Olympic Cheating
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OLYMPIC CHEATING
Written by Rick Archer
July 2012

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I have been a fan of the Olympics ever since I was a boy.  There is something the Olympics that touches me in ways that regular sports don't.  Sure, I love the thrills of watching amazing athletes perform on a world stage.  However, what I love the most is the sportsmanship. 

I love to see hardened professional athletes walk in the Olympic parade and see who much the chance to represent their country means to them.  I love to see the athletes join in the center to see the lighting of the Olympic torch.  For the briefest of moments, it seems like the dream of peace on earth can be a possibility.  I love to see athletes shake hands and show their respect to their competitors.

Most of all, I love sportsmanship.  As they say, it is not just about who wins, it is how you play the game.  When I cry... and I cry several times at every Olympics... it is always due to the sportsmanship.

Unfortunately not everybody embraces the value of sportsmanship. 

There are all kinds of ugly incidents at every Olympics.  There are athletes who win stop at nothing to win.  If they aren't good enough to win outright, then they turn to cheating... the opposite of sportsmanship.

Cheaters never win, or so they say.  Nonsense. Personally speaking, I think a lot of cheaters win. 

With the specter of drugs tainting baseball, cycling, and track and field, these days we have become so cynical that we assume practically all winners are under suspicion. 

It really does seem that ethics in sports and business have fallen to an all-time low.  I noticed a blurb in Time Magazine this week that said “24% of Wall Street executives say that illegal or unethical conduct may be necessary to be successful in finance.

It really does seem that when the stakes are high enough, some people will cheat.  Just because someone is a world-class athlete doesn’t guarantee the same person has a well-developed sense of ethics.  Their mind-set is simple. “Do whatever it takes to win.”

With the entire world watching, every athlete dreams of the glory that comes from claiming victory for his or her country.  Olympic glory carries so much prestige that the athlete is guaranteed tremendous acclaim that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. 

Considering there are now 7 billion people on the planet, winning Olympic Gold is an exceptional accomplishment against brutal competition.  Often the margin of victory is ridiculously small.  Considering the stakes at hand and the remote odds of winning, sad to say, as the following stories will show,some people are willing to go to extraordinary lengths to gain any possible advantage.
 

Professional Athletes attempt to compete against Amateurs

Almost from the start of the modern Olympics in 1896, there has been controversy over who is eligible to compete and who isn’t. 

Fueling this debate is the age-old tradition that only “amateurs” will compete in the Olympics.  This idealistic concept has created a veritable Pandora’s Box of abuse.

Two of the most famous athletes in Olympic history fell prey to charges of competing while “professional”. 
 

Jim Thorpe

Certainly the most famous story involved America’s Jim Thorpe.

The 1912 Olympics solidified Thorpe’s reputation as the “Greatest Athlete in the World”.  History has not changed that opinion. 

Thorpe dominated his peers by such a wide margin that he was later named the Greatest Athlete of the Twentieth Century.

Jim Thorpe completely dominated the 1912 Olympic Games.  Thorpe won Olympic gold medals for the 1912 pentathlon and decathlon with ridiculous ease. 

Both events put a huge premium on being an all-round athlete and Thorpe definitely fit the bill.  He was the very best at whatever sport he attempted.

Upon giving the medals to Thorpe at the Games, Sweden’s King Gustav exclaimed, “"You, sir, are the greatest athlete in the world!"  That’s when Thorpe’s fame hit its pinnacle.

Thorpe’s downfall came shortly after the 1912 Olympics.  Rumors abounded that he had played American football, baseball and basketball for money.  These rumors dogged him wherever he went.  There was little doubt the rumors were true.  An Indian by birth, sports were his only skill, his only way to make money.

Tsk Tsk.  Thorpe lost his Olympic titles after it was found he was paid for playing two seasons of semi-professional baseball before competing in the Olympics.  Thorpe was guilty of violating the amateurism rules.  He fell victim to the purists.

As a footnote to this story, in 1983, 30 years after his death, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) restored all of Thorpe’s Olympic medals. 
 

Paavo Nurmi

Paavo Nurmi was Finland’s greatest athlete.  Known as “the Flying Finn”, during the 1920s, Nurmi was the best middle and long distance runner in the world.  He set world records at distances between 1500 m and 20 km.  Nurmi astounded the world by winning five gold medals at the Paris 1924 Summer Olympics.  This remains today the most track and field gold medals at one Olympics in the history of the Games.  However, Nurmi could hardly be considered a flash in the pan.  Overall, Nurmi won a total of nine gold and three silver medals in the 12 events in which he competed at the Olympic Games in 1920, 1924 and 1928.

When the 1932 Olympic Games rolled around, Nurmi still had enough left in his tank to be considered a serious medal contender again.  Nurmi had set his heart on ending his career with a gold medal in the marathon event.

The marathon of course has long been considered the most important distance event of all thanks to its association with the immortal Greek who ran 26 miles from Marathon to Athens to report the Greek victory over the Persians… only to collapse and die.

Unfortunately Nurmi was branded a professional and barred from running in Los Angeles.  The main instigator of the ban was a Swedish official named Sigfrid Edström, president of the International Amateur Athletics Federation and vice-president of the IOC (International Olympic Committee).

Edström claimed that Nurmi had received too much money for his travel expenses to a meet in Germany.  How picky can you get?  This ungallant act was seen as jealousy by many in Finland.  The ensuing bitterness took a long time to die.

At the time, Nurmi traveled to Los Angeles and kept training at the Olympic Village hoping they would relent at the last minute.  No such luck.  Despite pleas from all the entrants of the marathon, Nurmi was not allowed to compete at the Games.

Nurmi was bitter.  Even though he had injuries, Nurmi claimed he would have won the marathon by five minutes.

The people of Finland were so incensed by the treatment of their national hero that Finland refused to participate in the traditional Finland-Sweden international athletics event again until 1939.  
 

Cold War Olympics

The stories of Thorpe and Nurmi were to be repeated many times over the years.   In particular, the arguments over the definition of “amateur versus professional” became especially bitter during the Cold War.  The Soviet bloc exploited this argument to great advantage. 

Gifted Russian athletes were told to report to the Red Army where they could participate in state-supported year-round training without violating their amateur status.  U.S. officials decried the hypocrisy of this system, but their pleas fell on deaf ears.   The Russians had too many friends in high places to lose this political tug of war.

No one single event illustrated the American frustration with Russia’s so-called unethical system more than the controversial 1972 Olympic Basketball finals.


a phantom Time-Out Kills the US Basketball Team

It was 1972 in Munich.  The U.S. was playing Russia for Olympic gold.  It was a huge showdown.  Since Basketball was a game that originated in the USA, the sport had long been a huge source of pride for America.  At 63-0, the United States had never lost a single basketball game in Olympic competition.

However, by 1972 the gap had finally been closed.  The Russians were favored mainly because it was men against boys.  The Russian players were all at least five to ten years older than their American counterparts.  However, these college kids gave the Russians a heck of a game.  With a group of U.S. collegians playing against the quasi-professionals on the Russian side, the game was close nonetheless.  This game had turned into a real nail-biter.

With the U.S. team trailing 49–48 in the waning seconds of the contest, American guard Doug Collins stole a Soviet pass at half court and was fouled hard as he drove toward the basket.  Collins was knocked nearly senseless as he was driven into the basket stanchion.  Shaking off the blow, with just three seconds remaining on the game clock, Collins sank the first free throw to tie the score at 49.

However, just as Collins lifted the ball to begin his shooting motion while attempting the second free throw, the horn from the scorer's table sounded.  This was a huge distraction and very unusual.  Horns are not supposed to go off while a player is in the middle of shooting.  It marked the beginning of a chain of events that would lead to the game's final three seconds being mired in controversy for eternity. 

Although the officials involved were later said to be merely incompetent rather than conspiratorial, from this point on it sure seemed like either the referee or someone at the scorer’s table had definite Russian sympathies. 

The unexpected sound of the horn caused lead referee Renato Righetto to turn away from the free throw attempt and look over to the scorer's table to see what the reason was for the horn. However, no whistle was blown and the play was not stopped.  Collins continued with his second free throw and never broke his shooting motion.  The shot rattled around.  Finally to the immense relief of the US fans, the ball finally dropped through the net. 

This score put the U.S. up by 50–49 with just 3 seconds to play.  It looked to the world like Doug Collin's key steal had rescued the game for the American side.

Play was immediately resumed, but nothing of significance happened in the final 3 seconds. That's it.  Game over!  The US began to wildly celebrate their improbable come-from-behind 50-49 win. 

Suddenly to the USA team’s dismay, the men were stopped mid-celebration and told the clock had to be reset due to a time-out “not called”.  No one understood what this meant.  If it wasn’t called, then so what?   Game over!!

Later testimony made it seem unlikely that any such time-out had been called.  Nevertheless the officials gave the Russians the benefit of the doubt.

Naturally the Americans were furious, but the Russians won the protest.  The last 0:03 seconds would have to be replayed.

Play resumed, but when a Soviet long pass went awry and landed out of bounds, the buzzer sounded.  Game over. Again the Americans jumped and whooped and hollered...

The American celebration soon stopped when there yet was another mysterious horn from the scorer’s table during the play.  

Something was wrong again.

It seems that someone had re-set the clock was reset to 00:50, not 00:03 as it should be. 

'So what?' the Americans said.

3 seconds or 50 seconds, what difference did it make as Russia failed to score

The Americans were told the play didn’t count because the horn had gone off during the play.  The horn went off because someone had noticed the clock had been reset improperly. At this point, Dr William Jones, the British secretary of FIBA, intervened – something the US team maintained he had no authority to do – and ordered the clock to be reset to 0:03 and the game restarted. The teams were told the clock would be reset to three seconds because of an error in re-starting the clock correctly.  What an interesting mistake. 

The Americans were incredulous.  They could not believe someone from a country said to be their ally would stab them in the back like this.  Unfortunately the man was far too powerful.  Nothing could be done to overrule his authority.  The Americans gave up and chose to replay the end of the game for the third time.

Meanwhile, despite the fact that no "official" time out had ever been called, the Russians had made an illegal substitution.  Smuggling in Ivan Edeshko was a key move.

Edeshko was one of the two men who had been trained to execute Russian’s special end of game play.  Edeshko's role was to throw a long pass for a tall Russian named Alexander Belov. For the past year, Edeshko and Belov had practiced this play time and again. 

This play had failed moments earlier, but now thanks to the second try, this time the well-executed play worked to perfection.

Edeshko threw a length-of-the-court pass to the giant Soviet player Alexander Belov.  At 7 feet, Belov towered over the two Americans assigned to guard him.  A perfect pass allowed Belov to rise above the smaller men beside him, catch the ball and lay it into the basket all in one motion. 

As the ball dropped through the net at the buzzer, one of the two smaller Americans watched helplessly as he lay on the floor.  He had fallen down after bouncing off the giant Belov while competing for the ball. 

It was an unbelievable finish to the game.  Russia had won 51-50.  The image of the mighty conquering Russian and the helpless American beneath him was unforgettable.   

Naturally the Americans protested.  They pointed out at least six irregularities at the end of the game that had all been ruled in the Russian’s favor.  Not one issue had gone the American’s way.   They contended the game should be replayed from the 3 seconds point due to these irregularities or simply replay the game in its entirety. 

Unfortunately, this appeal did little good.  The jury was loaded against the Americans.  Of the five people on the panel, three were from Communist countries. The representatives from Cuba, Poland and the USSR all voted Soviet.  The U.S. appeal was rejected 3-2.

The U.S. has forever refused to accept the silver medal.
 

Taking Another Look at the "Amateur" Issue

Eventually, however, some good came out of the strange defeat.  Watching massive grown men from the Soviet side pound against the slender college kids from America throughout the game plus the strange result garnered sympathy for the Americans among the neutral countries of the world.

Almost immediately, there was a definite shift in attitudes among the Olympic hierarchy about this “amateur” situation.  People began to agree something was wrong.  As the Games had evolved through the 20th century, the definition of the amateur athlete as an aristocratic gentleman had clearly become outdated. 

For some time behind the scenes people had quietly admitted the advent of the state-sponsored "full-time amateur athlete" of the Eastern Bloc countries had eroded the ideology of the pure amateur.  They acknowledged this put the self-financed amateurs of the Western countries at a disadvantage.  

The ridiculous outcome of the 1972 Basketball game served as a catalyst to embolden people to suggest changes.  It stiffened the resolve among many neutrals to stand up to the Russians and change the rules. 

Beginning with the next Olympics, the amateur requirements began to be gradually phased out of the Olympic Charter.  After the 1988 Games, the IOC decided to make all professional athletes eligible for the Olympics.   Finally the world had a level playing field.
 

The Magic Sword

Throughout the annals of Olympic cheating, Russia definitely holds the Gold Medal for suspicious incidents.  The 1972 Basketball final is simply Exhibit #1.

