Archive for Thursday, August 2, 2007

Olympics Museum sheds light on ‘roids

August 2, 2007

Editor's note: This column is adapted from notes taken during Current sports reporter Chris Wristen's recent vacation to Switzerland.

Two weeks have passed since I arrived back in the United States from a two-week vacation in Switzerland, and there were many aspects of the trip that could easily be described as "refreshing."

- Meeting world travelers from other countries and engaging in thought-provoking discussions.

- Listening to beautiful women speak in languages I don't understand, and assuming they're talking about me.

- Savoring the tranquility and solitude that come with staying in an automobile-free mountain village.

- Drinking chemical-free water straight from the streams.

- Gazing at snow-capped mountain peaks jutting into the baby blue sky.

Of all these things, however, the most refreshing part of the trip may have been the bit of honesty portrayed in a second-floor exhibit at the Olympics Museum in Lausanne. In a section titled "Athletes and Sport," the museum dedicated a portion of its display to the subject of performance enhancing drugs at the Olympics. In addition to addressing the negative impact that drug use has on sports, the exhibit listed the number of athletes busted for using performance enhancers at each Olympic Games since 1966.

Many of us remember when former Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson was stripped of his world record and gold medal and received a two-year suspension for his positive steroids test at the 1988 Olympics. That incident was mentioned, but more glaring was the number 24. That's how many athletes were suspended at the Athens Olympics in 2004 because of drug-related violations.

The Olympics Museum certainly isn't proud that drug use is prevalent in a number of its events, nor is it proud that the problem only seems to be getting worse. At the same time, the museum isn't running away from the problem. It isn't trying to hide. Performance enhancing drugs have become a major part of our sports culture, and I give the museum credit for acknowledging that fact.

It is rare to find such honesty about that subject within the sports world. I returned home to headlines about more doping busts at the Tour de France. Then there was professional golfer Gary Player's allegations at the British Open that steroids are being used on the PGA circuit a claim that other golfers - not surprisingly - denied.

And of course there was Barry Bonds.

Sports headlines still are littered with his name, just like when I left. That's because, of course, he is inching ever closer to surpassing Hank Aaron's career record of 755 homers. As of the paper's deadline time, Bonds still trailed Aaron by one, but Bonds' quest to become Major League Baseball's all-time home runs leader has been downright laughable thanks to the ever-growing mountain of evidence that Bonds used steroids.

The most aggravating thing about Bonds' pursuit of Aaron's record is that I'm not even that mad at Bonds. Sure, I root against him because I believe he's dishonest - I'll still consider Aaron the home run king in the same way that I still consider Roger Maris the holder of the single-season home run record instead of Bonds, Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa - but my greater disdain now is for Major League Baseball itself.

MLB has begun a half-hearted investigation into steroid use in the league after turning a blind eye to the problem for 20 years. The league was in denial, and in many ways it still is. Professional golf is in denial, too. Sure, 'roids might not help you putt better, but they'll surely help your back recover quicker after three or four days of playing. All golfers will tell you that counts for something.

The National Football League has addressed the problem more seriously than MLB, but even the NFL doesn't divvy out harsh enough consequences considering multi-million-dollar contracts are at stake.

As somebody who has spent about eight years covering high school athletics, this worries me. I'm concerned about the kids I cover and the choices they make. Do they look at Barry Bonds, see the second coming of the Incredible Hulk and want to be like him? Or do they see a fraud that is disgracing the game, and then choose not to be like him?

The Olympics certainly isn't perfect, either. But at least it is addressing the problem instead of hiding from it, and that's something I hope our young athletes can appreciate. I know I do. I just wish other leagues would follow the Olympics' lead, strive for open and honest transparency in their sports and set a good example.

I will be watching the 2008 Beijing Olympics with a critical eye, but a hopeful one too, and hope that the Olympics Museum will soon be able to add a new number to it's wall of drug busts: zero. And I hope that number will be achieved honestly.

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