Growing up, I was obsessed with the Olympics, particularly Track and Field. My sister had a subscription to Sports Illustrated and she would tear out the pages and covers when there was a track athlete on them and give them to me. After the 1988 and 1992 Olympics, my closet doors were covered with Track and Field stars. Imagine my dismay and disappointment when I found out years later that some of these athletes had failed doping tests or were highly suspected of doping. It was devastating to find out my personal heroes were cheaters.
I never could have imagined that I would become a two time Olympian myself, and that years after I competed in those Olympic Games I would have no idea where I actually finished in the Olympic Events I raced in. Between athletes that were actually removed from the results for doping, and athletes who went on to test positive for drugs years after, I honestly have no idea what place I truly finished at the Olympics. Think about that. I have dedicated my life to this sport and I have absolutely no idea how good I was in my prime.
When people participate in sports at the highest level in sport, there are rules that participants must follow. It isn’t a right to be a professional athlete, it is a privilege and there are rules of play. Representing your country in sport is the highest honor an athlete can have, and it should be done with integrity. Guess what? Not everyone gets to be the fastest or the strongest and that’s OK! Competition is about who does what on the day, and that is what makes it exciting. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Sometimes you break barriers you didn’t know were possible, and sometimes you learn what your personal limits are. As long as you compete the best you can, you can hold your head high.
Taking performance enhancing drugs to get to the top or to gain an advantage is against everything sport is supposed to be. Would you go to a doctor who didn’t finish their residency? One who just lied and said they did? Would you have faith in a lawyer who never passed the bar? No, because they are not qualified, just as someone who decides to use performance enhancing drugs isn't.
Two years ago I was at the World Track and Field Championships in London to receive a medal upgrade from a race I ran 10 years before. A retest of our blood and urine samples from the 2007 World Championships showed that the woman who had finished in front of me in second place had steroids in her system. She was disqualified and I was receiving a sliver medal 10 years after the race. But I will never have the moment of finishing 2nd in the world. I can never feel that emotion. I can never have the financial gain that would have come with that medal- money that would send my son to any college he wanted. This is what doping robs people of- memories for a lifetime, pride, financial stability, the desire to continue on.
At the world championships I was talking to a US track athlete who was competing in a race with an athlete that is highly suspected of doping. The athlete told me that they were just shooting for 5th place. That the event they participated in had become so dirty, that if they could just finish in 5th they might be upgraded to a medal 8-10 years down the line when blood and urine samples were retested. Is this what we want? Our athletes representing their countries on the biggest stage knowing they are not facing a level playing field?
For the record, I am so happy to have always competed clean. The pride I felt when I accomplished an achievement or personal best was so deep and real. I never had to wonder if I truly deserved any success that I earned. Winning a silver medal at the world championships, finishing 3rd in two major marathons, making two Olympic Teams- the pure joy I felt in those accomplishments is a sense of pride unlike anything else in my life. Knowing that I, and only I, had worked hard to achieve those dreams is the best feeling of all. I felt so emotional when I had a big performance, and that emotion was so raw, real, and powerful. I hold my head high, sleep well at night, and can look back on my career with fondness and zero shame or regret.
I don’t want any more athletes, especially young ones, to feel the disillusionment I have felt. I don’t want them to wonder how good they truly are. I don’t want them to miss out on the financial rewards of an incredible performance. I want them to go out here and face clean competition. To know that no matter the result, it was a fair one. We must do better to fight for the integrity of our sports and for the future generation. Sport can be an inspiring experience for both athletes and fans alike, but when we can’t ensure clean competition we lose that inspiration. My younger self could never have imagined how much pain doping in sport has caused me. Let’s not let the youth of today feel that pain.
POSTED IN Team Nuun
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