One of the most blatant acts of cheating in Olympic history involved a Russian fencer named Boris Onishchenko

He was caught cheating by using a doctored épée during the 1976 Games in Montreal.   Onishchenko, an army officer from Ukraine, was a respected modern pentathlete who had won a silver medal in Munich four years earlier.

The British team, who went on to win the gold medal in 1976, was the first to suspect that Onishchenko was up to something.  During his bout against Great Britain’s Adrian Parker, Onishchenko seemed to score at will against a very good opponent. After Parker lost, he came back to the team fuming. He was almost positive that Onishchenko had gotten points without actually touching him.  In fact, Parker said points seemed to be scored even when Onishchenko's blade had missed by a considerable distance.

However, these things had happened so fast that there was no way to be sure.  The British decided not to say anything.

It was Onishchenko's bad luck to have another match against an opponent from Great Britain.  In his match against Great Britain’s Jim Fox, the entire team watched closely.  Parker was right.  There was something fishy going on here.  Onishchenko’s weapon appeared to register hits without the foil appearing to touch the other man.

When Jim Fox protested vehemently to the officials that his opponent was managing to score without actually hitting him, officials took away the Soviet athlete's sword and examined it. 

Onischenko was allowed to continue with a replacement weapon, but soon afterwards the news came through that he had been disqualified.  Inspection of the first épée had revealed hidden wires that allowed the man to  register a hit at will by means of pulling a hidden trigger.  This trigger allowed to control the electronic scoring system with his hand.

Onishchenko exited the Games in disgrace, with banner headlines around the world denouncing him as 'Dishonest-shenko' and 'Boris the Cheat'.

Stories that he was later banished to the Siberian salt mines were probably exaggerated, but there was no doubt that his deliberate and brazen attempt to cheat on the world stage humiliated the man for the remainder of his life.

After reviewing all the stories, I have decided to give Onischenko the Silver Medal for Olympic Cheating.  It took a lot of imagination and a lot of guts to try that stunt.
 

Fred Lorz – the Would-Be Marathon champion

While I give Russia the overall Team Gold Medal for cheating, Olympic cheating is not even remotely limited to the Russians.  There have been American scandals too. 

The marathon at the St Louis Olympic Games of 1904 was held over a hilly course in the middle of a scorching afternoon.  Marathon season is generally in the fall and winter, not the summer.  Considering the heat, it was no wonder that only 14 of the 32 starters made it to the finish.

First home after three hours 13 minutes, was Fred Lorz, a New Yorker.  Lorz was immediately proclaimed the winner. Lorz was greeted with great fanfare.   Rushing to meet him was Alice Roosevelt, the daughter of the President of the United States.  She laughed with excitement as she placed a laurel wreath on his head.  Then the two posed for photographs together. 

Now it was time to award Lorz the gold medal.  However, the officials were distracted by whispers heard at the back of the stage.

The ceremony was put on hold because a couple of the spectators in the crowd had recognized Lorz.  These people stepped forward to tell the judges that something fishy was going on. 

The mouths of the officials dropped open with disbelief.  It seemed that Lorz, exhausted after nine miles of the race, decided to quit.  He hopped into his manager’s car that had been trailing the action to get a breather. As Lorz recovered, his manager resumed following the race from a discrete distance.  This went on for the next 11 miles. 

At the twenty-mile, even the car couldn't take it any more.  The vehicle broke down in the heat.  Lorz had no choice but to get out.  Noticing the pack of runners up ahead weren't that far away, on the spur of the moment Lorz decided to finish the race with the other runners.  There were six miles left.

Now that he was fresh, Lorz moved through the dead-tired pack of runners easily. Lorz climbed the ranks at a steady clip.  The crowds cheered and clapped as Lorz amazingly found the strength to catch and pass the entire field one runner at a time.

The runners were surprised as he went by. 'Where did this guy come from?' they thought.  'Haven't seen him the entire race!'

Lorz completed his thrilling adventure by crossing the finish line first.  He was mobbed with congratulations.  What an exciting finish!

Meanwhile, none of the officials had noticed anything suspicious because they were concentrating on the front runners.  To them, they were just as impressed as everyone else. It just seemed like Lorz had staged a magnificent comeback from the rear.

Everyone agreed with the officials.  To the casual onlookers, it seemed like Lorz had pulled off an impressive “come from behind rally. There was certainly no technology in place to check nor was there any reason to doubt Lorz' credibility.  This was back in the days when cheating was unheard of.

Well, thanks to Lorz, he was the one who changed all that.  He was nearly awarded the medal until the spectators brought his cheating to the attention of the administrators.

Hearing the rumors of what Lorz had done, the crowd's acclaim rapidly turned to abuse.  Although Lorz claimed it was all just a practical joke, he received a lifetime ban.  

Imagine standing on the podium prepared to accept the victory award after riding in a car.  How pathetic!   I decided to award Lorz the Bronze medal for cheating. 

Why give the Silver to Onishchenko and the Bronze to Lorz?   To my mind, Lorz made a stupid spur-of-the-moment decision based on the unusual circumstances.   Perhaps if he had given it more thought, he would have come to his senses.  On the other hand, Onishchenko’s move was coldly premeditated.  The Russian truly deserves the Silver.

As an interesting footnote, after the race, Lorz returned to his career on Wall Street. 

 

2012:  Iranians Set to Compete Against Israeli Jews

This is not a cheating story, but I can’t help but comment nevertheless.  When it comes to "sportsmanship", I have never quite figured out why certain Arab athletes refuse to compete against athletes representing Israel. 

Okay, so they don’t like each other, but this usually makes for good competition.  Witness the bloody Olympic water polo match between Hungary and the Soviet Union in 1956 shortly after the Russians invaded Hungary.  Now that was a brutal game. 

You would think any Arab would appreciate the opportunity to claim victory over an Israeli in a fair fight on the world stage.  That would bring far more honor to their country as opposed to the cowardly cold-blooded murder of defenseless Israelis in the 1972 Munich Olympics.  

For a moment there, I thought that in 2012 we were about to make some progress on this front, but I was wrong. 

Bahram Afsharzadeh, the head of the Iranian Olympic Mission, said on Monday, July 23, that his athletes would compete against Israeli athletes in the Games that start this week.

Now however things have changed.  Despite that statement from the head of the Iranian Olympic committee asserting that Iranian athletes will compete against Israelis in the 2012 London Olympic Games, a terrible last-minute injury now makes any such matchup unlikely to occur.

The Washington Post reported that when the Iranian team left for London on Sunday, they departed without judo champion Javad Mahjoob, the only Iranian athlete who had any possibility to compete against an Israeli. 

Ah gee, what a shame.  Don’t you hate those strange last-minute injuries? 

Iranian officials are quoted as saying that Mahjoob is suffering from a “critical digestive system infection” and will not be able to travel to the Games.  In addition, the official Iranian government Fars news agency said that the Olympic chairman's words had been taken out of context.  What he meant to say was that Iranian athletes would compete against all athletes and did not name Israel specifically.

In the meantime, there are skeptics who suggest that Mahjoob’s sudden ailment is an excuse to keep him from facing off against Ariel Ze’evi in the 100-kilogram weight class.  No, really? 

On a historical note, Iranian athletes withdrew from events against Israelis at the 2004 Athens Games and 2008 Beijing Games.   One story in particular was particularly amusing.

In 2004, Iranian judoist Arash Miresmaili was disqualified after he was found to be overweight before a judo bout against Israeli Ehud Vaks.

Miresmaili had gone on an eating binge the night before in a protest against the IOC's recognition of the state of Israel.  The next morning Miresmaili was too fat to fight.

After this unusual patriotic gesture, it was reported that Iranian Olympic team chairman Nassrollah Sajadi had suggested that the Iranian government should give him $115,000 (the amount he would have received if he had won the gold medal) as a reward for his actions).

How interesting.  This was surely an Olympic record for most money ever earned by over-eating!  But wait, there’s more.

Mohammad Khatami, then-President of Iran, was reported to have said that Miresmail's refusal to fight the Israeli would be "recorded in the history of Iranian glories".  Khatami added that the nation of Iran considered Miresmaili to be "the champion of the 2004 Olympic Games."

Considering Michael Phelps won 8 gold medals in Athens and Arab runner Hicham El Guerrouj won gold in both the 1500 m and 5000 m, it is curious that their accomplishments were overshadowed by the extraordinary performance of the prolific Iranian overeater.

Could over-eating perhaps someday become a regular Olympic Sport?  

Or at the very least the thought could surely inspire a wonderful lampoon.

Did any of you ever see Chris Farley lampoon synchronized swimming on Saturday Night Live?  My gosh, what a Saturday Night Live skit the “Over-Eating Competition” could be!

Everyone who wants to watch raise their hand.
 

 BOYS WILL BE BOYS AND BOYS WILL BE GIRLS

Back to cheating, not eating.  One time-honored tradition of Olympic cheating has certain boys who decide to compete against women instead.  There have been several highly suspicious stories along these lines.

Before the technology of mandatory drug and gender testing, there were Irina and Tamara Press. These two Russian sisters were noticeably large and rather ‘manly’ for being women. 

People would say when it came to throwing the shotput, these girls were almost as good as the boys.

The Press sisters were definitely world-beaters.  Between them, Irina and Tamara won five Olympic gold medals and one silver medal at the 1960 games in Rome and the 1964 games in Tokyo.

As the following Olympics approached, when an Olympic official had the nerve to ask the Press sisters to “prove” their femininity, the pair coincidentally retired on the spot. 

What a shame to see them go at the peak of their careers.


Another famous story along these lines was that of Stella Walsh.  Born in Poland in 1911, Stanislawa Walasiewiczowna moved to Cleveland with her family when she was two.  Although Walsh lived in Cleveland, she represented Poland, her birth nation, at the 1932 and 1936 Olympic Games. Stella Walsh won the gold in the 100-metres in 1932, and took the silver four years later.

In her time, the Polish-American sprinter Walsh was the fastest women on the planet.  S
he set the world record for the 100 meters on 3 different occasions, earning the title of the "World's Fastest Woman". 

Walsh would go on to set 20 world records. She won 41 AAU titles in events such as sprints, long jump and discus throw.  After her long and illustrious career, she was inducted into the U.S. Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1975.

Tragically, five years later she was shot and killed outside a Cleveland shopping mall.  Police autopsies revealed Walsh had male genitals and both male and female chromosomes - a condition known as ‘mosaicism’.   Thanks to this bizarre accident, a secret Walsh had managed to conceal since her childhood was out: Stella should have been named Stan... or Stella the Fella.

Dora Ratjen was a German athlete who competed in the 1936 Olympics in the High Jump.  This would not be much of a story except for one thing:  Dora was, in fact, actually Hermann Ratjen, a detail not discovered until after the Second World War, when he was found working as a waiter -- not a waitress -- in Hamburg.  

Hermann was a very slender man who was coerced by the leaders of the Hitler Youth into tightly binding his genitals and competing against women. The German Olympic team had struggled in the previous Olympic Games.  So it was thought entering a man here and there on the women’s side of things might remedy the situation. 

Ah, don’t you love that constant need to prove Aryan Superiority?  But in the end, the joke was on them and so were their theories of Aryan superiority.

Ratjen finished fourth, behind three actual women. 

There have been other odd tales over the years.  As sex changes become more prevalent, the question of who is a boy and who is a girl is one issue that has taken on more and more controversy. 

As you can see in the picture, Caster Semenya has the physique of a football running back. victory in the women’s 800 meters at the 2009 World Championships raised serious questions.  

The South African runner’s sex became a question mark amid understandable speculation regarding her masculine-looking physique. She wasn’t allowed to compete for almost a year. Then she was reinstated without a clear explanation.

You should get to see Semenya at the London Olympics.  He/she is slated to run. 

I have to be honest; I agree with the skeptics.  Semenya has rather impressive arm muscles for a girl.  Maybe too impressive.   

I expect to hear more about this story.

 

THE TEAM SILVER MEDAL FOR AN ENTIRE COUNTRY CHEATING GOES TO SPAIN

In its Cold War prime, Russia elevated Olympic cheating to an art form, but one year Spain did something far more shameful than Russia could ever conceive.

Talk about sinking to new depths in order to reach the top of the podium.  What the Spanish team did was a disgrace to humanity - they cheated in the Paralympics.  Spain was willing to cheat to beat handicapped athletes!!

The Paralympics is a noble endeavor that allows handicapped people a chance to compete.  What a wonderful idea, one that is quite in keeping with the Olympic spirit.  The Paralympics has grown to become a major international multi-sport event where athletes with a physical disability compete.  This includes athletes with mobility disabilities, amputations, blindness, and cerebral palsy.

In 2000, the Spanish intellectually-disabled basketball team captured gold at the Sydney Paralympics with a stellar performance on the court.

But the glory quickly faded when the Spanish Paralympic Committee later discovered evidence that 10 of the 12 team members had no mental deficiency whatsover. 

Following a tip from one of the Spanish basketball players who was revolted by what had happened, Carlos Ribagorda, an undercover journalist, revealed that the players on Spain’s team had not actually undergone the testing required to prove mental deficiency.  It turned out that ten of the twelve players on the Spain basketball team were perfectly normal.

