Thursday, October 20, 2011

Everything Bad is Good for You

One of my understandings about doping at the pro level is that, to some unspecified but for sure critical degree, racers who do it are responding somewhat reasonably to what in TV and radio interviews I’ve called the speed-limit syndrome. This is the rationale we all use, consciously or not, for exceeding the lawful speed when we drive on highways: Everyone else is doing it, the law isn’t really practical, and, anyway, the chances of getting caught are extremely low...This real-world conundrum (that many of us who swear we’d never dope no matter the circumstance feel free to routinely break a law when it benefits us without much risk of punishment) is one of the reasons I’ve never been able to regard doping in a way that lets me condemn the people who do it as wholly immoral or dishonest beyond empathy.
Bill Strickland1 has some pretty cogent thoughts about the recent spate of doping in high-level amateur masters cycling, but also encapsulates some of what I've always thought about doping.
1: Bill Strickland : The American cycling world :: What you wish Rick Reilly was : The general American sports world.

Doping in the 90′s was like cocaine on the set of a John Hughes movie. Those involved in the sport knew of its widespread use while we “regular” consumers got to sit back and naively reap the rewards. It was a different era of doping because of what became possible to witness. EPO was introduced and with it racing was changed forever. By increasing the red blood cell count in athletes EPO made it possible to literally ride people to hell. Water bottles filled with ice and syringes were passed around race starts and jumping jacks became the new jogging in order to keep the sludge that was riders blood from coagulating in their veins at night. Despite the health risks and clandestine practices the racing was unrivaled.

Doping was a scourge in cycling the same way steroids were in baseball, but its effects were arguably cooler. In baseball, the home run knob2 was turned to eleven by 'roids, with the rest of the game at least seeming the same. In cycling, racers became supermen. The baseball analog would be if PEDs had also turned fielders into Willie Mays upgrades, and the 90s had been spent watching batters hit lasers which were caught by fielders who covered ungodly amounts of ground to make the play3. Pasquale Ragazzo digs into the illicit thrills of that besmirched era over at the Ritte van Vlaanderen company blog in a piece worth your time. Watch this video of Lance Armstrong on the Sestriere in '99. Yes, what he did wasn't natural or moral. I'm glad the sport has taken serious measures to clean itself up. But it is stunning to behold this attack, and much of 90s racing, for just those reasons. He flies up that hill like it's the most natural thing in the world, and demolishes the field utterly.
2: Also the Barry Bonds's head knob.
3: This might be the least graceful analogy I've ever written. You're welcome?

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