Doping Isn’t Dope

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Doping Isn’t Dope

Adam Sachs, Staff Writer

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Most track and field athletes who compete at an international and Olympic level dedicate a large chunk of their lives preparing themselves for competition. They eat, sleep, and breathe running. Their lives are dominated by their training plan, and their weeks of high-mileage, intense workouts, and complete dedication sometimes pay off in the form of an Olympic medal. However, in some cases, athletes are snubbed of their rightful achievement when other athletes have an artificial chemical advantage over them: doping.

According to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), there is a “zero-tolerance policy” for doping in the Olympic community. But even under this policy, doping continues. Therefore, the governing bodies of track and field, including USA Track and Field (USATF), the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), and the IOC should implement more lifetime bans for future athletes who are convicted of doping violations of any kind.

It is widely known in the athletic community that doping was pervasive throughout the late 20th century. However, the scandalous and widespread use of performance-enhancing drugs in track and field was not widely reported in the media until the 1988 summer Olympics in Seoul, when Canadian 100m dash champion Ben Johnson was found to have used stanozolol, a performance-enhancing drug. He was stripped of his gold medal, and as a result, second-place finisher American sprinter Carl Lewis was declared the winner. It made front page headlines in every newspaper, and some people called this the “biggest sports scandal ever.”

Although considerable improvements have been made to hold athletes accountable since the days of Ben Johnson, doping is still prevalent and extensive in track and field. When the 3-time Boston Marathon Champion, Rita Jeptoo, was discovered to have taken EPO, a red blood cell boosting agent, she was stripped of her wins and was slammed with a four-year ban from the sport. In 2016, the entire Russian track and field team was banned from competition in the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro because of a state-sponsored doping program. In 2017, American sprinter Justin Gatlin won the 100m dash at the IAAF World Championships in London, defeating 2017 NCAA 100m champion Christian Coleman and world record-holder Usain Bolt. However, stadium attendees booed Gatlin after his victory, presumably because he has served multiple temporary doping bans in his extensive career.

The achievements of some American runners are often disregarded and undermined in the running community because of suspected doping violations. For instance, when Olympic silver medalist Galen Rupp won the 2017 Chicago Marathon, fellow American marathoner and 2017 New York Marathon Champion Shalane Flanagan acknowledged that the training group that Rupp is a part of has been under doping investigation for two years. She said, “As a fan of my own sport, it’s hard…to truly and genuinely get excited about the performances that I’m watching.”

While it’s clear that doping penalties need to be increased, some people have criticized WADA and its procedures, punishments, and temporary bans for doping for being too severe. For example, Justin Gatlin’s first (of two) doping bans was given in 2001 for two years due to the discovery of trace levels of amphetamines in his system. Gatlin has taken Adderall (of which amphetamines are a key component) since age 7 due to an ADD diagnosis. Gatlin also served a four-year ban in 2006 for steroid use. He likely lost millions of dollars in prize money and earnings and missed out on critical competition opportunities during the peak of his fitness. Critics argue that the implications of the bans in track and field are much more serious than those given for doping violators in the NBA, NFL, or MLB, in which athletes convicted of doping violations may only miss a few games or one season.

The sport of track and field is fundamentally different from basketball, baseball, or football. In track, races are won by those who are simply more athletic than other competitors—there’s no shot clock, referee calls, tackling, or strikeouts.

Therefore, doping violators in track and field should not only serve more stringent sentences for doping violations than athletes in other professional sports, runners who violate the IOC’s or WADA’s doping rules should be given lifetime bans from the sport. In almost every case, the athlete is knowingly and willingly taking banned substances, and his or her voluntary disregard of these rules is deceitful and dishonest.

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