It wasn’t just the basketball team either.  Participants in table tennis, track and field, and swimming events were also not disabled.

Gee, what a thrill it must have been to fake being a moron so they could defeat a bunch of legitimate handicapped people on the basketball court.  So who’s the real moron here?

This makes us all really wonder about Spain a little bit.  It isn’t like Spain has a losing tradition and is badly in need of respect.  On the contrary, for the past decade Spain has enjoyed one of the finest streaks of sports success in the world.  Soccer, basketball, tennis… Spain is a world leader in many sports. 

So, really, now, what would possess someone to cheat in the Paralympics?  Is the prestige really worth going to these lengths?   I’m not sure it gets a lot worse than that.  When it comes to poor sportsmanship, this is perhaps the most pathetic story I have ever heard short of Tonya Harding.

Personally, I would allow the director of the Spanish team who came up with this stunt to compete in the intellectually-disabled category without hesitation.  After all, by definition, that man had to have been a complete idiot.
 

THE SUSPICIOUS CASE OF THE TINY TUMBLERS

The young ladies … or should we say ‘toddlers’? ... of the Chinese Women’s Gymnastics team were the breakout stars of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.  They held off a serious challenge from the U.S. Women’s team to narrowly win the team Gold Medal.

However, their victory became the biggest scandal of the 2008 Games because the experts all agreed the Chinese were using underage gymnasts.

Women’s Gymnastics is a weird sport.  Being “young” is not a disadvantage when it comes to women’s gymnastics because this sport favors flexibility over strength.  Just like basketball is the refuge for overgrown athletes, women’s gymnastics favors tiny little urchins whose backbones have not yet solidified. 

What began as whispers among the media and gymnastics insiders about the ages of three of China's female Olympic gymnasts -- Jiang Yuyuan, Yang Yilin and He Kexin (pictured middle) -- grew into ear-shattering, head-hurting shouts after the Olympics concluded.

Despite assurances by Chinese officials that all three were 16, the minimum age of eligibility for Olympic competition, newly discovered documents and records would prove otherwise.

The New York Times first looked into the age of China's gymnasts with a story that focused primarily on He Kexin, the gold medal winner on the uneven bars.  Her birth date on numerous online records was listed as January 1, 1994.  2008 minus 1994 equals 14. 

If these records were correct, He Kexin was 14 when the Games began and therefore ineligible to compete. 

When the world was officially introduced to He Kexin, even those unwise to the ways of competitive gymnastics could tell that something was not right with the girl.  At 4-foot 8-inches tall and weighing 72 pounds, the Beijing native appeared significantly younger than most of her Chinese teammates and younger than her American and European counterparts as well.

Bela Karolyi, the world's foremost expert on female gymnasts, routinely referred to the 2008 Chinese team as "half people" in his role as commentator to NBC during the Olympics.  Practically every night Karolyi would rail against the Chinese for engaging in age falsification.

After China barely outscored the U.S. in the qualification round, Karolyi had this to say about the Chinese gymnastics officials:

“These people think we are stupid...We are in the business of gymnastics. We know what a kid of 14 or 15 or 16 looks like.  What kind of slap in the face is this? They are 13, 14 years old and they get lined up and the government backs them and the federation runs away and hides.  There is an age limit and it can't be controlled.”

However, when confronted with the incriminating documents, the Chinese Olympic officials would not back down.  They forcefully defended He Kexin's eligibility.  They maintained that when asked, they submitted proper passport documentation to the IOC. 

He Kexin's passport says her date of birth is January 1, 1992, making her 16 and old enough to compete. However, as Karoyli told the AP, "passports mean nothing."

The 2008 problems were nothing new.  China has a rich history of age falsification in Olympics competition.  At the 2000 Sydney Olympics, three years after the minimum age was raised to 16 in gymnastics, Chinese gymnast Yang Yun competed and won a bronze medal in the uneven bars.  Apparently the uneven bars favor the flexibility of youth. 

Yang's passport said she was born on December 24, 1984 and turning 16 in the year of the Games, making her eligible. However, Yang later confessed in a television interview that she was only 14 at the time of the competition and that she and her coaches had lied about her age.

As in the case of Yang Yun, the existing records prior to the Olympics -- local registries, athletic records and news articles -- were all correct, whereas the documentation she showed Olympic officials to confirm her eligibility proved to be false. It is no coincidence that He Kexin's passport was issued on February 14, 2008, a mere 6 months before the Olympics.

What did the IOC have to say about the scandal?  President Jacques Rogge said, "The IOC relies on the international federations, who are exclusively responsible for the eligibility of athletes. It's not the task of the IOC to check every one of the 10,000 athletes."

Rogge is correct that the IOC need not check everyone.  However, when you receive a complaint about an athlete who hasn’t even reached puberty, it wouldn’t hurt to check out two or three in the interest of fairness, especially the ones who look like they're ten.

It is really pathetic when the second place finisher looks old enough to be the winner's babysitter.

 

DRUGS!!

Victory through enhanced chemistry!  Just don't get caught. 

Bending or breaking the rules of competition has been around as long as sport itself.  Finding a way to win can tempt an athlete to test the boundaries of fair play, as the difference between fortune and failure is using measured in fractions of a second. 

Most people don't cheat because there are eyes and cameras everywhere.  But what if there was an invisible and quite effective way to cheat?

When it comes to the idea of cheating in the Olympics, most people immediately think of drug-assisted victories.   Since the margin of victory is often infinitesimally small and the rewards so dramatically high, there is an overwhelmingly temptation for good athletes who don’t wish to settle for being “good” to turn to drugs to boost performance.  

Cheating by drug use is not considered a big factor in certain sports like shooting, archery, basketball, freestyle skiing and curling.  These sports are examples where skill far outweighs strength or lung power.

However in the endurance sports like speed skating, track and field events, cross-country skiing and biathlon, there's a dark history of skullduggery through drug use. 

Whether it's a deliberate shot in the arm or an innocent “cold pill” here and there, the temptation to use drugs and become famous must be a terrible temptation.  The problem for many athletes is that sports are their way of making a living.  Today's drugs are so powerful that they give a tremendous advantage to an athlete.  Countless stories abound of athletes who were once "average" suddenly beating world-class athletes.  This in turn puts tremendous pressure on all the other athletes who note with extreme bitterness that they may be forced to dope as well or never win again.

Doping and steroid use is in the public spotlight today thanks to a nasty trend of medical people who try to win one for the team through better chemistry.  This in turn has given rise to squads of ‘good guy’ medical experts who scrutinize urine samples and blood samples to look for suspicious spikes in the oxygen content of red blood cells.

Doping has become a major part of the Olympics.  And now that it is clear that the winners are often also cheaters, “Testing” has become just as important.

Knud Jensen

The first doping scandal took place at the 1960 games in Rome.  That is when Danish cyclist Knud Enemark Jensen died after being given amphetamines and Roniacol before his race.

Jensen collapsed during his Olympic event, fractured his skull, and was pronounced dead in a nearby Rome hospital shortly thereafter.  The autopsy showed he had taken amphetamines and Roniacol.  This is a direct-acting peripheral vasodilator that causes flushing and may decrease blood pressure. The drug was meant to increase blood circulation.

Jensen was also reported as swallowing eight pills of phenylisopropylamine and fifteen pills of amphetamine and coffee. 

However, in a strange twist, on March 24, 1961, the three physicians who performed the autopsy submitted a final report stating that the death was caused by a heat wave, not by the drugs found in his body.

His family received one million lire ($1600 dollars) in compensation for his death. 

This compensation scenario seems strange because none of the other competitors fainted.  It seems suspicious that the only one who fainted was the one with 25 pills in his system. 
 

The Narrow Edge of Victory

In Olympic ski races, the top 30 contenders can be within 60 seconds of one another over 15 kilometers.  With such a narrow margin separating the top from the bottom, the temptation to use erythropoietin (EPO) is huge.

EPO is a genetically engineered version of a natural hormone made by the kidney.  EPO stimulates bone marrow to make red blood cells.  It started to emerge in the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002.

Jim Stray-Gunnersen, a U.S. physician who helped develop blood-doping testing programs in the 1990s, says effective blood-doping can take endurance athletes from 30th place all the way to the podium.

Canadian Pierre Harvey, a cross-country skiing star of the 1980s, tells a fascinating anecdote.  To this day, he recalls how Russians who he could defeat soundly before and after the Olympics suddenly surged past him when it really counted at the Calgary Winter Olympics in 1988.

"When I see four Russians finish in the top six at the Olympics, it's just not normal," said Harvey. "In the next weeks following the 1988 Games, I won several World Cups, but in the Olympics, I was merely 14th."

At the time, Harvey suspected the athletes were using blood doping, where they transfused higher oxygen content blood into their bodies several weeks before a key competition.
 

Michelle Smith - Poster Girl for Getting Away With It

Michelle Smith was an Irish swimmer who was a triple gold medalist at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. She won the 400m individual medley, 400m freestyle and 200m individual medley. She also won the bronze medal for the 200m butterfly event for good measure.

Significant controversy followed one of those victories when celebrated U.S. swimmer Janet Evans accused Smith of doping at a press conference. Evans, a highly-respected athlete, was incensed. She immediately claimed Smith's unexpected victories could only be explained by one thing - Drugs.

Those accusations were never proven.  However, the facts surrounding the situation supports Evans' claims.  No Irish swimmer had ever won an Olympic medal until Smith came along and Smith's previous Olympic record had been "mediocre".

Suspicions about her suddenly improving performances at an age considered to be late in a swimmer's career had been raised earlier after her medal wins at the 1995 European Championships.  Moreover, Smith was viewed upon with suspicions thanks to guilt by association.  Her husband and coach, Erik de Bruin, a Dutch discus and shot put thrower, had failed a drug test in 1993 and had been suspended from competition. 

As it turned out, Smith should have quit while she was ahead. Smith received a four-year suspension in 1998 after being found guilty of tampering with a urine sample.


The ban was imposed after a urine sample taken during a routine random drug test was found to be contaminated with alcohol, a masking agent.  On closer inspection, the bodybuilding drug Androstenedione was found in her samples.

On an interesting note, Smith was not stripped of her Olympic medals from Atlanta., because her doping offense was detected sometime after the games. At the time, she was single-handedly responsible for Ireland's second-largest ever medal haul at one Olympics.  Thus, she remains Ireland's most successful Olympian ever.

People often point to Smith to build their case for "retroactive disqualification".  The problem is that it is far too easy to mask drug use at the time it is occurring.  Increasingly, the drug cheats are not caught till years later thanks to improvements in testing. 

People say that anyone who is caught at any point in their career should lose all credibility and their medals as well.

"Once a cheat, always a cheat". 

 

Shiwen Ye - The Newest Michelle Smith?

The first "cheating" controversy of the 2012 London Games involved a record-setting teenager who put up times that surpassed the times of the current world's fastest MALE swimmer.

Shiwen Ye of China stunned world swimming by winning gold in the 400m individual medley in a world-record time. It was her final 100m of freestyle, in which she recorded a split time of 58.68sec, that aroused suspicion. Over the last 50m of the race she was quicker than the Ryan Lochte, who won the men's 400m individual medley in the second-fastest time in history.

So how does a teenage girl manage to swim faster than the world's fastest man?  A lot of people are asking that exact question.

Interestingly enough, Shiwen Ye has people invoking the name of Michelle Smith.

John Leonard, an American who is the executive director of the World Swimming Coaches Association, said the 16-year-old's performance was "suspicious".  He said it brought back "a lot of awful memories" of the Irish swimmer Michelle Smith's race in the same event at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996.  Smith, a relative unknown, burst on the scene at the 1996 in a blaze of glory winning race after race amid a wave of accusations and suspicions.  To everyone's delight, Smith failed a drug test just two years after the Atlanta Olympics when she tested positive for an anabolic steroid in 1998. So is Shiwen Ye the new Michelle Smith?

Ye's time in her final 100 was nearly a dead heat with Lochte's final 100. How does a 16-year-old girl keep pace with a 27-year-old man on a night he is acclaimed as best male swimmer in the world?

Swimming World columnist John Lohn had this to say:

"When it comes to doping and allegations of drug use, China hasn't done itself any favors. Its track record opens itself up — to a degree — to a level of doubt. Such is the way things go when a country has been cited for a systematic doping program, which was in effect in the early 1990s.

Remember, the Chinese women won 12 of 16 gold medals at the 1994 World Championships under a cloud of suspicion. Still, the accusations fired at Ye are out of line in this age of drug testing. Instead of dirtying her achievement with unfounded claims and doubts, it would be wiser to appreciate a performance which was legendary and put a check mark next to her name."


Masking Steroid Use

Let's not be naive here.  Steroid use has become a major part of many different sports.

The story of Michelle Smith is just the tip of the iceberg.  As the story of China's "unusual" swimming success suggests, it is very difficult to catch the drug cheats.  The main reason for this is the ability to disguise an athlete's drug use, a process known as "masking".

