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Op-ed: What to do about Age-Group Dopers?

Posted Oct 27 2008 12:32am

Doping We conservatively estimate that about 1 percent of age-group athletes in America who compete in triathlons use Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs), and perhaps as high at 10 percent of age-group athletes who qualify and complete at the Ironman World Championships are dopers.

We have no hard evidence to support these assumptions, but we say prove us wrong.

You can't.

And neither can the officials at USAT, or the officials at the World Triathlon Corporation (WTC) who run the Ironman World Championships in Kona.

Why?

Because nobody tests age-group triathletes for PEDs.

We asked Skip Gilbert executive director of USA Triathlon, "from a USAT sanctioning perspective, what is currently preventing any age-group athlete from racing dirty?"

His reply was short and to the point:

"USAT does have rules specific to doping and they can be found in Article VIII of our Competitive Rules:

http://assets.teamusa.org/assets/documents/attached_file/filename/410/usatcrandp

However, with no specific enforcement action in place to detect use by age-group athletes, the only remedy we have at this point is peer pressure and the hopes that our athletes will do the right thing. We are currently exploring our options for 2009 and should have our plans ready to go within the next 6-8 weeks."

In case you are wondering Article VIII in part states:

"USA Triathlon condemns the use of substances or methods on the International Triathlon Union (ITU)
list of classes of prohibited substances and methods. Additionally, USA Triathlon condemns the use of substances or methods aimed at artificially enhancing athletic performance."

We asked this same question (twice) of the folks at the WTC.

No one replied to our repeated questions so we don't know what their future plans for testing (or not testing) age-group athletes in Kona might be.

Which we find curious because it is at the Ironman World Championships that most allegations and suspicions of age-group doping find fertile ground.

Is it really that hard to believe that an age-group triathlete who spends $200.00 on an areo helmet, $2000.00 on a set of Zipp wheels, $10,000.00 on the newest and greatest TT bike, would spend a couple hundred dollars per month on either steroids, EPO or human growth hormone?

Because that's about how much these drugs cost for a monthly dose that can shave not seconds, not minutes, but hours from an athletes total Ironman time.

It seems like a wise investment to us for a triathlete who has no fear of being caught...because currently no officials or governing body has figured out a way to test age-group triathletes.

The obvious answer is to test age-group triathletes for the same drugs used so effectively by unscrupulous professionals to improve their race times. We need not look any further than to the recent spade of professional cyclist caught using (CERA)a new form of EPO. The recently reported price the sport of cycling has paid to date includes:

  • UCI president Pat McQuaid has come out against the retesting of stored urine and blood samples to check for CERA, the new form of EPO. In the Irishman's view, testing samples from 2007 and earlier is "futile, it's expensive and it's not going to serve the purpose in the anti-doping fight of today. If we're going to start rejigging the podium of every major international race over the past two or three years by finding new tests for new products . . . it makes a complete mockery of sport."
  • Two major German networks will not televise the 2009 Tour de France. ARD and ZDF blamed doping by several top riders this year. "The regard for the Tour de France has considerably decreased," said one official while pulling the plug last Thursday.
  • "Black Thursday" got worse for German road cycling fans when the 2009 Tour of Germany was canceled. Organizers cited the loss of a major sponsor, doping by Germany-based Team Gerolsteiner riders, and the decision by national networks not to televise their country's biggest race or the Tour.
  • Also in jeopardy is Germany's last remaining ProTour team, Milram. "We need to reassess the value of our sponsorship," said a team sponsor's statement, concerned about the loss of TV exposure. "Some incorrigible persons succeeded in enforcing a cutback of the media coverage. Million of cycling fans will have to suffer from this."

These are all great reasons for both the USAT and the WTC to look the other way when it comes to age-group doping.

But we believe the real reason that we won't see age-group drug testing anytime in the near future is because of what Gilbert said in a Slowtwich interview last year.

Skip He stated:

"So the bigger issue here is if our members, who compete in a sport which is clearly a recreational activity, are ready to be held to the same high standards, restrictions and repercussions that govern our pros. As a pro, you run the risk of testing positive, guilty or not, and having to face the repercussions that will come with that positive test. If we as the national governing body do not feel that our age-group athletes are ready and able to handle a negative test and would likely use whatever legal means they have at their disposal to save their reputation at the expense of the sport, then perhaps the time truly is not here to test amateur athletes."

In other words, we (the age-group athletes) are not ready (or perhaps not willing) to be tested and to deal with the results of being found to have used some sort of drugs.

Image what would happen if your drug test came back positive for a variant of a steroid used in your allergy medications or food supplement.

Do you even know all of the classes (and kinds of drugs) that must be avoided by the pros?

We don't, and we don't want to know.

Racing is not our job, and we don't want it to be our job. We race for the fun, love, and the enjoyment of the sport...and yes, yes, yes it completely stinks that some age-groupers in our sport are dopers. And yes, some in our sport will do anything to qualify for the World Championships in Kona. And yes, some age-groupers once they get to Kona use drugs to get on the podium.

This is completely wrong and unfair, but we are unwilling to pay the price for their sins.

A pox on their medals. May they not sleep at night from all the stings of their steroid-filled needles. But we are not professionals, the vast majority of us are clean age-group triathletes.

And if, and when, we get on the podium we know that we did it clean. And that's what matters most to us.

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