In the wake of the Armstrong scandal, the drugs in sport report from the Australian Crime Commission and other headline grabbing doping news, I’ve been reminded of the lengths athletes will go to in order to achieve success. Granted, these are professional athletes, and at stake for them are sponsorship deals, government funding, prize money, grand slams, trophies and gold medals. But what about amateur sports? I feel that drug use by amateur athletes may be a far bigger and more widespread problem.
I race triathlons, have done for over a decade. I’ve often wondered what would happen if anti-doping testers rocked up at one of my local races and started testing athletes. I envision a mad scramble as the most serious competitors, those with podiums in mind and age group ambitions, scoop up their expensive gear and high-tail it to the parking lot.
In recent years, I’ve paid close attention to the winning times of the races I compete in. Some of the times amateurs post (considering that they are amateurs, and taking into account age, training time, work, family, bellies, etc) are phenomenal. I’m left back in the middle of the pack scratching my head.
Consider this example: at a non-drafting race last year in Germany, the winner covered the 40km bike leg in 54 minutes. This is the kind of time posted by pro triathletes in draft-legal races (when they all ride as a peloton), and it’s just a few minutes off the time posted by Bradley Wiggins when he won Stage 9’s 41km time trial at the 2012 Tour de France. And not to mention that it was 30+ degrees that day, and that the guy who finished 4th was 44.
You want to think that sport is fair, that the playing field is level, that everyone’s clean. But ever since Ben Johnson tested positive in Seoul, sports have served up cynicism by the (blood) bag full. At the professional level, these days many amazing results or achievements are greeted with skepticism. So, why not at the amateur level?