Here's a simple example of masking taken from the Internet.  You have my word that I did not make this stuff up.

Q - "Can anyone shed any light on drug testing for steroids? Also if possible, is there any way to "mask" or cleanse your body to pass a test?  Kind of like the cleansing teas for pot-smokers.  This is very important so any help would be greatly appreciated."

(posted 27-Jul-2002, 06:08 PM)


A1 - "Hey bro I bought one from Kokopelli & Spike called steroid cleanse. I am an NCAA athlete and have it on hand just in case those jerkoffs try making me. They give you something like 48 hours and it supposedly this works in 48 hours. Product is called steroid cleanse. I haven't used it but I have it on hand just in case. Hope this helps.

(posted 27-Jul-2002, 06:26 PM)


A2 - "If you talking about NCAA then they look at test/epitest ratios. If that is the case you can add epitestosterone to the mix.

If it's the Olympics they test for metabolites of chemicals.

If you try drink a lot of water to dilute, be sure to add in cranberry juice to adjust ph. NCAA also tests for epitestosterone and metabolites.

Trust me on this one. The odds are definitely in your favor. Most probation officers do not even know that their little $6 test does not test for anabolics. Most likely you will only be tested for street drugs.

You have several things in your advantage here.  Remember that they test lots of people and rarely run any sophisticated tests unless some marker shows up.  You just need to get smarter than they are and you will be fine.

Tell us your steroid use when you got caught and when you got caught.

For example if you were caught with Deca-Durabolin - nandrolone decanoate - than those metabolites can hang around for 18 months - so you could essentially test positive on the drug test but your argument would be that you tested positive b/c you were on Deca-Durabolin - nandrolone decanoate - when you got caught.

Metabolites stick in your system for up to 18 months depending on the type. Also if you are having a generic urinalysis, they don't even test for anabolics. I work in a medical lab and do these tests all the time. I have been doing these tests for 6 years and have never, NEVER seen a test for anabolics. Drugs of abuse, yes, but never anabolics.

Give us some details of your situation, why you are being tested, what you have taken, your stats, etc... and then we can go from there. If you don't feel comfortable posting it, shoot me an email.  Give us all of your details - this one will be fun.

(posted Jul-2002, 06:29 PM)

 

So that raises the question.  Just how hard is it to beat the drug tests?

The answer will vary depending on who you ask that question to, but apparently it is not that hard to beat the tests most of the time.  Here's why. 

The trainer has a huge advantage because he goes first.  A trainer will give an athlete an injection of steroids.  Then the trainer will draw blood and urine.  At this point the trainer will analyze the results just like a lab would.  The trainer sees what shows up on the Toxicology screen.  The problems are clear to him.

At this point, the trainer goes about finding a way to mask the results. If the trainer has a brain, he won't let the athlete be tested outside the clinic until he has found a way to disguise the drug use well ahead of time.  Once his own results no longer show drug use, the athlete is probably safe from detection.


At this point in time, the athletes and the trainers seem to have a strong upper hand. The drug testers are playing "Black" in chess.  They are often being asked to detect drugs that have never even been seen before.

However the testing agencies have one very potent advantage - they get to keep frozen blood samples for eight years. Since new tests are being developed all the time, four years from now the testing might begin to detect what was fashionable four years earlier.  

As the tests grow more sophisticated, the labs have the right to go back and test the blood again whenever they want to.  There's always the chance something will pop up.  This has a real chance of working because the trainer who develops masking techniques today has no idea what tactics might be used four or five years in the future. 

Coincidentally, at this very moment Lance Armstrong is being sued again.  It seems that a very old blood sample has come up positive thanks to retesting using new techniques.  Now Armstrong is back in court forced to fight the same old battle for the umpteenth time.

The stakes are high.  They are trying to strip Armstrong of all his Tour de France victories.  This possibility of "retroactive disqualification" has to strike terror in every person's heart who has ever used drugs to attain a victory. 

This raises the bizarre specter that someday in the future, Gold Medals will not be handed out till 8 years after the race was run. 

 

East Germany

Before there was China, there was East Germany.  The case for "retroactive disqualification" is further bolstered by the farce of the East German spots machine.  Russia and China have long been accused of doping their athletes. However, East Germany wrote the book.  Their flagrant use of steroids makes the Russians and Chinese seem like amateurs. 

Throughout the Fifties and Sixties following the war, East Germany accomplished little in the Olympics. Then the East Germans suddenly became a sporting powerhouse in the 70s and 80s.

Practically overnight, the East German athletes were now the equal of the much larger United States and Soviet Union.  Pretty impressive considering the East German population was at best 1/20th the size of their larger rivals.

In 1976, 1980, and 1988 (they skipped 84), East Germany came in second in the Summer Olympics just behind the Soviet Union and well ahead of larger West Germany.  Apparently all the German ubermenches must have gotten stuck on the East German side at the conclusion of World War II.

East Germany’s performance was even better at the Winter Games.  Over a span of five winter games, East Germany had four second place rankings and a first in the 1984 Winter Olympics.

East Germany won 20 Gold Medals in 1972. East Germany won 40 Gold Medals in 1976. So how does a country of fewer than 17 million people manage to double its Olympic output from 20 to 40 gold medals in just four years?  Drugs, and plenty of them! 

It is widely believed that doping (predominantly anabolic steroids) allowed East Germany, with its small population, to become a world sports leader in those two decades.

Here's another statistic. In 1988, at the peak of the East German sports machine, East Germany won 102 medals with 17 million people.  The USA won 94 medals with a population of 240 million.  Considering the United States is consider the world's superpower when it comes to athletics, you have to wonder how on earth the East Germans got away with so much cheating.

There are reports that thousands of East German athletes were given performance-enhancing steroids in an effort to prove East German superiority over the West.  Many of the athletes later claimed the officials told them they were simply taking ‘special’ vitamins.

Special indeed!  These 'vitamins' worked miracles.  East Germans became a mighty force in amateur sport, particularly in the swimming pool where the results of the wonder vitamins were especially spectacular.  

But with the medals and titles came serious negative health side effects, such as hormonal changes and organ damage.  Steroid use is dangerous. It can do serious damage to the heart and to the liver.  The women athletes in particular suffered many health problems in later years.

Throughout the Eighties, everyone was pretty sure what was going on in East Germany, but they couldn't catch them.  The worst thing to ever happen to East Germany was the fall of the Berlin Wall.  As the Wall fell, so the veil of secrecy surrounding the East German sports success.  Although many documents showing the East German drug use were destroyed, the practice was so wide-spread that evidence kept popping up everywhere.  The world gasped when they realized the extent of the doping that had gone on behind the Iron Curtain.

In the Nineties, a German court found ex-East German sports boss Manfred Ewald and his medical director, Manfred Hoeppner, culpable for what it called "systematic and overall doping in East German competitive sports" until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
 

Marita Koch

The story of Marita Koch is a good example of what was discovered once East German records were analyzed.  Marita Koch is a former sprint track and field athlete who was part of the amazing East German sports machine back in the Seventies and Eighties. 

Before retiring in 1987, Marita Koch won the European Championships at 400 meters in 1978, 1982 and 1986. 

She was one of Germany's most successful athletes.  During her career, Koch collected a remarkable 16 world records in outdoor sprints and 14 world records in indoor events.

Marita Koch never failed a drug test nor did she ever acknowledge any taint.

Koch insisted: "At the World Championships in Helsinki in 1983 I had to go to dope-testing three times and always I was clean. The same applies to my career overall. I was a mature and responsible athlete."

Ordinarily we would clap in recognition of her remarkable achievements and move on to the next subject.  However, there's more to the story (that seems common with drug users).

After East Germany fell, Koch's achievements, along with the extraordinary performances of many other East German female athletes, came under scrutiny. Her success had aroused suspicion that they were achieved with the aid of performance-enhancing drugs that were not detectable at the time.

In 1991 German anti-drug activists Brigitte Berendonk and Werner Franke were able to save several doctoral theses and other documents written by scientists working for the East German drug research program.  Apparently someone forgot to destroy them. 

The documents listed the dosage and timetables for the administration of anabolic steroids to many athletes of the former GDR, one of them being Marita Koch. According to the sources, Koch used the anabolic steroid Oral-Turinabol from 1981 to 1984 with dosages ranging from 530 to 1460 mg/year.

Koch refused to publicly admit to this.  However, a letter written by Marita Koch to the head of the state-owned pharmaceutical company was discovered by researcher Werner Franke.  In the letter, Koch complained because she believed her teammate Bärbel Wöckel was receiving larger doses of steroids thanks to a relative working in the company.

Busted.

 

The Chinese Women's Swimming Program

There was a rumor that after the fall of Berlin Wall in 1989, several of the East German doctors reappeared in China.  Interestingly, it was right about that time that China's women swimmers began to win big.  Coincidence?   Probably not. 

At the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, the Chinese women had a very strong showing.  They won gold in 4 of the 15 events.  That was just a hint of things to come.  1994 was the blockbuster year.  At the 1994 World Aquatic Championships in Rome, China won an amazing 12 of 16 events.

The leader of the Red Tsunami was a tall woman named Le Jingyi (pictured) with a ripped body.  With her powerful 6' 1'' frame, muscular shoulders and preposterously narrow waist, this woman had a tapered physique more commonly associated with a male college football linebacker. 

After sweeping practically every event in 1994, two years later at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, the Chinese women won just one swimming event.  Le Jingyi, the world famous swimmer, rescued Chinese honor with the single victory in the 100m Freestyle event.

From 12 victories to just one was quite a change.  After her victory, Le Jingyi was asked a very curious question.  "Why it is that China's swimmers instantly became world beaters in 1994 and have just as quickly disappeared from the winner's podium?"

Le Jingyi (translated): "I think it is because the champions retired immediately after they won a gold medal, we all did. The athletes after us are not as good as us."

That is an interesting explanation, but there might be another explanation that makes more sense.  Maybe the Chinese stopped using the steroids because they knew the drug testing at the Atlanta Olympics would be unbelievably rigorous.  Being caught on the world stage was too big a risk.

The Nineties were a decade of shame for China.  After that sweep in Rome, seven Chinese swimmers tested positive for steroids at the Hiroshima 1994 Asian Games held just one month after Rome.  How pathetic. Nor was this just a random event.  A sports scientist at San Diego State tallied 32 Chinese swimmers caught for drug offenses in the 1990s. Two of them were caught twice.

It is said that China's bid for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games forced the country to behave.  China vowed to establish a world-recognized anti-doping program.  However there have been further incidents that suggest the drug practice continues to this day.  In addition to the earlier story about Shiwen Ye at the 2012 London Games, here are two other stories written in 2012 about the issue.

 

China's Li Zhesi fails doping test

Updated: June 9, 2012, 12:04 PM ET
Associated Press

BEIJING -- The Associated Press is reporting that Chinese swimmer Li Zhesi tested positive for EPO in March 2012.

The official Xinhua News Agency, the Chinese state media, says swimmer Li Zhesi who was part of the country's winning team at the 2009 world championships has tested positive for doping. The 16-year-old Li Zhesi tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug EPO in March.

This is a major announcement for the Chinese team. China has spent the past decade rebuilding its swimming program following a series of doping scandals that devastated the sport in 1990s.


The 16-year old Zhesi was the 2010 Asian Games Champion in the 50 free (at only 14 years old) and also anchored the Chinese medley relay that won the 2009 World Championships that is the current World Record holder. In 2011, she anchored the prelims round of the silver-medal relay in the same event.EPO is a hormone that boosts the body's production of red blood cells. 

EPO is a substance that occurs naturally in the body, and controls red blood cell production. But an excess of EPO, used artificially, can severely ramp up red blood cell production, which in turn can take more oxygen to the muscles during athletic output – which can drastically improve performance.

This announcement, made by official Chinese state media, will bring back old feelings about the Chinese swimmers in the late 80's and early 90's, where it is believed by most (and confirmed in some cases) that institutional doping was rampant in the Chinese federation as they dominated major swimming.

Chinese Olympians Subjected to State-Sponsored Doping

John Stuart
Fairfax Media 
Fairfax Australia
Last updated 12:08 27/07/2012

Chinese Olympians were subjected to a state-sponsored doping regime which was modeled on eastern Europe, says a retired Chinese Olympic doctor.

Steroids and human growth hormones were officially treated as part of ''scientific training'' as China emerged as a sporting power through the 1980s and into the 1990s, she says.

Athletes often did not know what they were being injected with and medical staff who refused to participate were marginalized, she says.

''It was rampant in the 1980s,'' Xue Yinxian told Fairfax Media in her home in Beijing's eastern suburbs. ''One had to accept it.''

The testimony of Dr Xue, whose elite roles included chief medical supervisor for the Chinese gymnastic team as it vied with the former Soviet Union for gold medals in the 1980s, will not surprise many veterans of Olympic sports.

Dr Xue does not allege that all successful Chinese athletes used drugs and has refrained, at this stage, from publicizing names.

