Now I'm no expert on the scientific specifics of performance-enhancing drugs. Although I'll admit to a know-it-all streak in me that makes it very difficult for me to say these three words: "I don't know." (As my husband always tells me, it's okay sometimes just to say ‘I don't know.' The rest of us realize that you don't actually know EVERYTHING.") One thing I'm proud to say I'm no expert on doping. Once I found out what steroids could do to me- I mean the things that would be hard for a woman to accept like the facial hair and husky voice- all I wanted to know about steroids was how to stay away from them.
Plus, I like to sleep too much. Competing clean meant I could lay down each night with a clear conscience knowing that if the drug testers rang my doorbell first thing the next morning, I'd have nothing to hide. I value a good night's rest too much to toss and turn all night long worrying about getting caught. So I never doped (didn't touch cold medicine for over 10 years for fear of accidentally ingesting a stimulant) and never wanted to know much about it.
But in terms of a doping culture in track & field, I fear that recent news, and continuing headlines from the trial of Trevor Graham, Marion Jones's former coach, may create the wrong impression about how widespread cheating is. Although track & field gets much more publicity during an Olympic year, the fact is that most Americans only know a few athletes by name. If over the coming weeks they learn that the few athletes they do remember are alleged to have been involved in doping it creates the impression that everyone in the sport is cheating. As a two-time Olympian in track & field who spent over a decade on the professional circuit here is what I think about doping in my sport.
- A great majority of track & field athletes are clean. Yes, some athletes resort to doping. Some gold medallists have cheated to win. That is the unfortunate reality but just because a few famous athletes have done so does not mean it is the norm.
- There are some doping clusters- training groups with a dirty coach who encourages doping. But there are also many coaches that have a zero-tolerance policy towards drugs. By going after the dirty coaches they can clean up the sport in a hurry.
- It is easy to stay clean. With so many people being linked to doping, to outsiders it may seem like the sport is so dirty that just walking around at a track meet it is difficult to stay clean. In fact, my own experience was that I was never offered drugs or encouraged by any coach to take them. And I don't think my experience was rare. Staying clean is as simple as making a choice not to seek out drugs and staying away from anyone who suggests doing otherwise.
- The sport as a whole is cleaner than it was years ago. And it continues to get cleaner. I don't believe that there is systematic doping practiced on a national scale as there used to be in Eastern Bloc countries. Back then other nations, while not instituting a national doping regimen, did turn a blind eye to what their own athletes were doing because they knew the playing field was not level. Now there is much more drug testing. It is not as comprehensive as it could be. It always seems to be one step behind the chemists who develop the drugs. But there is an effort to test and the sport is cleaner.
Undoubtedly some surprising facts will come to light during the trial. There are probably some people whom I never suspected of doping that will be exposed as drug cheats. I am sure that some fans will feel a sense of betrayal to learn this about athletes they formerly lionized. Yet this is also an opportunity to open up the closets and sweep them clean before Beijing so that maybe, just maybe, fans can again have faith in the performances they are seeing and the athletes for whom they are rooting.