Justin Gatlin
"Two words can be used to instil a sense of horror and realisation." Any guesses?

Drugs are everywhere, and that’s why there is no excuse (guest post)

Introducing today’s guest blogger

Today’s guest post comes from an author who has asked to remain anonymous.

A former international competitor in a throwing discipline, they got in touch last month with a desire to discuss how some athletes have far stronger views on drugs than others.

In the below essay, our guest author argues that British-based athletes below elite level often display a cavalier attitude toward drugs and doping, one which needs to be addressed in order to safeguard the future of sports like track and field.

If you’d like to contribute a guest post of your own, on any topic related to Olympic sports, you can find out more here. (OW)

By an anonymous author

There has been a recent spate of athlete blogs about drugs.

I attempted to write one about a year ago, when I first read Andrew Steele’s Frontier Sports guest blog – the one entitled, I’m an elite athlete. Why did nobody offer me drugs?.

I deleted it. I was sure people didn’t want to hear what I had to say.

Now, I think things are starting to be talked about more openly, and athletes are finding their voices.

Javelin thrower James Campbell is known in social media circles for his often bitter disposition, coupled with a dry sense of humour. His blog – Who gets annoyed by drug cheats the most? – made me put pen (fingers) to paper (keyboard) once again.

Here, I present my initial attempt to shock you.

I have heard people competing in drug-tested sports openly talk about their drug usage.

I have witnessed pedal bins in gyms (including elite training facilities) overflowing with the packaging of illegal substances, and I have competed alongside athletes who are, themselves, in an openly declared relationship with recreational drugs.

Why haven’t I had the same experiences as Andrew Steele?

I would place drugs and their usage into three broad categories:

  • SIEDs – steroids and image-enhancing drugs
  • MAPDs – mind-altering and psychoactive drugs
  • BMTs – blood and masking techniques

We must also categorise the sort of person that would consider using each, and discuss their availability.

Any athlete or PE GCSE student will be able to tell you about the energy systems. I am just going to use the basic terminology: anaerobic and aerobic.

An aerobic athlete would benefit mainly from the third category, BMTs. They require a highly structured and systematic regime, with implementation involving a laboratorial presence to ensure perfect dosages and timings.

It is at this point I feel it necessary to mention the word ‘cycling’ – no, that’s not a drug use pun, but a reference to the sport – so we can all nod our heads and move on.

An anaerobic athlete would benefit mainly from SIEDs, due to increased strength and musculature, decreased recovery time and… better beards.

Here, there have also been attempts at systematic application. I bring to your attention the appalling state of affairs that was the East German doping scandal of State Plan 14.25. Better beards, in that case, were not confined to the males.

MAPDs include stimulants and eugeroics, or “wakefulness-promoting agents”. These could be advantageous to most athletes, whichever the energy system, as they target the central nervous system. I invite you to imagine that morning cup of elixir coffee but 10 orders of magnitude greater. You didn’t know you were taking it, did you, Asafa?

Of the three categories of drugs, the last two have something in common that differs from BMTs, and here lies the explanation as to why Andrew Steele was never offered that magic pill: they are used by non-athletes.

Who doesn’t dream of possessing that rippling beach body, or experiencing a day so productive that you actually manage to find the time to organise your inbox, and set a filter that diverts to ‘Spam’ the penis-enlargement emails LaShawn Merritt has accidentally forwarded you?

People all around you, whether you notice it or not, are using these sorts of drugs and their availability is high.

Maybe you can see the picture I am attempting to paint here. If you’ve been to a nightclub, you will have been associating with people using stimulants. If you have been to a commercial gym, you will have been training alongside people using steroids.

Many don’t follow the suggested protocol, carry on eating pop tarts for breakfast, and never obtain the desired aesthetics. They aren’t prepared to put the effort in, so you probably can’t tell of their involvement in the shady underground world of unregulated substances.

But I can assure you there are more of them than you’re aware of as, let’s be honest, it’s likely that whatever they are taking was manufactured in a bath tub in someone’s shed.

A young gentleman explained a catalogue of substances he had been taking to me recently, and genuinely thought that they still constituted competing in a ‘natural’ bodybuilding show.

His acquaintance had told him, upon the sale, that they were so mild they wouldn’t show up in any test. I assured him this was not the case.

The BNBF (British Natural Bodybuilding Federation) stipulates that if one has, in the past, dabbled in the use of performance enhancing drugs, you may not compete for a period of seven years.

Does this awfully precise duration imply anything about the longevity of the benefits gained from substance use?

I would hazard a guess that in a sport where the gap between natural and professional level is so great – specifically due to the lack of regulation within the latter – they know what they are talking about.

Besides, a former European bodybuilding champion takes pleasure in informing me that, thirty years down the line, he still has more muscle mass than he was ever able to achieve before using SIEDs.

So, Tyson Gay, how are you getting on after your one-year ban, not having missed a single full athletics summer season?

The problem I am attempting to highlight is at the sub-elite level, where performance is not the absolute focus of one’s life.

There are myriad excuses thrown about as to why it’s acceptable at this lower level. It’s not, and it shouldn’t be, and we should make more effort to stamp this out. There needs to be harsher regulation of illegal substances.

I should clarify at this point that I firmly believe, in general, top athletes in the UK are clean.

They have no reason not to be. The education is there. The stigma attached to cheating is there. We all know what is and isn’t allowed to be found in our provided samples, and we all have eyes capable of making a comparison between the WADA banned substance list and supplement containers.

We are told countless times how the labels aren’t always accurate, but we also have decision-making skills capable of identifying the level of risk we are putting ourselves at by consuming any supplement, or indeed food. This information is hammered into athletes from a young age, both from organisations such as UKAD and the media.

I have competed internationally as an athlete, and I have been beaten by drug cheats in competition. At the point I started taking my sport seriously, I also decided to take it upon myself to do the research you would expect – in order to ensure these spurious scenarios did not happen to me.

In my opinion, athletes like Dwain Chambers should have never been allowed to return to the track competitively, no matter how much they try to make amends post-ban. That much at least should be expected of them, and more ostracism should follow if it were not the case. His florid cocktail of drugs was no mistake.

I would like to add that athletes like Christine Ohuruogu (400m), who missed three out-of-competition tests; Mark Lewis Francis (100m) who was found to have cannabis in his system; and Lisa Kehler (Racewalk), who didn’t declare her medication and apply for a TUE (therapeutic use exemption), should rightly have an asterisk against their respective names – noting that they have committed an anti-doping violation.

That is exactly what it is: an anti-doping violation, whatever the circumstances. If I were to inadvertently test positive for a banned substance, I like to think that I would not present an excuse, nor retrospectively blame the procedure (see Veronica Campbell-Brown); the only course of action I would take would be to campaign for my own ban to be lengthened to a lifetime.

That is what I wish to see in the sport of athletics. If you fail a test, that’s your turn over. If you get caught with your hand in the till, that’s your employment over.

The educational attempts by UKAD are commendable, and probably as much as they are able to do given their budgetary constraints. But it is the overlap at sub-elite, where performance is not the ultimate goal, that we need to focus our efforts.

The only option is to tackle our absolute stance on drugs. It baffles me that there aren’t legal punishments for those who have engaged in these deplorable activities.

I hope more athletes start to stand up and use their voices soon, before the sport falls into a state of disrepair. There are two words that can be used to instil a sense of horror and realisation that this may have already begun.

Justin Gatlin.