But it is the first time anyone in the system has publicly contradicted Beijing's line that a slew of embarrassing doping busts, particularly among the Chinese swimming team in the 1990s, was merely the result of ambitious individual athletes and ignorant provincial coaches. Her allegation comes as most of China's 394-strong Olympic team arrives in London for the opening ceremony tonight, London time.

China is expected to put on another strong performance, although pundits predict the US may regain top place on the gold medal table after China's home-town success in 2008.

A Chinese official said yesterday that the country had largely solved its problem with deliberate use of performance-enhancing drugs and he was confident there would be no Chinese drugs scandals in London (
note: Shiwen Ye changed that).

After the humiliation of the 1998 world swimming titles in Perth, he said China had adopted a much tougher regime, with drug testing removed from the main sports administration and placed in a separate agency.

A routine customs check of a swimmer's bag found enough human growth hormone to supply the entire women's swimming team for the duration of the meet.

''For the world of sports, in particular to the Chinese, the 1998 championships in Perth was a bad incident,'' said Zhao Jian, the deputy director-general of the China Anti-Doping Agency.

He said China had always taken a strong stance against doping and had never condoned it, but the incident prompted China to enter a ''routine, strict and legal track''.

Mr Zhao said concerns had now shifted to ''accidental'' steroid consumption, brought about by eating illegally adulterated Chinese red meat, but the general subject remains sensitive.

Internet searches for ''china'' and ''sports doping'' were blocked in Beijing yesterday, while a search for ''drugs'' coupled with the names of prominent athletes identified by Dr Xue resulted in the internet connection being temporarily severed.

Dr Xue says she fought a long but losing battle against the systematic use of drugs in elite sport since China closed the door on the Cultural Revolution and began opening to the world.

She said its top sports official told a meeting in October 1978 that performance-enhancing drugs were simply new things that should be utilised, provided they were properly understood.

''He gave the example of how a woman could use tampons to continue training while having her period,'' he said. ''And so it was with human growth hormones, which he described as a scientific training method. Whoever rejected them would face punishment or criticism.''

The Chinese women's swimming team came from obscurity to win 12 of 16 gold medals at the 1994 world titles in Rome, prompting suspicion among competitors, not least the Australian team.

Then just one month after Rome (Wikipedia), the Chinese had 11 athletes test positive for the banned drugs and anabolic steroids at the 1994 Asian Games at Hiroshima.  7 were swimmers. Two of the 7 who tested positive at the Asian games had been among the swimming victors at Rome.

In 1998, the Chinese team imploded for a second time in Perth.  Breaststroker Yuan Yuan, a silver medalist at the Rome 1994 world championships, was caught trying to smuggle 13 vials of banned growth hormone hidden in a thermos flask in her luggage into Australia ahead of the 1998 Worlds.

Le Jingyi (above & below)

 

Ben Johnson - Poster Boy for Drug Cheating

On an individual basis, Ben Johnson of Canada is the most famous athlete in sports when it comes to discussing the advantages and the dangers of using performance-enhancing drugs.  Johnson suffered the most astounding fall from grace of any athlete in history during the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

In 1988, Ben Johnson electrified the world when he upset Carl Lewis, the gifted American sprinter, in the Olympic 100 meters.  Not only did Johnson handily beat Lewis, the unquestioned superstar of the previous 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, it was “how” he beat Lewis that had people amazed.

Lewis and Johnson were bitter rivals from way back.  At the start, Carl Lewis had thoroughly dominated Johnson.  Lewis won Olympic Gold in 1984 while Johnson was forced to settle for Bronze.  The race had not been close.


In 1985, after seven consecutive losses, Johnson finally beat Carl Lewis. From that point on, the two men went back and forth in their struggle for dominance.  Then something strange happened in 1987.  The world record for the 100 meters was 9.93.  Carl Lewis had been on the verge of breaking that record several times, but had only a series of near-misses to show for it.

In the 1987 World Championships, Ben Johnson set an unbelievable new world record with 9.83.  Johnson had just shaved 1/10th of a second off the record.  That was an incredible achievement.

Meanwhile Carl Lewis was beside himself with astonishment and horror at seeing his great rival embarrass him so badly in this head to head race. 

Following Johnson's defeat of Lewis in Rome, Lewis started trying to explain away his defeat. He first claimed that Johnson had false-started, then he alluded to a stomach virus which had weakened him. Finally, without naming names, Lewis said "There are a lot of people coming out of nowhere. I don’t think they are doing it without drugs."

This was the start of Carl Lewis’ calling on the sport of track and field to be cleaned up in terms of the illegal use of performance-enhancing drugs. Lewis' words didn't amount to much.  While cynics noted that the problem had been in the sport for many years, they pointed out that it didn’t become a cause for Lewis until he was actually defeated.  Many people were fed up with the man thanks to Lewis's egotistical attitude and lack of humility, so at the time, practically no one rushed to defend Carl Lewis or his statements.

During a controversial interview with the BBC, Lewis said:

There are gold medalists at this meet who are on drugs, that [100 meters] race will be looked at for many years, for more reasons than one.

Johnson's response was:

When Carl Lewis was winning everything, I never said a word against him. And when the next guy comes along and beats me, I won’t complain about that either.

This set up the rivalry leading into the 1988 Olympic Games.

As the Games approached, the two men squared off at a track meet Zurich, Switzerland on August 17.  This was their first rematch since the fateful 1987 World Championships.  Both men stood to make $250,000 in appearance money.  Not bad.

That money alone should give us an idea of the high stakes involved for both men in being the best.  There are a lot of people in this world who might seriously consider taking drugs for that kind of money.  The temptation must be overwhelming.

During this much-anticipated race, Lewis, as he often did, trailed at 70 meters and then soared to victory, eclipsing Johnson a meter from the line. He was immediately installed in popular opinion as the favorite to retain the Olympic gold he had won in Los Angeles in 1984.

Afterwards, Carl Lewis opened his mouth again, something he was known for.

"The gold medal for the Olympic 100 meters is mine," Lewis said. "I will never again lose to Johnson."

Johnson had something of his own to say at Zurich.  It was an eerie prophecy of sorts.

"Things are going smoothly for me now. Losing is a possibility in Seoul. But I will make sure that won't happen."

One month later at the Seoul Olympics, Ben Johnson would indeed make Lewis eat his words.  Johnson completely humiliated his proud rival.

On September 24 1988, Johnson beat Lewis in the 100m final at the Olympics, lowering his own 9.83 world record down to 9.79 seconds in the process.

Johnson would later remark that he would have been even faster had he not raised his hand in the air just before he finished the race.

Johnson had just set a preposterous new world record. Most records are broken by shaving off a single micro-second here or a mili-second there.  Johnson had trimmed an unbelievable four-hundredths of a second off the world record. 

Now that doesn’t sound like much, but in a short race like the 100 meters, it is very difficult for a normal human to improve as much as Johnson did over all the people who have run this race before him.  

At the time, Johnson’s time was considered to be the greatest breakthrough in track and field since Bob Beamon’s amazing long jump in Mexico 1968. 

Johnson didn’t seem fazed at all by his seemingly miraculous accomplishment.  In an interview shortly after the race, he was quoted

“I'd like to say my name is Benjamin Sinclair Johnson Jr and this world record will last 50 years, maybe 100.”

Do you like irony?  Johnson’s record did not last 100 years.  In fact, Johnson’s new world record only last 3 days

Johnson’s drug test had just caught up with him Overnight the greatest breakthrough in track history was transformed into the greatest Olympic scandal of all time.  The world was absolutely totally blown away by the enormity of the news.   

In the Olympic Doping Control Center, less than half a mile from where Johnson had received his gold medal, Dr Park Jong-Sei had found that one of the numbered urine samples taken from the first four finishers contained stanozolol, a dangerous anabolic steroid.

The number belonged to Ben Johnson.  This confirmed the suspicions of one American trainer who had noted before the race that the Canadian's eyes were yellow.  The trainer said this was the result of his liver working overtime processing steroids.

Confronted with the allegations, Johnson lied through his teeth. He claimed that the positive test surely stemmed from a spiked herbal drink the night before the race.  His competitors were trying to sabotage him. 

So how did Johnson explain his inflated deltoid muscles and jaundiced eyes?

Johnson was subsequently stripped of his gold medal and world record and banned from competition for two years. The disgrace of the event was a black eye on Canadian amateur sport and pushed the drugs-in-sport issue to the forefront like never before.

The disgraced Johnson was stripped of his gold and forced to watch as his great rival Carl Lewis regained his status as the world’s fastest human.  What a bitter pill to swallow.  But then Johnson was used to swallowing pills.  Maybe it was time for a bitter one.

 Johnson quickly flew out of Seoul, feebly continuing to protest his innocence even as he boarded the plane.  Johnson raced at the next Olympics in Barcelona after serving a two-year suspension but didn’t do too well. 

Taking note that he wasn’t much of a runner without steroids, Johnson went back to the juice.  He was banned for life a year later in 1993 after he tested positive again.  At that point, any remaining doubt as to his innocence or his honesty was long gone.

Truth be told, the Seoul Games of 1988 were ugly in many ways.  Nearly 15 years later, it was discovered that several American track athletes tested positive for drugs before those same Seoul Games.  Allegedly among them was Carl Lewis, the man who was awarded the gold medal after Johnson's disqualification.  Another runner under suspicion was Florence Joyner-Griffith.  She never failed a drug test, but was judged guilty by association.

However Lewis and Flo-Jo weren’t caught.  Johnson was.  He became the goat for all the rest to hide behind.

   

Marion Jones - Poster Girl for Drug Cheating

Ben Johnson's story was just the first.  We had no way of knowing it, but his story would be repeated many times over the next 20 years. 

American sprint champions Tim Montgomery, Jerome Young and Justin Gatlin were similarly busted.  Their stories bring up an important point.  While the U.S. has not been accused of systematically doping its athletes, there can be no doubt that many American athletes have made individual decisions to use drugs.  America has had its fair share of drug cheats too. 

Drug use in sports has become a world-wide problem.  As a result, these days, no one assumes the winner is the winner until the drug lab confirms it.  Even then, the medals have been known to change hands years later.

The best example is the famous American sprinter Marion Jones who was stripped of all her medals 7 years after her victories in the 2000 Sydney Olympics.  Her story shows that "retroactive disqualification" has begun.

In her prime, Marion Jones was one of track’s first female millionaires.  She typically earned between $70,000 and $80,000 a race.  On the side she gathered at least another $1 million from race bonuses and endorsement deals.  In 2000-01, she competed in 21 international events, including the Sydney Olympics, where she won five medals — three of them gold.

Then, seven years after winning a woman’s record five Olympic track and field medals and snagging multimillion-dollar endorsement deals, Marion Jones was broke.

The sprinter fell heavily in debt as she tried to fight off all the attempts to strip her of her medals and her reputation.  Legal bills had plagued Jones since 2003.  That was the year suspicions of her drug use emerged after a federal raid on BALCO, the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative.  This was the same raid that got famous baseball player Barry Bonds in trouble.

Jones retained attorneys for battles on many fronts. 

She needed lawyers for her BALCO grand jury testimony, for negotiations with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency in her fight to avoid being banned from competition, for the defamation lawsuit she filed against BALCO founder Victor Conte, the man who accused her of taking performance-enhancing drugs, and for taking on her track coach Dan Pfaff in a breach-of-contract suit.

Jones lost every court single fight.  Her biggest problem was that she was guilty. 

In the end, Jones was stripped of her medals and forced to publicly admit that she had used performance-enhancing drugs.  Then she went to jail for six months.

It was an incredible fall from grace… one of the worst falls in sports history.

   

Flo Jo - The Poster Girl for Successful Drug Cheating

Who can ever forget her?  Florence Griffith Joyner was not only the fastest woman in history, she may have been the most beautiful too.  Florence Griffith Joyner, or "Flo Jo" as she was often called, was the woman who combined the speed of Mercury with the body and beauty of Venus. She was sculpted to perfection.

In 1988, Flo Jo set the record for the fastest women's 100 meters in history at 10.49.  That record still stands today.  No other woman has come close to that.

Flo Jo owns another record as well... one that is a bit stranger.  Until Flo Jo came along, no woman in modern history had held the world speed record for more than five years.  Most only kept it for a year.  But Flo Jo has kept the record for 24 years.  That alone should tell you there is something strange about this woman.

She is either a man, an alien or she hides a very deep secret.  Since no one in their right mind would accuse Flo Jo of being a man like they did Stella Walsh, let's hope that can't be the secret.  Flo Jo might be an alien, but I doubt that too.  Florence Griffith Joyner's secret is that she is considered the most prominent track star to get away with drug cheating.

Today thanks to Marion Jones and Ben Johnson, we don’t believe anybody anymore.  No one seems above suspicion.   After all, the stories of Jones and Johnson turned out to be just the tip of the iceberg. 

Practically every day the sports section lists a new name of someone being accused of success through better pharmacology.   Worse, for every person that gets caught, there are still suspicions that the winners were simply ones that didn’t get caught.

