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Season of David - Part XXI
By:  David Zylberberg   (2003/09/16)


The following "The Season of David" article is part of a weekly series by the "infamous" David Zylberberg, one of the original members of XC Ottawa. He is the writer of numerous amusing and sometimes controversial articles which have been the subject of much discussion within the Canadian cross-country racing community over the last 8 months. Hopefully, it will be the source of much entertainment while you are putting off work,school, or chores. David's articles will be candid and will not be censored by the editors of XC Ottawa. (At least not usually) Please address your comments and questions directly to David.

International Cross Country Skiing has been plagued for a number of years by top competitors doping and the fallout. I thought I would give some thoughts on the topic in the hopes of having people think about it in a slightly different perspective.

First of all, I should explain why I have a problem with doping. The human body consists of a fine balance of many chemicals in order to perform many functions effectively. This balance is the result of evolution and is an effective one for human life. It can be modified by activity (ie training) but this modification still involves the body deciding how to respond to a stress and the time required for modifications allows for side effects to be observed when they exist. Doping generally consists in injecting hormones or hormone simulators into the body in order to produce a change. This is highly dangerous and can very easily lead to an imbalance inside the body, thereby impeding many other functions.

I also have a problem with doping because it takes away from the nature and purpose of sport. Sport in its purest form consists in finding out whose body can better perform a certain task (in our case, covering a set course faster). Training is part of this and helps to improve the body in order to improve performance. It also involves trying to compete within the limitations of the human body. Doping, by unnaturally altering hormone balances or allowing for extremely rapid recovery takes away from the essence of sport. I sometimes come to view those who dope as being so driven to succeed that they have destroyed any reason to seek what they are after. What is doping? I would like to define it as the use of chemicals in order to unnaturally improve performance. Training and even different training methods and machines must be considered acceptable. Food and vitamins are acceptable because these are things the human body naturally needs and gets from eating, even if the food is in slightly different forms. This leaves the injection of hormones as clearly unacceptable. Many people also consider altitude houses unacceptable since they create an artificial environment. These are the major things that occur in the doping debate.

It also seems disturbing to have national federations covering up positive drug tests and the whole thing being decided in the courts. Limits and testing protocols should be created in such a manner that they do not create false positives. I can understand how concerns over incorrect testing may need appeals but we do not need courts hearing excuses for how people hit an unnatural value in a clean manner. The covering up of tests also suggest that in many places reputation is more important than ethics.

I have often heard it said that the World Cup is cleaner now than it was 5 years ago. This is a sign that the increased enforcement of WADA is working as a deterrent. As any athlete knows, consistency is the hardest thing in sport. One can train hard and devise a program to ski fast once or for a week without the most difficulty. To try to ski fast every week for 4 months is a lot more difficult. Also, a lot of the drugs that were taken were used to promote recovery. Recover better between races and you to race more consistently. Recover better between workouts and the body can tolerate more training, allowing greater results. Last year, the men's World Cup was the least consistent it has ever been; 19 different men won races. Nobody was winning races every month. Different skiers were in the top ten every race. This is a sign that the sport is cleaning up because no one could maintain the consistency that doping allowed in the 1990's.

It seems that every time someone fails a test, they are seen as the devil incarnate and cursed by all. This has a number of problems. First of all it creates an us and them mentality, in which one group claims superiority over another. It leads to a certain moralizing effect within one group that is not good. After the positive tests in 2001 and 2002, it seemed that Canadian skiing was talking about a certain perceived superiority because none of our skiers failed tests. This sort of moralizing is dangerous and makes us think less of Europe, despite its having many clean and fast skiers.

I also would like to come out in favour of the idea of two year suspensions for positive tests. There is a lot of talk about how this is unfair and they will merely come back stronger. These people made a mistake. They wanted to win so badly that they injected chemicals to train harder and to improve physiological properties. They wanted to train so hard and succeed so much that they took enormous health risks. It ends up being kind of sad really. The two year suspension is intended to make them regret their actions and act as a deterrent. This seems like a reasonable idea and one that is well-served by a two-year suspension for serious offences. There is no reason why these people should not be allowed to compete cleanly after their suspension is over. They are still very determined and skilled athletes when clean and should be given the opportunity to compete properly. I hope the Finns have returned clean and that they Mika Myllylae can repeat some of his memorable performances without the aid of drugs.

I also thought I should mention that this whole fight in the Court of Arbitration for Sport over Beckie Scott=s medal seems like one of the worst things to happen to Canadian skiing. It is creating a huge legal mess that is funnelling a lot of money from many countries into skilled lawyers to try to enforce rules that seem straightforward. Ski races should be determined on the snow and not in the courts. It is an ugly precedent and one in which the results of future races will seem uncertain and unreliable. It is also generating a lot of publicity. As a result, it is tarnishing the reputation of our great sport. It is also detracting funds from efforts to improve Canadian skiing. Beckie is a great skier who skied to an impressive bronze medal, behind two skiers who appear to have been cheating. Their not accepting responsibility for doping and the need for all those Olympic results to be determined in Court is not good for anybody. These are some thoughts that I hope are productive and worth considering.

Interesting Reading. . .
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