Time to make a tactical withdrawal. For the past month I’ve been struggling to finish off some of my unfinished doping articles before dropping the entire sordid venue and resuming my blog’s original purpose – to be an informal training log for my own, ineffectual swimming. Several times I sat down and spent an hour or so trying to make head way – all to no avail. It was like doing breathing drills for an entire practice. So I’m killing my final Dara Torres piece as well as the article on WADA. In order to salvage something from my efforts, however, I'm going to keep my ethics post around for the day when I can stomach polishing and refining the arguments presented by proponents for legalized doping.
My dedication to pursue the subject was also hobbled by some recent revelations. The Jessica Hardy incident, where a swimmer tested positive at her Olympic Trials for a banned substance, hit me hard. Not that she cheated – I mostly concur with the speculation she ingested the clenbuterol as the result of a tainted supplement – but the fact by miscalculating the timing of their doping test results her federation missed the deadline for naming replacements and deserving individuals were denied their chance to participate in this year's Olympics. Executive Director Chuck Wielgus should have done the proper thing and fallen on his sword. Resignation is the only appropriate response for such a massive failure of office. But, alas, accepting responsibility is not something we see anymore.
Then there is the horrible Nick Fahey, current President of WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency). Late last year former French sports minister Jean-Francois Lamour was slotted to replace what must be considered the disappointing oversight of Canadian Dick Pound. The well respected Lamour was reported to be planning implementation of a much more intensive out-of-competition program with less random, more targeted testing when he took over the reins; that is until the United States weighed in and had Fahey appointed instead. No doubt USADA wanted more control over the anti-drug agency after the numerous doping scandals it had recently undergone. Fahey, a former Australian politician, more than adequately demonstrated his incompetence for the post when in his first public statement as head of WADA he made the completely fraudulent claim the Agency was responsible for Marion Jones’ confession. Another unfathomable, counter-intuitive appointment by the Bush/Cheney Administration. This past month he once again put his foot in his mouth when he falsely announced Ricardo Ricco had been caught using a third generation EPO due to the addition of a molecular tag. His statement was later retracted by a WADA spokesman who was reduced to saying that “his words may have been misinterpreted”. No, he just didn’t know what he was talking about. Worse, in a telling recent interview, Fahey came out during this year's Tour de France and stated, “Unless cycling changed how it dealt with the problem, "they are in real trouble" and "they have recognized this … but we haven't reached the point where we can give them the stamp of approval” Apparently he feels aggressively going after the cheats and prosecuting them is the wrong way to go. Thankfully the French Cycling Federation (FFC) has decided to tackle the problem head on, warts and all, in a desperate effort to clean up their sport. I applaud their efforts and indeed this year’s Tour was the closest and most competitive in years. In a similar fashion the International Association of Athletics Federation has just recently taken the extraordinary action of ordering additional tests because of suspicious circumstances and caught virtually the entire Russian women’s middle distance team substituting urine samples. Yes, another painful black eye for the sport. But a necessary and unavoidable step I think towards deterring doping in sport. Nick Fahey, one of those despicable career politicians, would disagree. To him all these positive test results are a public relations disaster better to have been swept under the rug, never to see the light of day. The idea of actually going out and looking for cheats must strike him as organizational suicide.
So that’s it for my foray into performance enhancing doping. But wait ... one last parting shot. After posting several times about the impossibility of Dara Torres not being guilty of doping I have to admit I was depressed at how often the same, disproved arguments continued to be raised in her defense, along with the idea we must assume she isn’t doping without a positive test result in hand. Most of her supporters of course are ignorant about swimming and of elite athletes in general and could be easily discounted – but from the key group I most wanted to hear from, the elite swimmers and coaches themselves, only silence was heard. I could and did explain their reluctance to speak out in terms of their desire to protect the sport, the fear of losing sponsors, and of basic good sportsmanship; but my assertions that I was saying the very same things they were surely saying amongst themselves did place me in a rather uncomfortable position. Facts and logic only go so far.
It was with some relief I could finally see some cracks in that wall of silence when I wrote “Asking All the Wrong Questions”. As time goes on more carefully worded expressions of disavowal have appeared in the community. In a Southern Cal Aquatics Swim Club blog post Janet Evans is quoted saying, “Although I do not consider her the favorite to win this race, we can never count out Torres and her incredible will to win, especially because this race could represent the first and only individual gold medal of her Olympic career.” No one could find fault with that last statement could they? Certainly not.
On Gary Hall Jr.’s Race Club Message Board the man himself (who while very outspoken on the subject of doping in sports and swimming in particular was, until now, very careful never to come out and say anything directly about Dara Torres himself) quotes Mark Spitz as saying, “"I am a big advocate of the way the IOC does its drug testing," he said. "They have a list. If you take something on that list, you get caught. If you don't take anything on that list, you won't get caught. There's just no other way to look at it." So Torres? "She's obviously drug free of what they test for," Spitz said. Ouch! Read Hall's post further and you'll discover after retiring from swimming he's become a lot more forthright about his thoughts on Torres.
At least I go away from this smiling.