The stakes of the game being as high as they are and the chances of being caught small thanks to the ability to disguise drug intake, in the past twenty years there has been a long parade of sports champions such as Lance Armstrong whose victories have become tainted by suspicion.

Another thing that is strange about Flo-Jo is that she came out of nowhere to run the three fastest women’s 100 meters in history.

Theoretically, athletes are supposed to show early promise and steady progress.  Not Flo Jo.  She had disappeared from competition for over a year only to burst back on the scene like a fiery comet.

Flo Jo’s personal best before the 1988 US Trials was 10.96.  This was a very good time but well outside world record pace of 10.76.  Furthermore her best time had come five years earlier.  There was nothing in Flo Jo's past that hinted she might someday be the fastest woman in recorded history.

Flo Jo had given up on athletics in 1986.  She spent the best part of the next year working as a bank clerk during the day and styling hair in the evenings.  When she decided to return to athletics in April 1987 she was 15 pounds overweight.

The extra weight didn’t seem to matter.  A little over four months later Flo Jo won 200m silver at the world championships in Rome.  From there she just kept on getting better. In just 15 months Flo Jo had metamorphosed from a fat, average sprinter to a taut world-beater.

Flo Jo stunned the world at the 1988 U.S. Olympic Trials.

Flo Jo's previous best time was 10.96 from 1983The world record was 10.76 set by Evelyn Ashford in 1984.

In round one, Flo Jo posted a stunning wind-aided 10.60.  In sprints you are supposed to improve in the hundredths… .01 or .02.  Not our Flo Jo. 

Flo Jo was just warming up.  In the quarters she was timed at 10.49 (Youtube).  Flo Jo had just broken Evelyn Ashford's world record by the massive margin of 0.27 seconds. This was ridiculous.

More phenomenal times followed. The following day she won her semi-final in 10.70.

In the finals, Flo Jo destroyed the field winning in 10.61. 

In the space of 24 hours Flo-Jo had just run the three fastest legal women's 100m races in history.

In so doing, she had improved on her own previous fastest time by half a second.

The word “impossible” was coined for situations like this.  Flo Jo had just done something that was considered impossible.  The woman was unbelievable!!

When the news hit the track world, everyone was incredulous.  One of the most fascinating comments was made by none other than Ben Johnson himself.

"There's no way Florence ran 10.49," he said. "I just don't believe it."

Johnson was not alone.  Scores of people in the track community publicly questioned the validity of her performance.  In fact, the level of disbelief was so high that people looked for explanations.  The consensus was that the wind at her back had made the difference. 

Mind you, there are instruments that are in place to measure the wind.  These instruments said there wasn't any wind.  No matter, the instruments must have been wrong. That's right, it must have been the wind!  No one dared mention what everyone really thought.

When Flo Jo reached Seoul, the eyes of the entire world were upon her.

Flo Jo did not disappoint.  She delivered one the great performances in Olympic history.

Flo-Jo won gold in the 100m, the 200m and the 4x100m, and silver in the 4x400m.

In the 100 meters she broke the Olympic record twice and produced a stunning performance to win the final in a wind-assisted 10.54.

Thanks to Ben Johnson, the Seoul Olympics were be dominated by talk of performance-enhancing drugs.  Inevitably, given the sudden and astonishing nature of her ascent, some pointed their fingers at Flo Jo… but to no avail. 

Griffith Joyner took 11 different tests for performance-enhancing drugs in 1988. She passed every single one of them.

Prince Alexandre de Mérode, chairman of the IOC's medical commission, later said that Joyner-Griffith had been singled out for particularly rigorous testing in Seoul.

"Since there were rumors at the time, we performed all possible and imaginable analyses on her.  We never found anything. There should not be the slightest suspicion."

Nevertheless, the rumors followed Flo-Jo for the rest of her career.  The reason was simple – Joyner-Griffith had improved far too much in far too little time.  Her overnight success was enough in most people’s minds to dismiss her victories as drug-aided. 

There is a very sad and very strange footnote to the story of Florence Joyner-Griffith.

Flo Jo retired in 1988 after her stunning run of success.  However, in 1998, just ten years after Flo Jo's brilliant Olympic performance, this beautiful, superbly athletic woman was dead. 

Florence Joyner-Griffith had suffered an epileptic seizure during an airline flight.  She was taken to a hospital upon landing.  As she rested in the hospital, she died in her sleep due to asphyxiation caused by another epileptic seizure. 

Flo Jo was dead at 38.  Wrap your mind around that age.  What totally healthy person dies suddenly and mysteriously at 38?

The skeptics paused for a brief moment of respect, then ungallantly began to ask if past steroid use could have caused damage that went undetected.  Naturally they did an autopsy.

During the autopsy, her strained heart offered only hints that she may have had chemical help.  The Orange County coroner's office noted that the autopsy records showed that she did not die from drugs or banned substances and that tissue and organ tests revealed none of the changes associated with recent steroid use. The coroner had requested that Griffith-Joyner's body specifically be tested for steroids, but was informed that there was not enough urine in her bladder and that the test could not accurately be performed on other biological samples.

The glamorous goddess of American track, who came, conquered and quickly vanished, finished her brief life with a batting average of 1.000 when it came to steroid testing.  

No scientific test ever made Florence Griffith-Joyner out to be a liar.  Even on her deathbed there was no proof.

That didn't stop people anyone for a second.  The woman's death was so eerie that it seemed likely to suspect previous steroid use was surely to blame.

It was left to Brazilian middle-distance runner Joaquim Cruz to offer the most damning criticism ever publicly raised.  Cruz stated, "The athletes are the first ones to suspect, especially the athletes who work hard and find it really difficult to improve their times," says Cruz, who won Olympic gold in 1984 and silver in 1988 in the 800-meter run. "Those athletes are the ones who know who is there competing clean and who is not."

What athletes also see is which records seem realistic and which do not. Griffith-Joyner's sudden improvement was far beyond what athletes consider "realistic".  Evelyn Ashford's 100-meter record of 10.76, set in 1984, was whittled to 10.49 in Indianapolis in 1988. The margin of difference was more than double any previous improvement.  Nor has anyone even remotely approached those speeds since. 

After 24 years without a serious challenge, Griffith-Joyner's records in the 100 and 200 meter dashes have joined the ranks of the eternally suspect. 

Direct evidence of doping has never been presented against Griffith-Joyner, but suspicions began at the start of the 1988 season, when she returned after a long layoff. She had never won a world championship, but now the runners were supposed to accept that a woman with nearly two years of layoff was suddenly the fastest woman in the world.  Her body had also morphed from slender to ripped.

During the Olympics that year, Cruz was asked what he thought about Ben Johnson's positive steroid test. Cruz answered, but also offered opinions on other competitors, thereby breaking a universal athletes' code to not name names. In doing so, he also made it all right for journalists and critics to speculate about who might be doping.

"Florence, in 1984, you could see an extremely feminine person, but today she looks more like a man than a woman," Cruz said in the interview.

"And Jackie Joyner (Flo Jo's sister in law) herself, she looks like a gorilla, so these people, they must be doing something that isn't normal to gain all these muscles."

When Cruz saw his name in print next to these words, his first reaction was to deny that he made the comments.  He also apologized to Joyner-Kersee in person.

However, when a tape of the comments surfaced, Cruz was openly vilified.  There was no more denying what he had said. 

Cruz, who today coaches high school and works with a group of elite runners near Los Angeles, says he was scorned by the fans, but he was never ostracized by athletes for what he said.

"In the (Olympic) village I became the hero," Cruz says. "Everybody said, 'Yeah Cruz! Keep up the good work.'"

The reputation of Flo Jo took a bigger hit a year later when sprinter Darrell Robinson, in a paid interview with a German magazine, said he had given her human growth hormone.

Griffith-Joyner denied it, and when they both appeared on the "Today" show, she said, "Darrell, you are a compulsive, crazy, lying lunatic!"

It is likely the dark cloud of circumstantial evidence will follow the story of Florence Griffith-Joyner for eternity. 

But Florence Griffith-Joyner is certainly not the only one with a cloud hanging over her reputation.

Is Lance Armstrong guilty?  Maybe. 

Is Roger Clemens guilty?  Maybe. 

Is Barry Bonds guilty?  Maybe. 

I don’t know the answer for any of these people, but I am suspicious. 

Thanks mostly to the story of Flo Jo, whenever someone comes out of nowhere to be wonderful, I shrug my shoulders and idly wonder if they will get caught or not.  Or "when" they will be caught.

Thanks to lessons learned from Marion Jones and Ben Johnson, and yes, sad to say, even Flo Jo, my attitude is cynical. 

When it comes to sports these days, if it’s too good to be true, then it probably isn’t.
 

In retrospect, Flo Jo was the woman straight out of Greek Mythology.

She had the speed of Mercury, the beauty of Aphrodite... and the life script of Achilles.

Achilles, of course, was half human, half god.  For the brief time he was alive, Achilles was the most feared warrior on earth.  But thanks to his unprotected heel, he had that one single fatal flaw.  Achilles conquered everything in sight and experienced intense glory... only to suddenly die at a young age from the poisoned arrow.

Who is to say that Flo Jo didn't die of a similar poisoned arrow? 

She most likely made a dangerous life choice which later struck her down at an age much too young to make any sense.  Is it better to live a long and comfortable life or is it better to reach for the glory and risk an early death?

Florence Griffith-Joyner was our modern day Achilles. 


 


Final Thoughts about the Drug Problem

The mysterious death of Florence Griffith-Joyner is very important because many people - including medical professionals - openly suggested her sudden death could be related to past steroid use.  Whatever the real cause of Flo Jo's death, it underscored the dangers of steroid use. There can be no doubt steroid use carries a great risk of health consequences. 

The truth is that little is known about the long term effects of steroid use.  However, the early reports are in and the picture is not pretty.  The former athletes of East Germany are reporting all sorts of health and psychological problems directly attributed to steroid use 20 to 30 years ago.

Seized documents of the East German secret police Stasi revealed that as many as 10,000 East German athletes were involved in the state-sponsored attempt to build a country of 16 million into a sports power rivaling the United States and the Soviet Union.

Today an estimated 500 to 2,000 former East German athletes are believed to be experiencing significant health problems associated with steroids, including liver tumors, heart disease, testicular and breast cancer, gynecological problems, infertility, depression and eating disorders.  Some female athletes have reported miscarriages and have had children born with deformities like club feet.

Given this situation, what person in their right mind would turn to drugs?

Sad to say, even given the knowledge, quite a few athletes are more than willing to make the Devil's Bargain.  Given that masking techniques appear to be running ahead of detection techniques, the temptation to achieve glory and financial gain TODAY seems to outweigh the well-known risks somewhere in the distant FUTURE.

Some people say, "Well, since you can't catch all of them and lots of cheaters are winning against the people who play by the rules, why not just make steroid use legal?  Level the playing field for everyone. After all, that's how they solved the amateur versus professional issue.  If those idiot athletes want to kill themselves, that's their choice."

Having given this some thought, I disagree. 

First, records are important.  It isn't fair to the athletes who competed in the pre-drug era to have their performances erased or compared to these clearly-tainted modern day results.  However, this reason is trivial compared to the health risks the athletes would likely face.

If we make steroid use legal, that would not only give athletes permission to take enormous health risks, it would almost force them to participate or have no hope of winning.  Now practically every athlete in the world would be forced to begin using drugs to stay even with their peers or simply retire from their sport.

The counter-argument to that is that most people with a brain wouldn't dream of deliberately hurting themselves. 

Don't be ridiculous. If taking drugs is the only way to climb to the top of their sport, many will choose to do so.  Take hockey players for example.

In the National Hockey League, players were continually suffering gruesome injuries to their face.  Every season, dozens of players would routinely lose eyes, teeth, and facial bones to high sticks and fast-moving pucks.  The danger was getting so great the league asked the players to voluntarily begin wearing helmets.  Some complied, but most of the players refused.  They didn't want to do anything that would reduce their peripheral vision.  Finally the league had to put its foot down and "insist" that the players wear helmets for their own good.  Once it became mandatory, the athletes gave in.

Given this lesson, we know that since athletes are born risk-takers, we don't dare even dream of legalizing the drugs. 

The only way to stop drug use in sports is to keep them illegal, keep improving the tests and, more important than anything, increase the penalties.  Not only take away all medals and ban athletes for life on the first or second offense, also make them pay fines. 

Moreover, keep freezing that blood and let the athletes understand that their samples will be tested again with the newer methods every few years.  Since that is how most of the drug cheats are being caught these days - retroactively - the paranoia might actually make them think twice.  Imagine how Lance Armstrong feels knowing his entire career could be wiped out if just the right test comes along.

 

WHY NOT JUST BRIBE THE JUDGE?

Unfortunately, there are many Olympic sports where the winner is determined by other human beings.  Any sport that requires judges to determine the winner is ripe for controversy.  This “subjective” element in highly competitive sports such as gymnastics, boxing, diving, and figure skating routinely brings out the temper in many observers.  I might add I dislike dance competitions for the same reason.  It is very difficult to accept some of the decisions.

