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.

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