Irwin: Seeking an Edge Part of Sport Culture
Kentucky-bred Tyson Gay—the fastest human sprinter of all time behind only Usain Bolt—rocked the athletics world when it was revealed last month that he had tested positive for a banned substance.
Gay was not alone, as during this same time period Veronica Campbell Brown and Asafa Powell—two of the fastest and most accomplished international human sprinters of all time—also tested positive for substances on the World Anti-Doping Association's banned list.
Gay is an American and the other two are Jamaicans, so they represent the two most storied programs for sprinters in the world of modern track and field.
While the sources of these foreign substances remain under question, it seems entirely likely that the two Jamaicans went afoul of authorities for using a supplement and Gay was given something illegal by an anti-aging dispenser not unlike the source Major League Baseball's Alex Rodriguez used to obtain illegal substances that has put his career with the New York Yankees in jeopardy.
Although I am speculating because I have no proof or sworn testimony to rely on, I do believe that on a conscious level none of the human sprinters thought they were doing anything illegal.
Most likely they did not seek an illegal edge over their competition and did not ask medical or coaching advisors to provide them with any substances that might get them in trouble.
But subconsciously, I truly believe the overriding mentality in these instances is that the athletes involved feel the stuff they use somehow gives them an edge that is not strictly legal, but does not test positive. They make a separate peace with themselves in accepting a belief that the substances are alright because they have been supplied to them by sources they trust and rely on, which allows them some measure of comfort to distill a deeper belief that what they have taken is not “strictly” legal, but magically does not test positive.
Athletes have been doing this for a very, very long time. This is absolutely nothing new. It is totally ingrained in the culture.
In athletics, even though a guy like Gay is a national treasure that reflects the image of Americans throughout the athletic world, none of the stuff that he ingests into his magnificent body is ever blessed by authorities.
It seems entirely logical to me that before Gay is allowed to take any supplements or medications from any source, these substances should be approved by the governing body of track and field.
Had Gay, for example, shared with authorities his regimen of ingestibles or injectables from any snake oil salesman masquerading as a caring medical professional, he would be training for next week's World Championships in Russia instead of preparing a defense for his intransigencies.
Horse racing is not much different than athletics, except in track and field the foreign substances are taken by the athletes themselves and in horse racing the stuff is administered to the athletes by their coaches.
In horse racing, the coaches must adhere to the “trainer responsibility rule,” which makes them responsible for keeping a horse's system and body free of substances deemed to be illegal based on rules established by each racing jurisdiction.
Many horse trainers, just like human sprinters, are always looking for an edge. Based on evidence, lore and rumor, everything from Viagra to morphine and arsenic have been tried in recent years in order to find something that will provide an edge to racehorses.
By now, everybody should know the “gold standard” for trainers that are hell-bent on cheating. This is comprised of a) pain management (desensitizers), b) increasing muscle mass (steroids and Clenbuterol), c) increasing the flow of oxygen to the respiratory system (blood doping) and d) buffering lactic acid (milk-shaking).
Lower on the food chain than frog juice, steroids, EPO-like agents and lactic acid neutralizers comes an sub-class of “supplements” that promise any number of things. Usually manufacturers of the products claim they are “all natural.”
To be sure, some of the products are totally legitimate. Some of these have been developed by scientists and veterinarians with the most honorable intentions and are used by many of the top racing stables in the world.
Others, however, make unsubstantiated claims and profess to aid or cure a variety of equine deficiencies such as bleeding. Many claim their elixirs dramatically improve digestion, improve temperament, eliminate tying-up syndrome, blah blah blah, etc.
It is no secret that since the forced elimination of steroids from the regimen of racehorses that trainers have been looking for legal and natural replacements for the real stuff. Clenbuterol is the drug of choice because of its steroidal impact. Track and field long recognized this and did so well in advance of the horseracing world.
Most recently California-based trainer Carla Gaines was suspended when a horse under her care tested positive for a higher level of testosterone than normal. Ms. Gaines identified the source of the problem as a supplement. Through her attorney Darrel Vienna, she appealed by asking for a stay, which was not granted last week.
The supplement used by Ms. Gaines basically mirrors the human products suspected of being used by the human sprinters, as it uses “all natural precursor hormone stimulants” to jump start a metabolic change that aids in producing more bulk for racehorses and sprinters.
As is the case with the sprinters, racehorse trainers use products—some recommended by medical professionals such as veterinarians—that they consciously trust but subconsciously hope will provide magical therapy usually only gained through illegal methods.
Ms. Gaines was cited because of the trainer responsibility rule. She may very well be a victim of Tyson Gay and the Jamaicans' way of thinking.
The simple answer to ending this charade is for the sprinters and horse trainers only to use legitimate products that have been approved by a recognized organization. If manufacturers have confidence in the efficacy of their products, they should pay a fee to an authorized group that can oversee testing and analysis of the products.
By taking these steps, track and horse racing can end the practice of administering questionable substances into the body of a performing athlete.
Several years ago, I wrote an Op-Ed piece in which I recommended having all of the ingestibles and injectibles under the control of an on-track pharmacy that would sell the stuff to vets, who in turn would use them for their equine patients. Anything testing positive that was not originally bought from the pharmacy would get the veterinarian in a heap of trouble. This would most certainly eliminate the administration of questionable products into the system and bodies of our racehorses.
Barry Irwin is founder and chief executive officer of Team Valor International