There has been a lot of news recently about doping scandals…ok, I guess that’s pretty frequent in the news. Most recently, US Track and Field announced that Tyson Gay, the second-fastest man of all time in the 100 meter dash, failed a drug test on May 16. A few hours later, Jamaica’s Asafa Powell, also failed a test.
Upon hearing the news, my initial reaction was to roll my eyes, not in irritation, but in submission.
Another one bites the dust.
They’re almost impossible to keep track of, yet the big names still stand out. Marion Jones. Lance Armstrong. Maurice Greene. Tyson Gay. It makes me wonder, who’s next? Usain Bolt? Alex Rodriguez? Oh wait…A-Rod has been caught too.
I remember the 2000 Olympics. I was twelve or thirteen, and had been watching the US women’s soccer team since the whirlwind 1999 World Cup victory the summer before. But the Sydney Games were memorable to me because of Marion Jones.
Here was this American woman who won not one but five medals in the Sydney Games in track and field. She was strong, she was fast, and she was my role model. At the time, I wasn’t playing soccer, so track and field is what I wanted to do. Seeing the success Jones had, I thought, why not me?
In 2004, the founder of BALCO testified that he had personally given Jones illegal performance-enhancing drugs prior to the 2000 Sydney Games. For the next three years, Jones vehemently denied any use of illegal substances. Then, in 2007, Jones admitted she had lied to federal officials about her steroid use. She was sentenced to six months in jail, disqualified of all her competitive results after September 1, 2000, and stripped of all medals, points and prizes won, including her five Olympic medals.
Cyclist Lance Armstrong, once known for wining a record seven consecutive Tour de France titles, was also an athlete I looked up to. After reading his book It’s Not About the Bike in high school, I found myself swept up in Lance mania as he continued to win Tour after Tour, always insisting that he raced cleanly. I’ve never been a cyclist, but his journey from surviving life-threatening cancer to winning so many Tours made me admire his courage, his perseverance and his hard work ethic. I wanted to be able to do what he did: rise out of adversity to be a champion.
In 2012, Armstrong was accused by USADA of taking illegal performance-enhancing drugs throughout his career. Armstrong defended himself, denying any use. In a year-long war against USADA and the USOC, Armstrong stuck with his story. In October 2012, the cycling governing body accepted USADA’s findings. Not until January 2013 did Armstrong finally admit to doping.
Like Jones, Armstrong was another incredibly high-level athlete who was stripped of his titles and results.
There are others: Barry Bonds. Mark McGuire. Andre Agassi
I can’t even begin to describe the heartbreak and let-down of hearing your idols not only used steroids, but also lied about taking them.
So where does it end? Who can people look up to now? Why bother? One by one, high-profile athletes are doping and being caught.
I was tweeting my disgust with the news of Gay and the other five sprinters who were caught, lamenting my loss of faith in these athletes who say their biggest prize is being a role model for children and fans, when I realized that I still had role models: specifically, women who had been a source of comfort, joy, occasionally tears (we don’t talk about 2003) for going on fourteen years: the US women’s soccer team.
Now, I will be the first to admit that I have a very idealized vision of this team. I’ve seen many athletes come and go, and seen many games won and lost. I claim to be an expert, but really, I am an expert on what the media and what the team puts out. What goes on behind the scenes is something different.
But for thirteen plus years, I’ve never been let down by this team. Sure, they’ve lost vital games and tournaments, and have yet to win another Women’s World Cup after the whirlwind 1999 tournament. But their strength of character carried them to the next game, to the next tournament, the next goal.
I’ve admired Michelle Akers, one of the greatest midfielders in the game, who played the latter half of her career battling debilitating Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, WITHOUT substances, something she legally could have taken to cope with her illness, but would have been illegal on the field.
I admire Shannon Boxx, who recently announced that she’s struggled with Lupus since 2002.
My favorite player of all time, Shannon MacMillan, came back from a devastating ACL tear in just over three months to play for the United States in the 2003 Women’s World Cup, an achievement borne from grit, determination, and the power of teammates.
The list goes on and on, but one thing is the same: they play for the same team, and that team has always been a rock in my life, as crazy as that may sound.
And so, despite the heartache and the resignation that I feel when I hear another athlete has been caught doping, I’ll remember that I have not one, but several dozen women I can still turn to to not let me down.
They haven’t let me down yet.
Through their example, I go through my career and compete cleanly. There is no other option for me. It’s never crossed my mind to use performance-enhancing drugs. I’m so paranoid I even avoid Arizona Green Tea, since ginseng is considered a stimulant and banned in high doses. I want to beat everyone with my own body, my own hard-earned strength, and I know all of my teammates with the US Bobsled and Skeleton team want that too.
One day, I want a young man or woman to write a blog post saying that the athletes on the US Bobsled and US Skeleton team have never let them down. If I can be a part of someone else’s dreams in a positive way, then that’s worth everything.