In his book, It’s Not About the Bike, cycling superstar Lance Armstrong asserted that the power of the mind is far stronger than the body.
"Pain", he said, "is temporary. Quitting lasts forever".
The first time I read it, I remember being quite taken with the notion that you can conquer physical encumbrance by focussing on your inner mental strengths. Hmm, I thought, that’s right on the money, I might give that a go.
Tell the truth, I was really quite enthusiastic about it; fired-up you might say, inspired almost. Drugs, eh? But maybe I wasn't the only one.
Which can make it tricky to digest the current allegations, which Armstrong has denied, that while he was shooting up hopelessly steep mountains at a rate of knots day after day after day, he was also shooting up something else.
The question of drugs in sport is far more complicated than it is sometimes made out to be.
It’s often assumed the sporting junkie spends much of his week dossing around his bedroom mainlining, only to shake off the nods on race day when all of a sudden, he starts to power away, foaming at the mouth, legs just a blur, not unlike the cartoon Roadrunner, but somehow, I don’t think it works that way.
Even though they use stimulating substances, I’m fairly sure your average drug cheat still trains his or her bahookie off; in fact, because of the nefarious materials they take, which make their bodies stronger and therefore more durable, they actually train harder.
With the Tour de France just finished and the Olympics starting, it’s almost certainly only a matter of time before we get the next major drugs in sports scandal, a side feature of the main event we’ve witnessed since the 60’s when it seemed that some Eastern European countries were adding hormones to the drinking water like it was fluoride.
Of course, catching the culprits was a lot harder in those days and often it was only some time after the event that the truth emerged. Occasionally the authorities did get lucky however, like the time the East German Ladies Shot-put Gold Medallist was outed just as she made her way out to the winner’s podium.
Sporting sideburns like Amos Brearly, a Viva Zapata moustache and smoking a pipe.
Personally I’m in favour of a complete amnesty on drugs in sport. I think they should take whatever they want – it’s happening anyway so why not bring it out in the open and let the public decide? Publish a list of what everybody is on and if that means some of the punters consider the triumph to be tainted, so what?
For what it’s worth, I still consider Lance Armstrong to be a superman regardless of what he was or wasn’t taking, but I’m fully aware that wouldn’t be a universal opinion and I’m okay with that.
I also realise that the counter argument against this open slather, laissez faire approach is the assertion that it would mean that unscrupulous athletes, or more specifically coaches, would start to experiment with more and more drugs – stronger stuff and in bigger quantities - to the obvious detriment of long term health and wellbeing, as seen in the sad cases of Flo Jo and Ben Johnson.
But that’s not an argument about bad drugs. That’s an argument about bad people.
Personally I believe most people are responsible and committed to doing the right thing – most athletes and most coaches being no different.
Sure, some will do anything for success, but it’s impossible to legislate against all forms of crazy behaviour, you simply have to accept that a tiny minority of bampots will do what they want, when they want and how they want.
When I first came to Australia, through a combination of luck and circumstance, I got a job as a Probation Officer in the town of Nimbin, famous, some would say infamous, as the marijuana capital of the Antipodes.
If you’ve never been to Nimbin, let me paint you a picture – it’s situated in the most perfect rain forest valley, framed by Blue Knob – yes really – a mountain with great cultural significance in local indigenous history. The town itself is essentially only one street but it’s a street which is given over, more or less in its entirety, to ‘weed’ – and we’re not talking dandelions, here.
Even though it’s technically illegal, you can buy it, you can sell it, you can smoke it and you can celebrate it - every year the Mardi Grass takes place, an event promoting such events as throwing the bong, rolling the joint and a Cannabis Triathlon, the details of which I’ll leave to your imagination.
Incidentally, the first year I attended, the joint rolling competition was won by, you guessed it, one of us – Big Ped from Clydebank – who told me he’d honed his skills skinning up on the Knightswood Pitch’n’Put course whilst sheltering under an umbrella in a Force 5 gale. Who says we can’t achieve at the highest level?
Now Nimbin is, on occasion, a rough, violent town, but you know where most of the mayhem originates and/or occurs?
In the pub, where punters fuelled on perfectly legal substances batter the you know what out of each other in scenes reminiscent of John Wayne movies but significantly more brutal. Teeth, whiskers and snotters all over the place.
Pot smokers, though obviously there are some double-dipping crossover merchants, tend in the main to be nonviolent individuals, much more likely to spend their time speculating on absurd conspiracy theories than enthusiastic participation in traditional drinking games such as ‘who you lookin’ at’ and ‘did you just call my pint a poof’?
Now, I’m not saying that drugs of all sorts are harmless. And neither am I saying that everyone who uses alcohol is prone to punching other people’s heads in.
What I am saying is that only the person involved has the power to control or contain their behaviour when so affected and therefore only they can – in the vast majority of cases successfully – make a decision about whether taking said substance is a good or bad idea for them and those around them.
You can’t legislate for it. It’s a waste of time and a waste of money.
Now you might think this unabashedly libertarian approach is a bit pie in the sky, a tad hippy-trippy, somewhat naïve and guileless in its conception and reasoning.
I wouldn’t entirely disagree. But then, I did spend a lot of time in Nimbin.
And I wasn’t in the pub much.
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