Clean Slate for Dopers: Banned Athletes Get Second Chance at the Olympics
Athletes with past doping suspensions are being allowed to compete in London thanks to recent rulings by the Court of Arbitration for Sport. While reformed athletes argue they deserve another chance, critics say their transgressions tarnish the Olympic spirit of sportsmanship.
Professional cyclist David Millar is staying in a house in the countryside outside London. The driveway passes a golf course and some woods before ending in front of a sumptuous house that looks like a cross between a castle and a mansion. Millar, tall and thin, sits at the bar, surrounded by oil paintings, thick carpeting and dark wooden furniture. He is tanned and wearing long shorts and a sun visor. Millar sinks back into his chair, looking relaxed, as if he has just played a round of golf.
The British have been going mad over cycling since Bradley Wiggins won the Tour de France in July, the first Englishman to do so. During the London Olympics, their new heroes, road cyclists, are staying at this luxury resort in Surrey. Here they are treated like superstars, surrounded by country roads where they can train in peace, far away from the turmoil of the Olympic village in the city center.
But a few months ago, it seemed inconceivable that Millar would even be allowed to compete. In 2004, the Scottish cyclist was banned for two years for taking performance-enhancing drugs and stripped of his title as the 2003 UCI Road World Championship's men's time trial winner. Under the strict standards of the British Olympic Committee, this meant that Millar would never be allowed to participate in the Olympics again. But at the end of April the international Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) forced the British officials to stop excluding former dopers once their suspension had ended. The decision cleared the way for Millar to compete.
"I'm really lucky," says Millar.
Millar isn't the only athlete who was convicted of using performance-enhancing drugs who can now compete in the London Olympics thanks to the judge's decision. Others include three US competitors: the track-and-field athletes Justin Gatlin and LaShawn Merritt, as well as swimmer Jessica Hardy. When Merritt appeared before the CAS last fall, the organization decided to reverse a rule under which athletes banned from their sport for using performance-enhancing drugs were to remain excluded from the subsequent games even after their ban expired. CAS viewed the rule as a double penalty.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) had only introduced the rule in 2008 and was forced to accept defeat before the CAS. Now the IOC plans to use a different approach to keep athletes convicted of doping out of the games. It wants the World Anti-Doping Code to be revised so that bans can be imposed for four-year periods in a larger number of cases. This would ensure that convicted dopers are kept out of the games at least once.
'An Effective Deterrent'
The entire discussion revolves around whether someone who has committed an act of deception should even have a place in the biggest sporting event of all, which is bursting with ideals like fairness, pride and inspiration. In the Olympic Oath, an athlete from the host nation commits himself, in the name of all competitors, to a "spirit of sportsmanship" and the "glory of sport," and to a "sport without doping and without drugs." Is there any room in this environment for athletes who have deceived others and have been penalized for it, but are now permitted to compete everywhere else once again?
No, says Sir Chris Hoy, an Olympic gold medal winner in track cycling and the flag-bearer of the British team. "I don't see anything wrong with having more stringent rules," he told the BBC in April. "That to me is a good incentive not to take drugs. If you take that away, are you taking a step back in the fight against drugs?"
"I can understand his position," says Millar. "He happens to live in a black-and-white world. But some of us live in a gray, more realistic world."
More than some other athletes banned for doping, Millar, 35, regretted his actions and took advantage of his second chance. He wrote a moving book about his life as a doper and about his conversion. The fact that he is competing in the London Olympics is a sign that it's worth wiping the slate clean.
Millar was arrested in June 2004. After spending two days in jail, he confessed that he had used the performance-enhancing drug EPO, and he lost his job. He dropped out of his stylish life and had to sell a villa on the Atlantic where renovations were almost complete. After countless drinking binges, he staged a comeback. He returned to the peloton in 2006, ironically at the Tour de France during which the Fuentes scandal was uncovered and Floyd Landis became the first Tour winner to be convicted retroactively of doping. Everything seemed to have become much worse. But this time Millar vowed that he would not seek success at the price of committing fraud. He has not been found guilty of using performance-enhancing drugs since then.
'I Won't Forget My Past'
On a hot July day, Millar was sitting in a hotel restaurant in the southern French city of Pau. A few days earlier, he had won a 226-kilometer stage of the Tour de France, the longest stage of the entire race. Millar was surrounded by reporters who only wanted to talk about one thing: doping.
Millar talked a lot. He has become a preacher of sorts, now that he sees himself as an example of how cycling has become cleaner.
"Since my return, I want to make it clear that I won't forget my past. I now have a voice that is being heard." A reporter asked whether he truly no longer had any doubts about any cyclists. "Yes, in principle," said Millar. "The majority is clean." Only a week earlier, there had been a raid on Millar's former team on the Tour, Cofidis, and one cyclist was arrested.
Clearly cycling remains a difficult case: Not black or white, but gray, as Millar suggested.
There will be a record number of doping tests in London, including about 5,000 blood and urine tests, or up to 400 a day. One in two athletes will be tested, using what officials call an "intelligent" system. An analysis laboratory, several stories tall and as big as a factory, was built in a London suburb. A pharmaceutical company helped finance and equip the lab. The samples are frozen for eight years, leaving room for possible future testing with more refined or new analysis methods. This is meant to serve as a warning, namely that anyone who gets away with using performance-enhancing drugs in London will have to wait eight years to be completely certain of not having been found out.
Once again, there will be cases of performance manipulation. Depending on one's position on the issue, they will be viewed as either a success for the investigators or as proof that doping will never end. The IOC experienced the Big Bang of all doping scandals in the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics, in the case of Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson, who lost two world records and a gold medal for doping. Back then, the innocence of the games received such a powerful shock that it will be difficult to eliminate the residue of doubt ever again.
Doping has long been a reality in sports. If frauds have the right to return to the games, reformed drug users like Millar will inevitably be joined by those still using.
'Just Let Me Run Again'
At the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Justin Gatlin pounded across the finish line to win the gold medal in the 100-meter race. The American athlete tested positive for testosterone less than two years later. As a repeat offender, he was banned from athletics for four years.
To this day, Gatlin insists that he did not use performance-enhancing drugs. Instead, he claims that his massage therapist rubbed a cream containing testosterone onto his skin that significantly increased his testosterone levels. He even came up with a fitting conspiracy theory, claiming that the massage therapist had been trying to take revenge on Gatlin, possibly because he felt that he wasn't being paid enough.
Gatlin, 30, has been permitted to compete on the track again since 2010. Shortly after the end of the ban, he had the Olympic rings tattooed onto his neck. He placed second in the US Track & Field Championships in June, running the 100-meter dash in 9.80 seconds and qualifying for the Olympics. He is now faster than he was when he won his last Olympic medal, and he plans to win gold once again. "I want everyone to know that Justin Gatlin is back and I want the Olympic title," he said recently.
Unlike Millar, who gives talks to young racing cyclists and is a member of the World Anti-Doping Agency's athlete committee, Gatlin has no message that extends beyond his own career. Gatlin is only interested in Gatlin. "I wanted to go out there and do what no one's ever done - and that's recapture some kind of glory," he once said in a 2011 interview with The Guardian. "You can judge me as you like on TV or on your blogs but just give me a lane and let me run again."
It looks as though the sprint final this coming Sunday evening will be a spectacle once again, pitting Jamaica against the United States, and elegance against strength. It's inevitable that the race will include runners who don't use performance-enhancing drugs, those who do and those who did in the past. People will begin voicing doubts the moment the runners have crossed the finish line. It's something the Olympics can no longer escape. The IOC will have to live with it, even if the winner is named Justin Gatlin.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
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