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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Doping - Could it be any worse?

On the back of the recent doping news, namely Operation Raw Deal and the fact that Michael Rasmussen returned a "non-negative" test from this year's Tour de France, comes a perhaps not so shocking admission by Canadian mountain bike superstar Genevieve Jeanson. In an interview with Radio Canada, she admitted to taking EPO since she was sixteen years old. She is now 26 and has been out of racing since July 2005 when she tested positive for EPO at the Tour of Toona. She received a lifetime ban from USA Cycling (from whom she had a racing license) which was later brokered down to a two-year ban ending in July of this year.

For anyone who has read Matt Rendel's The Death of Marco Pantani, Jeanson's case is yet another in which an athlete's entire career was based on the abuse of EPO. More to the point, it is another career filled with medals and victories based on the systematic use and abuse of performance enhancing drugs.

Both Pantani's and Jeanson's stories show us that although these athletes might suffer from character flaws and a total lack of judgment---as demonstrated by their willingness to take drugs---what they also show us is that more often than not a web of deceit surrounds and protects them. This web is spun by coaches, trainers, support crew, teammates and other athletes, who in their own ways contribute to the deceit and lies by covering tracks and denying their complicity in the abuses.

So in other words, rarely does an athlete act alone, and while they take full blame (and responsibility, as they should), too many times the coaches and trainers who supply and inject the drugs walk away unpunished and often untarnished. Meanwhile, the athlete's career is over while the other complicit parties go on to complete long careers in the sport, often contributing to more doping along the way.

This is not to say that we are sympathetic to the athletes who use performance-enhancing drugs. In fact, their careers should be ended for the use of these substances. However, the message here is that athletes do not act alone, and in addition to being banned and losing their careers, perhaps the coaches and trainers should also be punished.

So the question for us is if WADA should develop a system for punishing coaches who have repeat and multiple offenders. Or are the coaches and trainers beyond reproach, and should they be left to carry on potentially helping other new athletes to dope their way to success?

We hope this kind of admission, on the heels of former pros like Bjarne Riis and Erik Zabel earlier this year, encourages more athletes to confess to prior doping offenses. If it does, we can remain hopeful that perhaps it will lead to a cleaner sporting world.