But there isn’t much anyone can do about it.  How can anyone effectively dispute someone's subjective opinion?  They were hired to call it as they see it.  The decision of the judges is final.

That doesn’t keep people from trying.  Hardly.  The announcers are the worst.  They routinely question any judge’s decision that hurts a hometown hero.  That sort of negativity may be bad for the viewer’s blood pressure, but since it improves ratings, blaming the judges becomes a national pastime during the Olympics.

Some of the decisions are so glaringly bad that people actually wonder if the judges are crooked.  For example, to this day, I still think something underhanded took place at that bizarre 1972 Russia-USA basketball game. 

Although the secret of what happened behind the scenes at the 1972 basketball game has never been revealed, here are two famous controversies involving Olympic judges that prove shady dealings have indeed taken place in the past.

Roy Jones

When Roy Jones lost the boxing gold medal at Seoul in 1988, his loss was considered the worst example of crooked judges in Olympic history.  2 judges voted Jones the winner of his match, 3 judges voted Jones the loser.  Only one problem – every neutral observer in the world thought Jones had won by a wide margin. 

Jones had dominated his weight class for the entire Olympics.  He won his first match by knockout.  He won his next two matches 5-0 by the vote of the judges.  He won the next one 4-1.

The final match against South Korean Park Si-Hun wasn’t even close.  Jones won in a rout.  Jones was so unthreatened he barely bothered to raise his guard.  He landed 86 punches to Park's 32.   The South Korean took two standing eight counts and was twice warned by the referee.  NBC's Count-A-Punch recorder scored the rounds 20-3, 30-15 and 36-14 in Jones's favor.  It was an utterly one-sided affair.

And yet Jones lost.

In a highly controversial 3-2 judge's decision, South Korean boxer Park Si-Hun was given the nod over American Roy Jones.  Allegedly, Park himself was so surprised that he apologized to Jones afterward. 

The verdict sparked a world outrage.  It didn’t help that Park was from the host country.  Something was very wrong here.  Hot accusations were leveled at the judges who had voted against Roy Jones.

One judge shortly thereafter admitted the decision was a mistake.  What a joke!  The judge said, “I felt bad that this man (Park) had been so badly defeated in his home country.  I knew the other four judges would vote for Jones, so I gave a sympathy vote to the South Korean to save face”. 

What a crock.  That story is BS-speak for “someone gave me money to throw the match”.

Eventually, all three judges voting against Jones were suspended.

Meanwhile, everyone was so disgusted by the result that Roy Jones was named the outstanding boxer of the tournament.

However, the scandal was whitewashed just like the 1972 basketball result.  The official IOC investigation in 1997 found no wrongdoing.  To this day, the IOC still officially stands by the decision.

   

The Canadian Skaters

A similar judging controversy occurred at the 2002 Olympic Figure Skating Finals in Salt Lake. 

When competition ended in the pairs skating event at the Salt Lake City Olympics, fans in the audience and around the world thought they knew who'd won. Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier circled the ice triumphantly, while fans chanted "Six! Six!" demanding a perfect score for the talented duo's magnificent performance.

Those fans were silenced, however, by scores that handed the gold medal to the Russian team of Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze, even though Sikharulidze had failed to appropriately land one of his double-axels.

Jamie Salé and David Pelletier's second-place finish in the 2002 Winter Olympic pairs event shocked fans and experts around the world.  The announcers on TV had gasped noticeably when the ordinals popped up on the arena scoreboard.  Their startled reaction was so unfeigned that the world instantly sat up and took notice.

The headlines said it all: "Canadian Figure Skaters Robbed!"

As the media asked every trained observer at Salt Lake for their opinion, the consensus was positive that Sale and Pelletier had cleanly won the Gold.  Something was wrong here.

With so many suspicions raised, an investigation was initiated.  The world of figure skating hit an all-time low when a French judge admitted her role in a conspiracy with her Russian judge counterparts that had cheated Salé and Pelletier out of their gold medal. 

The saga that unraveled in the subsequent days was stunning.  The new developments suggested a vote-swapping deal between Russian and French officials.  This particular scandal read like a tale ripped from the pages of a pulp novel. It involved international intrigue and possible corruption. The controversy was ratcheted even higher when investigations pointed to a reputed Russian mobster at the heart of the scandal.

The deal was simple – if the French judge voted for their guys, the Russians would vote for her guys.

Figure skating is only a ‘sport’ by the loosest definition of the word because the judges have far too much say-so in the outcome.  Their sometimes strange conclusions make the results completely subjective and very much open to debate.  The purists contend that all sports should be as conclusive as possible.  For example, it is easy to see that one runner ran faster than the other and that Team A beat Team B, etc.

To have a sport where one competitor “impresses” the judges slightly more than the other person offers up very unsatisfying results.

That said, it seems to be human nature to want to know who the winners are, so judging seems to be the only answer. 

Figure skating and Russia have gone hand in hand as long as there have been Winter Olympics.  Russia takes great pride in its skating prowess.  The Russians had dominated the event of pairs figure skating for years.  Unfortunately, going into the 2002 Winter Games, the Russians knew the Canadian team was the heavy favorite.  The only way their guys would win would be through skullduggery.  So the backroom deal was made.

Unfortunately, the Canadian figure skating pairs team skated a flawless program.  Making things worse, the Russian pair made an obvious technical error during their program.

It looked for sure like the Russians would finally lose this event they had owned for years.

However, when the results were revealed, the Russians had won against all odds.  The judges from Russia, the People’s Republic of China, Poland, Ukraine, and France had placed the Russians first.

Judges from the United States, Canada, Germany, and Japan gave the event to the Canadians.

All eyes were on France.  France was the obvious odd ball in that first group.  

The French judge Marie Reine Le Gougne broke down immediately under questioning.  She claimed that the French skating federation had pressured her to vote for the Russians regardless of what actually happened.  A Russian mobster named Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov was blamed for masterminding the fix.

This tit for tat agreement would guarantee votes coming from the Russians for the French ice dancing competitors competing a few days later.

The IOC went ahead and upgraded the Canadians to a gold medal.  However, the Russians were allowed to keep their gold medal.  This was a very curious compromise given what had been discovered.  Shouldn’t the Russians be punished for their involvement in this scandal?

Alas, the whitewash was in.  This strange decision proved that cheaters do indeed win. 

The controversy rocked the public's confidence and led the sport to clean up its act. The International Skating Union developed a new judging system that seemed to be a definite improvement.

Nevertheless, whether it’s boxing, figure skating, gymnastics, or even a peculiar sport like synchronized swimming, as long as the human element is involved in the determining the outcome, there will always be controversy as well as the potential for cheating.

   


TONYA HARDING, THE UNDISPUTED GOLD MEDAL WINNER FOR OLYMPIC CHEATING

The story of Tonya Harding offers a disturbing peek into the darkest regions of the human soul.  It shows what can happen when someone who isn't wired together particularly well in the first place suffers too many close losses in a brief period of time. 

Just because a competitor has physical gifts doesn't guarantee they have the psychological make-up necessary to succeed at the highest levels of sport.  Learning to deal with the pain of losing is just as much a part of the game as learning how to win.

Not everyone has the strength to deal with the disappointment of a narrow loss after putting their heart and soul into the dream of winning. In the Olympics, for every winner, there isn't just one loser, there are often a dozen or so people who thought they had a legitimate chance of winning.  There are bound to be some who don't handle losing very well. They are tempted to do something unethical.

Like the others, Tonya Harding cheated because she wanted to win That much is clear.  Cheaters abound in all Olympic sports.   Where her story deviated from the norm was her decision to actually hurt a rival.  Until Harding came along, that was unheard of.

Only in football and perhaps hockey can I think of a sport where some people attempt to deliberately hurt their opponents.  But even in football, there is a code that at least limits the aggression to the playing field.  I might add the players wear helmets and pads.

Tonya Harding's willingness to sanction a “hit” on Nancy Kerrigan remains the single most egregious example of poor sportsmanship in sports history.  Not only had Kerrigan had done nothing to deserve such treatment, it never seemed to cross Harding’s mind that if the goon she hired made a bad mistake, any damage might ruin Kerrigan’s career permanently.  Given this risk to Kerrigan, Harding’s callousness was beyond reprehensible.

The crazy thing is, Tonya Harding had real talent.  She didn’t have to stoop this low.  Harding should have been able to beat her hated nemesis straight up.  After all, Harding was a former US figure skating champion and only the second woman to ever land a triple axel in competition.  The insiders said Harding had more natural ability than Nancy Kerrigan.  All Harding had to do was train more consistently and get her head together.

But once Harding decided to cripple her closest opponent by smashing her in the knee with a police baton, she crossed the line.  Poor Mistreated Tonya would never again be known her ability. 
 

1991 – Almost on Top of the World

Once upon a time, Tonya Harding had stood tall on the world platform.  In 1991 Harding became the US National figure skating champion.  She had beaten both Kristi Yamaguchi and Nancy Kerrigan to take first place.  Tonya Harding was officially America's best female figure skater.

Harding didn’t know it at the time, but that would be the high water mark.  From this point on, Harding began a slow descent that drove her over the edge with frustration.

The fall didn’t happen all at once.  In fact, Harding followed her US victory with a strong showing at the 1991 World Championships.  She finished in second place.

You would think she was happy.  After all, finishing one spot behind was her contemporary Nancy Kerrigan.  But Harding didn’t care about Kerrigan at that point

Tonya Harding was furious because she had narrowly missed becoming the World Champion.  Harding could not believe that Kristi Yamaguchi had passed her to win the World title.  How could Harding let Yamaguchi slip ahead of her to win the top prize?  For crying out loud, Harding had just beaten this woman one month earlier back in the USA! 

Harding had barely missed becoming the best skater in the world. It was that close. The anguish of losing to someone she should have beaten was almost more than Harding could bear.


1992 – A series of near misses

Harding slipped another notch in 1992.  It started with the 1992 US Nationals.  In this event, Kristi Yamaguchi replaced Harding as the US Champion.  Even more galling, Nancy Kerrigan finished second.  Harding had slipped all the way to third.  

Both rivals had passed her.  No matter. Harding was sure this was just an aberration.  She would beat both of them at the upcoming 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville.  No such luck.  It was a terrific showing for the Americans.  Not only did Kristi Yamaguchi win the women’s figure skating crown and Nancy Kerrigan took the Bronze Medal.  Midori Ito of Japan finished second.

So where was Harding?  Harding was beside herself with frustration.  Harding had been in front of Kerrigan for most of the competition only to see her rival edge her out for the Bronze on the final round.  Harding finished fourth.  She was forced to watch in the shadows as Yamaguchi and Kerrigan climbed the pedestals to receive their medals.  Harding could not believe that Kerrigan had just nosed her out for the final medal.  She was consumed with despair. 

First Yamaguchi had passed her.  Now Kerrigan had passed her.  This feeling was awful because Harding knew she was a better skater than Kerrigan.  Harding fumed with bitterness at narrowly missing winning an Olympic medal.  This anger became the prime source of her resentment towards the world in general and Kerrigan in particular.

The next humiliation came one month later.  In the 1992 World Figure Skating Championships, Yamaguchi reigned supreme again.   Nancy Kerrigan skated beautifully to capture Second place.  Harding slipped all the way to sixth place.  Now her confidence was really shaken.

1993 - Another Difficult Year

After Kristi Yamaguchi won all three major championships in 1992, she decided to go out on top and turn professional.  This left the field open for Kerrigan and Harding to fight it out for the top spot. 

This is when Harding began to obsess on Kerrigan.  She was worried because it seemed like she and Kerrigan were going in opposite directions.  Kerrigan had finished 2nd, 3rd, and 2nd in last year's major competitions.  Harding had finished 3rd, 4th, and 6th.  This was unacceptable.  Harding vowed that in 1993 she would catch Kerrigan and regain her spot as America's top figure skater.

Easier said than done.  Unfortunately, it was Nancy Kerrigan who won the 1993 US National Women’s Figure Skating Championship.  Harding finished fourth.  Not even close.  The harder she tried, the worse she did.  Harding was fit to be tied. 

To everyone's surprise, Kerrigan's run of strong finishes was broken when she slipped to 5th place in the 1993 World Championships.  Harding should have been able to take advantage, but Harding did not even appear.  In the middle of a divorce, Harding was a mess.  She had failed to even qualify for the Worlds team.  1993 had been no better than 1992.  In fact, 1993 was worse.

Harding began to fixate on the upcoming 1994 Winter Olympics.  This would be her last best chance at world glory.

1994

Up till now, the Winter and Summer Olympics had always been held in the same year. 

However, some marketing genius had come up with the clever idea to split the Winter and Summer Oympics two years apart.  Better for TV ratings!   Even though the Winter Olympics had just been held in 1992, now there was another Winter Olympics looming just around the corner in 1994.

