Doping in sports is not a new topic. It seems to occur in almost every sport, from America’s pastime to curling. We’ve heard for years about how Olympic sprinters got caught (Marion Jones, anyone?), or how the old East German weighlifters were on steroids. Even Rocky had to go against the odds.
Almost not a day goes by without some new article being written about Lance Armstrong and the claims that he engaged in the darker side of sports. Just this week, news came out that Lance and his newest nemesis Tyler Hamilton had a row at an Aspen restaurant. This article isn’t about Lance. If you want to read my thoughts about Lance, click here.
I’ve often wondered what doping does to an athlete. Now, I know that there’s a veritable cornucopia of ways one can dope. There’s old school testosterone. There’s EPO. There’s clenbuterol. Probably lots of other things too. I also know that steroids help build muscle. They make you stronger. Make you faster. But, I’ve often wondered what impact doping would have on an endurance athlete like a cyclist – or for that matter, a triathlete. Would a triathlete on the cheat swim like Phelps, cycle like…um…Armstrong, run like an Ethiopian?
I can honestly say I’ve never wanted to take drugs myself. I mean – I wouldn’t even know where to look for them if I wanted to. What, do you just roll up to some guy on a street corner and ask if he’s got some testosterone? Seems like a sure-fire way to get shot. Or car-jacked.
Luckily for me, I won’t have to ever take a drug to learn about how it helps an endurance athlete. Andrew Tilin, a writer for Outside Magazine, and cyclist, did the dirty work for me. As part of his research for an article on doping, he actually took testosterone for a year. He used himself as a test subject so he could write about it.
In his article, Tilin describes how testosterone gave him the ability to ride harder and longer. Recovery became a fast-track exercise for him. He had more of a “killer” attitude while racing. He found a second wind. In short, he writes about how he became a better rider because he was doping. Tilin also writes that even with the steroids, he wasn’t an elite rider. Sure, he got better, but where he started was not the same place as others start from.
The article is an interesting read. I don’t condone what Tilin did; I don’t want to string him up for it, either. So long as there’s a stigma (and laws) about doping, it is unlikely that someone would come forward and volunteer to be interviewed about the impact of doping on their abilities. In short, it was interesting journalism.
Still, I wonder. I wonder if (actually, more like how many) triathletes dope. How many age groupers that I race against are taking testosterone. Would I finish higher up in a race were it not for cheaters? I suspect that they are there…somewhere. I’m not naive enough to think that they aren’t.
What do you think?