Second Vinokourov post this month…

Wow, amazing that I’m writing about this guy again.  Especially considering that he shat the bed in the Pyrenees and was over 28 minutes out of first place when all hell broke loose on him and his team today.

So, [tag]Vinokourov[/tag] got caught doping.  No testosterone pills for this guy.  None of that weak assed shit.  No way man.  Alexander was caught giving himself blood transfusions.  I guess you ought to win some kind of prize of competitive spirit for being ready, willing and able to give yourself a transfusion in an attempt to win a bike race.

Anyway, once again the papers are full of teeth gnashing about doping in cycling.  *yawn*  My local cycling club email list was abuzz with this story today and here’s what I had to say about it:

I have a somewhat radical view on the use of performance enhancing drugs in
sports – I don’t care.

Ok, that’s too harsh. I do care if people put stuff into their bodies that ultimately shortens their lifespans or ruins their quality of life in later years, but beyond that I don’t care.

I think we have a very strange relationship to the application of technology to the human body. You don’t see anyone getting up in arms about how absurdly light carbon framed bikes, wheels, cranks, etc. are. I’ve yet to hear anyone call the use of power meters for training cheating. And we all regularly eat specialized food and chug specialized scientifically designed beverages to help us ride longer, harder, faster.  We also don’t have a problem with people using computer modeling to design optimized training and fitness program to increase their power output, strength, etc.

But when it comes to drugs to enhance performance, well then we’re (and I mean that in terms of western society in general) all up in arms. I personally don’t have a problem with it. If you look at sport in terms of entertainment for spectators then anything that makes the sport more spectacular makes it more entertaining and more valuable as an entertainment commodity. So, if by doping cyclists can pull off feats of speed, strength, endurance and agility that make me as a spectator go “wow!” then why should I have a problem with it. And it only qualifies as cheating, frankly, if you can demonstrate to me that doping is the exception and not the rule, which I doubt anyone could do right now with any degree of credibility.

Or, here’s another way of looking at it, taken from another sport that’s currently mired in doping scandal – baseball. In a recent interview Bill James was asked about the use of performance enhancing drugs in the game.

Here’s an excerpt:

Q: Should players known to use (or strongly suspected to have used) performance-enhancing drugs be treated differently in history? Was the Baseball Writers Association of America electorate correct in not voting Mark McGwire to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot? Are you cheering for Barry Bonds?

A: I’m not cheering for Bonds, but then, I didn’t much like (Henry) Aaron, either. I look at it this way. There’s a rule in basketball against traveling but the NBA has pretty much stopped enforcing it. Well, they still call traveling but they will allow you to take about five steps without dribbling as you are running toward the basket. There was no “decision” not to enforce this rule; they just kind of lost track of it. They started not calling one step and progressed to not calling two steps, not calling three steps, and eventually they just kind of lost track of the rule. Should the players who took advantage of this failure to enforce the rule be banned from the NBA Hall of Fame? After all, aren’t they cheating? They’re not obeying the rules. Julius Erving, out. The Hall of Fame doesn’t need cheaters like you. Kobe, Michael, get out. If you don’t play by the rules the way Elgin Baylor did, you’re not deserving.

Or it is, rather, the responsibility of the LEAGUE to enforce the rule? It seems to me that it might be the responsibility of the league to enforce the rule rather than the responsibility of the media to punish those who didn’t obey the rule that wasn’t being enforced. I won’t name any players, but there are a whole bunch of superstars who are now or are going to be involved in the PED accusations. We CAN’T start picking and choosing who we honor on that basis. It’s hypocritical, and it’s impractical. And it diminishes the game.

This argument can easily be applied to cycling. Pro cyclists were doping 20 years ago, if not longer. The sport’s governing bodies didn’t do anything about it, or make any appreciable noise about it, until the media (particularly the French media, who have an agenda all their own) started harping on the subject.

The problem as I see it is twofold – on the one hand cycling, as a sport and a culture has to decide whether or not it considers PED use a problem. If it decides it’s a problem then it needs to come up with a systematic scheme for eliminating their use that punishes at the team level, not at the individual cyclist level. Punishing Floyd Landis or Jan Ulrich is pointless. These guys aren’t doing this in a vacuum, and perhaps what it takes to get rid of PED’s in cycling is to disqualify every team from competition and start fresh.

But from my perspective that’s silly. How about this – instead of constantly chasing dopers, just accept it. Make the rule that use of any illegal substance permanently disqualifies a rider and his team from future sanctioned competition. Use of legal substances must simply be fully disclosed, and failure to disclose disqualifies the rider and his team for five years. What you’ll get from disclosure is transparency into what each rider is using to help them compete (it’s not afterall a secret which brand of bike a rider uses, for example) and then all the riders can see the laundry list of crap some guy who finishes 150th in the Tour consumed or injected. Then the mystique will gradually wear off and within a few years you’ll see those lists get much, much shorter.

I get that final idea from an analysis of the players most recently punished for doping violations in baseball. To a man they’re all lousy players. Doping didn’t help them compete one tiny bit. If you have no talent or ability at your sport then taking pills, or injecting drugs into your body will not help you. And if you’re talented then you’ll win anyway.

So, how’s that for recycling a bit chunk of an earlier post and calling it a new blog?

In all seriousness, all that these doping scandals are doing is ruining the game/race for those of us who want to watch and soak up the excitement.  And like I said, it’s only cheating if the playing field isn’t level and there’s a sizable contingent of folks in the field of play or on the race course who aren’t doping, and anyone who makes that claim, well, I’ve got some land in [tag]Florida[/tag] I’d like you to help me sell.

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