The sports experts had placed Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding among the favorites to win the Gold Medal at the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Olympics.   Kerrigan was a slight favorite over Harding, but Harding was given a strong fighting chance. 

Unfortunately, behind the scenes, both women were consumed with worry. Harding’s confidence was shot. When Kerrigan had won the recent 1993 U.S. Championships, Harding began to despair of catching her. What Harding didn’t know was that Kerrigan was just as rattled as Harding was. Kerrigan’s 5th place finish at the Worlds had turned her into a basket case as well. This is a sport where nerves can destroy a year’s work with just one mistake.  

Harding knew her chances were shaky at best. She could not bear the thought of losing to Kerrigan again, especially not at the Olympics.  Overwhelmed with Gold Fever, Harding was desperate. 

The idea when you are the underdog is to outwork your opponent.  The problem was that Harding could see Kerrigan was training just as hard as she was.  What about Plan B?  What could Harding do to gain an edge? 

That’s when the idea came to Harding.  Why not cripple Kerrigan?   Why not rough her up enough so that Kerrigan couldn’t compete in the upcoming Olympics?   Tough break for Kerrigan, but she was younger.  Nancy would have other chances.  With Kerrigan out of the way, that would leave the field wide open for Harding.  Harding ran it past Jeff Gillooly, her slimy ex-husband.  Gillooly signed on.
 

Rivals

You could not have asked for two more different women than Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding. 

Harding was a raw athlete who came from the wrong side of the tracks. Harding had more natural ability, but far less training. Harding resented Kerrigan because she believed Kerrigan had gotten all the breaks in the life.  Harding believed if she had gotten the same kind coaching as Kerrigan, she would have been unbeatable.

Harding also knew she was plain.  She wasn’t happy about that either.  Kerrigan on the other hand was a stately, beautiful young woman.  When you put the two of them on ice together, all eyes naturally went to Kerrigan and Harding knew it.

Kerrigan was your archetypal disciplined hard worker who got the most out what talent she had.  She was a polished skater who was more ‘aristocrat’ than ‘athlete’.  What Kerrigan lacked in talent she made up for with poise and constant training. 

Despite her aura of sophistication, Nancy Kerrigan was no blue blood.  Kerrigan had earned every break she had ever gotten.  No one handed her anything.  Her parents were decidedly middle class folks who had dedicated themselves to their talented daughter’s career.  In this sense, Kerrigan clearly had a far better support system than Harding could ever dream of.

Unfortunately, Kerrigan had a fatal flaw of her own.  She often let her nerves get the best of her in key situations.  Kerrigan was just as worried about Harding beating her as Harding was about Kerrigan.  Kerrigan's solution was to train as hard as she could.

That should have been Harding's decision too.  However Tonya Harding simply wasn’t thinking straight.  Harding’s bad attitude had her mind way out of kilter.  She wanted to win at all costs.  Harding was a trailer park kid from a broken home.  She had a big chip on her shoulder.  Why was everyone out to get her?  It was time for her to catch a break.  Harding was hungry for glory.  She wanted fame and success to the point of desperation. 

These upcoming Olympics were her best chance at fame.  Now only one person – Kerrigan – stood in her way to become the most famous figure skater in the world. 

What is crazy about Harding’s thinking is that Kerrigan was certainly not her only threat for the Gold Medal.  One thing that people forget is that Kerrigan was hardly a shoo-in for the Gold Medal.   One year before, Oksana Baiul of the Ukraine, Surya Bonaly of France, Chen Lu of China, and Yuka Sato of Japan had all finished ahead of Kerrigan at the Worlds in 1993. 

No one has ever explained what good Harding believed it would serve to eliminate Kerrigan when those other four women were just as much threats to Harding in their own right.  Was she going to whack them too when the time came?

The U.S. National Figure Skating Championships were held in January of 1994.  The first two finishers would make the Olympic squad.  Kerrigan was the defending champion, but Harding was getting a lot of attention.  The competition was touted as a preview of the gold-medal battle at the Lillehammer Olympics one month later.

How could Tonya Harding beat her nemesis Nancy Kerrigan?

She and her ex-husband Jeff Gillooly decided the easiest thing to do would be to injure Kerrigan.  Only one problem… Gillooly was too easy to recognize.  Plus he needed an alibi.

Gillooly decided he needed a hitman.  Literally. He found a low-life buddy named Shane Stuart who was willing to do the job. 

On January 6, 1994, as Kerrigan left the ice after practice, Stuart came out of nowhere to club Kerrigan in the knee with a collapsible police baton.  As Kerrigan screamed in pain,  Stuart ran away and escaped.

Kerrigan collapsed and began to sob profusely.  The blow hurt terribly, but Kerrigan also cried because she thought her Olympic dream was over.  She wailed "Why, why, why?"

Incredibly, the entire incident was caught on camera.  Kerrigan could be seen falling down and grabbing her knee.  This dramatic video became a round-the-clock staple of nearly every news organization in the world for days after the attack. 

Listening to the young girl’s plaintive wail made the entire nation... make that the entire world... feel extreme sympathy.

Kerrigan's injury forced her to withdraw from the U.S. Championships.  However, the officials agreed that Kerrigan merited one of the spots on the Olympic team if she was able to recover.

Meanwhile, Harding’s plan paid off with immediate dividendsWith Kerrigan eliminated, Harding went on to win the 1994 US Nationals.  Tonya was back on top.  She would definitely be going to the Olympics. 

But what about Kerrigan?   Kerrigan’s life changed dramatically in the month during her recovery.  Amazingly, Kerrigan recovered quickly from her knee injury and resumed her intensive training.  The ordeal had seemingly snapped her back into the right frame of mind.  She practiced by doing complete back-to-back double run-throughs of her programs.  In so doing, Kerrigan magically regained much of her confidence in her ability to compete under pressure.

Physically Kerrigan wasn’t 100%, but everyone could see she was able to skate well enough to potentially medal.  The US Skating Association went ahead and gave the spot they were saving to Kerrigan.  Now Kerrigan was on the Olympic team as well. 

While Kerrigan's star was rising in the days leading up Lillehammer, Harding found herself in a heap of trouble.  Harding was in the middle of a criminal investigation into the attack on Kerrigan.

The plot had unraveled almost immediately.  On the same day as the attack, the police had received an anonymous tip that pointed them straight to Jeff Gillooly. 

This led to a bizarre situation.  Kerrigan was fully aware that Harding was behind her attack.  However, Kerrigan had no choice but to share the ice with the same woman who had tried to hurt her.  This scenario was incredibly stressful for both women, but the press loved it. 

The media covered Nancy Kerrigan non-stop.  Kerrigan had become the biggest star in the world. Thanks to the world-wide outpouring of sympathy, the fame Kerrigan had acquired from the attack led to further professional opportunities. 

It was reported that Nancy Kerrigan had signed contracts for $9.5 million before the Olympic competition had even begun.  Talk about turning lemons into lemonade!

Meanwhile, Harding became the most hated woman in the world. It was a sportswriter's dream when Tonya's trailer park world collided with the artsy aesthetics of figure skating and the classy Kerrigan.  “The Whack Heard Around The World," as it was known in the headlines, was the beginning of Harding's tabloid notoriety.

It was a sensational story.  For the next month, practically every day the sports section screamed with more putrid details about the attack.  Harding's behavior was truly disgusting.

In the build-up to Lillehammer, the Kerrigan-Harding rivalry was followed intently around the world.  One wag pointed out this was the best ongoing soap opera in Olympic history. 

Oddly enough, Harding seemed to revel in all the attention.  In a twisted way, the notoriety seemed to satisfy the woman's unhealthy thirst for stardom.

The US Olympic Committee tried to bar Harding from competition, but backed down when she threatened legal action.  Thanks in large part to threats from her excellent attorney, Harding was allowed to compete in Lillehammer.  

However, Harding’s bravura could only take her so far.  Understandably upset at the catcalls and the humiliation from being labeled the most hated woman in the word, Harding skated poorly and finished eighth.  Not that any of the judges felt the slightest bit sorry for her…

The good news was that Nancy Kerrigan recovered enough to at least win the silver medal behind the Ukraine’s gifted Oksana Baiul. 

Everyone had hoped Kerrigan would win, but Baiul was clearly better.  Oh well.  It was okay.  Win or lose, Nancy Kerrigan was America's newest princess.  She headed to Disneyland, made lots of money, soon became engaged, had babies and lived happily ever after.


On the other hand, o
nce the Olympics ended, Harding’s world came crashing down on her. She admitted in a plea bargain that she had been involved with ex-husband Jeff Gillooly in the scheme to injure Kerrigan right from the start. By coming clean, Harding was at least able to avoid jail time. Gillooly wasn’t so lucky. He got two years in prison.

Harding was subsequently stripped of her national title and banned from amateur skating.  Harding had lost the only thing she had ever cared about.  It was also the only thing she was good at.  Harding began a rapid descent into the abyss.  Barred from skating, she had nothing else with which to support herself other than her bad reputation.  At this point, Harding reverted to the Trailer Park lifestyle.  She turned into a complete hillbilly.  Never a pretty girl to begin with, Harding gained a great deal weight and wore a perpetual frown.  She competed in female boxing and went on some wild drinking sprees.  To make things worse, she released a sex tape that was so bad it was rumored to cause blindness.

In this bizarre tale of two women, it is illuminating to see how badly Harding’s plan backfired on her.   What a bunch of misfits!  Not only did the incompetent hitman fail to inflict any serious injury on Kerrigan, someone in her camp turned her in to the cops almost immediately.

Maybe it really is true that cheaters never win, but certainly not cheaters as pathetic as Tonya Harding.  Without a doubt, her final epitaph will point out that Harding is the all-time icon for poor sportsmanship.  What a thing to be remembered for.

   

The Brighter Side of the Olympics

For all the horrible stories I have listed, please remember that the Olympics can also be incredibly inspiring.

My favorite Olympic sports stories are about people like Jesse Jones, a black man who shattered Hitler’s myth of Aryan supremacy at the 1936 Berlin Games by winning the 100 meters. 

Another great story was watching little Kerri Strug with her badly-swollen sprained ankle nail a vault to give the Americans a razor-thin victory over the Russians in 1996 Atlanta.  Such courage to overcome certain pain and still perform!!

   

Abebe Bikila

However my favorite Olympic story is about an unknown runner from Ethiopia named Abebe Bikila.  Bikila was a last-minute replacement in the marathon for an injured teammate in the 1960 Rome Olympics.

Bikila had absolutely no presence on the world stage.  No one had ever heard of this guy before.  In the days leading up to the race, out of nowhere a rumor emerged that Bikila's unofficial personal best for the marathon was even better than the world record.  However this was widely dismissed as impossible blather.  How ridiculous!   Who were these Africans trying to fool?

The rumor turned out to be true.  Bikila would win the race, shatter the Olympic record and set a new world best.  However, what Bikila is most famous for is getting up on the podium without shoes.  That’s when everyone in the stadium realized that Bikila had run the entire 26 miles barefooted on the burning hot, frequently rutted concrete.  He had done this because his delegation was too poor to find him proper equipment.

The entire world was incredulous.  How on earth did this man set a world record for running a 26 mile race barefooted?  The pain must have been unbearable!

Bikila’s victory was the first hint of things to come. It marked the rise and future dominance of East African middle- and long-distance runners. 

However, what I liked bestwas the powerful symbolism.  This was a huge upset victory for the little guy against tyranny and prejudice. 

Bikila’s victory came in Italy, the land that had cruelly oppressed the Ethiopian people for centuries.  Back home, Bikila became an instant national hero.  He had embarrassed the Italians in much the same way that Jesse Owens had embarrassed Hitler and the German 'supermen'.

Even more interesting, Bikila’s victory came in the presence of the all-white South African team back in the days of apartheid.  What do you suppose went through their bigoted, hate-filled minds as they watched the first black African to ever win a gold medal in Olympic history cross the finish line? 

In world-record time no less!  And barefoot too...

Bikila’s victory came against the vastly better funded and better-equipped Soviet, U.S. and European athletes.  He beat the greatest sports machines on the planet all by himself.  No coaches, no equipment, no special diet, and certainly no scientific training regimen.  It was just Bikila against the world.

Bikila’s victory was a victory not just for Ethiopia, but the entire world.  Bikila reminded us why we watch the Olympics – to see what the human heart and mind can accomplish when given the chance, to see how an underdog can still succeed against all odds.

This has been a story about cheating and poor sportsmanship.  It is very sad when you can’t trust your sports heroes.  After all, sports heroes are supposed to be gifted people who we can admire and draw inspiration from.  A hero is supposed to be an athlete who climbs to the top thanks to hard work, courage and ability, not because they have the best drug doctors helping them gain that precious edge.

If you get a chance to watch the next Olympics, maybe someone like Abebe Bikila will step forward to inspire us all.  I certainly hope so.  It would be nice to see the biggest story at the London Olympics is not about a cheater, a scandal or a terrorist, but rather about an actual hero.

Thank you for reading.

Rick Archer
July 2012
rick@ssqq.com

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