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December 06, 2001

Drugs take luster off Olympics
By Dan Patrick

There have been more drug busts down in Sydney than 10 years' worth of "Miami Vice." And it takes a lot of the enjoyment out of it for me.

Andreea Raducan
Romanian gymnast Andreea Raducan's first test sample came back positive for stimulants.

To me, most of the competitors are guilty until proven innocent. There is a real lack of integrity in this competition. What are we watching? Fine and dedicated athletes or pumped-up, win-at-all-costs opportunists? What's so interesting about athletes who run, jump and throw faster, higher and further when you get the feeling that most of them aren't playing fair?

If it weren't for athletes like the U.S. baseball team and U.S. wrestler Rulon Gardner, who defeated legendary Russian grappler Alexander Karelin, these Olympics would be nearly unwatchable.

Down in Sydney, various athletes have been tested for drugs and have had their medals revoked. I could name many offenders, but gymnast Andreea Raducan of Romania, gold-medal winner in the prestigious all-around competition, was stripped of her medal because she had a cold and took some Nurofen tablets. Those pills contained some pseudoephedrine which is a banned substance. Now this substance is a stimulant and can improve performance.

Let's face facts here: The list of banned substances is not hard to find. So, are we supposed to believe it was an accident?

Then there is the whole C.J. Hunter mess. Four times, C.J.? And you want us to believe that you did not know what happened? What did Marion Jones know and when did she know it? And is Marion using or has she used? At least NBC will see a bump in the ratings because I have to believe that people will tune in to see if she can handle this added pressure.

There is a whole other level of intrigue when it comes to athletes who do not test positive for drugs. Take women's swimming. American Amy Van Dyken all but accused Inge de Bruijn of doping because of de Bruin's record-breaking swims. Van Dyken can't prove it, but in this climate she can throw it out there and take some luster off de Bruin's gold. It's seems like petty, ugly American stuff.

Then there is the whole C.J. Hunter mess. Four times, C.J.? And you want us to believe that you did not know what happened?

In the old days, American athletes would look at female athletes from East Germany and China who had deeper voices than me, and much bigger bodies, and just try to beat them. Now we cry "Drugs!" when we don't win. Actually, we just whisper "drugs." No need to yell.

Dara Torres took seven years off and yet has come back to set records and win medals in the pool for the U.S. And she has not tested positive for any drug. But imagine the snickering, and whispering, by American swimmers if Torres swam for Mexico.

And the disgraces are not limited to performance-enhancing drugs. The country of Qatar essentially bought Bulgaria's junior varsity weight-lifting team to represent them. There are no world-class weight lifters in Qatar. There is a surplus of strong men in Bulgaria.

So some money changes hands, a few passports get stamped and everybody's happy. That's a joke.

I know that Monica Seles, born in Czechoslovakia, represents the U.S. in tennis. But that was the choice of an individual to emigrate from an oppressive country to a land of freedom and opportunity, not a cynical sports business transaction.

Now don't get me wrong. I am not that concerned about the makeup of the Qatar Olympic team. But that story is a nice symbol of how these Olympics are most assuredly not your father's Olympics.

I spoke to two-time Olympic decathlon champion Bob Mathias recently. He competed in 1948 and 1952, about 50 years ago -- but it might as well have been 150 years.

I wonder what enhancers were available mid-century had Mathias been so inclined. Milk shakes with extra sugar? Actually, Mathias told me that in his day, if you wanted to get an edge, you might put some honey in your competition-day drinks.

That's a lot less sinister than anabolic steroids. Do you think Bob would have competed for Holland if he got a really good clog deal?

Times have changed in the Olympic world. And it has not been all for the good.

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