sponsors too, who undoubtedly put pressure on the people they sponsor to perform by handing out huge performance related bonuses. If you know that you’ll get £100k for winning a race, the likelihood is that you’re going to do whatever you can to do so, including pushing the boundaries of legality. This desire to be the best can clearly overcome your rational, naturally competitive self, and drive you to the depths of performance enhancing drugs. In terms of peer pressure, if you see those around you taking drugs, and feel that you aren’t able to perform to the equivalent standard, then I can see how athletes could be tempted to try it themselves, especially if the athletes that they train with are managing to go undetected. This was the argument that Lance Armstrong put forward, and is one I have a really hard time accepting. People get into sport because they love it, and they enjoy being good at what they do. As soon as you feel that you have to do something illegal to ‘enjoy’ your sport, I think you’ve forgotten the reason you started doing it in the first place. In terms of desperation, I think that this is where Powell and Gay might fit in. I know that they have both released statements saying that they never willingly doped, but they ingested supplements that they didn’t know the details of, and they have to be held accountable for that. Both athletes have struggled with injuries over the past 12-18 months, so to see them make such scintillating comebacks in recent weeks was truly heartening. It seemed to demonstrate a great mental strength and belief that they could work hard and get back to the top of their profession. However, in light of the revelations, I can’t help but feel that the whole situation reeks of a slight desperation or helplessness. After being injured for so long, and not being able to reproduce what you know you were once capable of, I can see how people could waver. Yet individual events are renowned for having athletes capable of displaying phenomenal mental strength, as so much of what they do and achieve is a result of individual effort, from time spent alone, and a relentless focus on personal perfection. At the end of the day, every sport has people that dope, and it just happens to be the case that athletics, along with cycling, apply the most rigorous standards. It’s a shame that two of the fastest people that have ever lived have turned out to be cheats, but in the long term it’s in the best interests of the sport that they no longer compete, and that we know we are watching a true, honest and reliable show of dedication and elite performance, rather than there being a question mark over anyone.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Hamstrung by injury

It's been an up and down few weeks, with my first real taste of injury since I started training seriously. Following a holiday, I competed the following day over 100m and 200m and began to feel some real tightness in my hamstring. I put the slower than usual performances down to the lack of training and decided to push on through the pain barrier a bit in the hope that my body would rapidly adapt to the intensity of the training again quickly, and that it'd prove to be nothing more than a niggle. However, after competing in an open meeting at Lee Valley, I began to realise that the injury was more serious than I initially feared. I didn't feel like I had the usual explosive power out of the blocks, and that my leg left wasn't in a fit state to properly drive me forward. In spite of this, the following weekend was the biggest competition of the season for me, the South East England Championships, and I didn't want to miss it. Following some intense stretching a number of hot baths and some industrial strength ibuprofen, I turned up in Watford hoping that my body held together. After a really good warm in my trainers, I wasn't in any discomfort, and believed that by some miracle turn of events that my hamstring had rapidly healed. However, as soon as I put my spikes on I began to realise that this was quite naive, and that I was seriously struggling. After limping through my 100m on the Saturday, I spent the afternoon and evening trying to patch myself together to get through my 200m the following day. This proved to be the straw that broke the camels back, and with around 50m to go my hamstring completely seized up. My momentum took me over the line, and I had to be helped off the track by St Johns ambulance, which was pretty hard to swallow! By some bizarre turn of events, the run actually turned out too be a new pb for my 200m, but I knew that I needed to have some physio and let it heal properly. After a week of no running, weights, stretches and a sports massage, I returned to training, and the hamstring felt strong again. During this time, I had agreed to work with a new coach in addition to what I was doing already. He works with elite athletes, including a couple of GB sprinters, and I'm feeling pretty lucky to have the chance to have someone give me such rapid, specific and high level feedback on my technique in training. I'm confident that this will help take me to the next level, and push me closer to my goal. Following my first session with him, I completed the week by training at my club as usual, and competed yesterday at the BOXD OFF international in Bromley. The weather was absolutely glorious, and I felt confident that it was a day for good times. Sadly, I had managed to get slightly lost on the way to the track, and so couldn't get in as thorough a warm up as I would normally like. This, coupled with a strong headwind, meant that my 100m time was far from my best, and I was dissatisfied with my race. However, the 200m offered me the opportunity to almost immediately atone for my performance, and thankfully I did, running a new pb and taking off a further 0.14s off my time. This means I've now taken over 2 seconds off my 200m time in 10 months, and this was one of my early season goals. I'm hopeful that I can continue to bring this time down even further between now and the end of the season, and that I'll be well set for when winter training starts again in 8 weeks. Between now and then I've 3 more races, including finishing my season in Liverpool, so I'll keep working hard and hope that I can go out on a high on my home turf.