RARELY does one have the chance to read one's own obituary, and rarer still the chance to write it. Yet that's how I feel today. On retiring from Herald sport seven years ago, one was indulged in generous, even flattering valedictories. They read like an obit. Excessively, I was described as a "force of nature". Now, "spent force" might be more accurate.

I've been privileged, post-retirement, to write weekly columns, but after 49 years - 40 of them for The Herald - the seductive game is up. Time to go.

This personal last hurrah is a final indulgence from my long-suffering sports editor and colleagues: the chance to reflect on the good fortune to have been paid for doing what seemed the best job in the world.

These final observations are a tribute to them, and the friends, colleagues, and inspirational mentors without whose help and encouragement we'd never have left the starting blocks. Those still alive know who they are!

Generous thanks, also, to all the competitors who endured my intrusive questions over the years as we reported on almost 100 sports from some 45 countries.

The 1968 Winter Olympics were in full swing the day I started nervously in journalism. The IOC had just introduced dope tests, yet the first Olympic doping fatality had occurred in 1960 - a Danish cyclist. The 88 tests in Grenoble caught nobody, and despite the Summer Games debut of East Germany later that year, the only positive in Mexico was a modern pentathlete who failed a breathaliser. Yes, the first convicted Olympic doper used only alcohol - two beers "to steady his nerves".

Meanwhile, however, the 1968 DDR team claimed nine gold, nine silver, and seven bronze - fifth on the medal table.

The gold and silver medallists in the women's shot, Margitta Gummell and Marita Lange, it transpired, were fed steroids by the country's head sports physician, Manfred Höppner. A letter from him to the Stassi, later made public, boasted: "anabolic steroids are applied in all sporting events, with the exception of sailing and women's gymnastics." 

Yet the IOC could detect only a guy who'd had a beer too many. At best incompetence, at worst collusion. Höppner, it eventually emerged, was on the IOC medical commission and knew exactly what was being tested for. And how. And when. He and sports minister Manfred Ewald devised a system so perfect that not a single DDR athlete ever tested positive at any Olympic Games.

Ewald led East German sport for 27 years, headed their Olympic Committee, and received the highest IOC honour from president Samaranch.

He and Höppner were convicted for "intentional bodily harm of athletes, including minors''. Athletes died, and European champion Heidi Krieger felt compelled to change her sex. The convicted officials received less than two years' probation. They'd put 10,000 mainly-unwitting competitors on drugs, but the IOC caught none.

Failure to deal appropriately with doping persists. Witness recent well-documented abuse, most blatantly but not exclusively by Russia. The movement declines to champion life bans or reallocate all medals won by cheats. Scotland's Lee McConnell is a notable victim.

Back at those 1968 Winter Games in Grenoble, sex tests were also introduced. The 1966 World downhill champion, Erika Schinegger, having been brought up as a girl, was found to have internal male organs and was disqualified. The Austrian became Erik, married, and became a father. Two decades later, of his own volition, he gave his 1966 gold to the runner-up, Marielle Goitschel.

The IOC were blind to this honourable act, continuing to ignore known female champions who'd proved to be male. Athletes went to the grave without their rightful medals. Eleven previous "women's" world records remain attributed to someone who, when setting them, by current rules was a man.

Also to their discredit is failure to address the issue of androgynous athletes. Being trapped in the wrong body is surely a nightmare, but so is denying a level playing field to the female majority.

Drugs and androgynism are sport's current major challenges. Next up? Bio-enhancement through genetic engineering. If the IOC and World Anti-Doping Agency haven't a strategy to confront and control that, sport will become a freak show.

Don't take it from me. Richard Pound, founding chairman of WADA and chair of the commission that confirmed the scale of Russian cheating, has warned that Ben Johnson with his steroids could become as primitive as ancient rock paintings. "The sports movement let the use of drugs get out of hand by not acting quickly enough or firmly enough at the beginning," he says. "It must not make the same mistake with genetic manipulation."

A campaigning press - in danger of extinction on cost grounds - has a role. Governing bodies and sponsors have vested interests in keeping the lid on. Cheats like Lance Armstrong, Ben Johnson, and Linford Christie, might have escaped but for media digging. It was The Herald which broke the fact that Christie, 1992 Olympic sprint champion, was 100 times the naturally-occuring limit for a banned hormone.

We penned a rant last week about sport having lost its moral and ethical compass. With betting, bribery and other corruption rife, preserving ethics is critical. When the public can no longer believe what they watch, sport is indeed doomed.

The two beers that condemned Sweden's Lars-Gunnar Liljenwal back in 1968 testify that dope tests then were mere window-dressing. How much has it progressed? Whistle-blowers, not tests, drive the most high-profile convictions, and without life bans, there's no adequate deterrent.

And that may be sport's obituary.

WE HAVE observed common denominators among champions: love of their sport, talent, work-ethic, courage, determination. But most fundamental is belief. Golfer Arnold Palmer kept a poem (by Walter Wintle) on his office wall:

If you think you're beaten, you are

If you think you dare not, you don't,

If you'd like to win, but think you can't

It's almost certain you won't.

Life's battles don't always go

To the stronger or faster man,

But sooner or later the man who wins

Is the man who thinks he can

I believe that the mind, not technological or physical advances, will drive greatest future sporting improvement.

SPORT'S power for good is undoubted, and worth billions according to government statistics, yet results don't reflect investment. Only Olympic and Commonwealth Games sports deemed capable of delivering podium success are supported. World champions in non-Games sports are ignored while establishment ones which have never won a medal are bankrolled.

Sport's ability to impact on issues like physical and mental health, NHS, education, social inclusion, diversity, and female emancipation is acknowledged, yet not maximised by empire-building sportscotland.

Despite staffing many times greater than when it I was a cub reporter, and the quango's fore-runner operated from a tiny office in central Edinburgh, medal returns are dismal at global level.

Scottish representation on Olympic squads has increased, but medals have declined. In the five Summer Games since lottery funding began, Scots in athletics and swimming have won just one individual medal: swimmer Michael Jamieson. In the five previous Olympics, pre-lottery, Scots in these disciplines won six individual: gold and silver from Allan Wells, silver from Liz McColgan, bronze from Yvonne Murray, and swimming bronze from Neil Cochran and Graeme Smith. In both periods Scost shared in three relay medals. 

A forensic Government audit of sportscotland's true contribution is overdue. I defended the quango when the SNP promised to axe them. I was wrong. Their self-serving policies mock the ethos of sport for all.

And so we retire with our own Olympic gold - the bizarre discovery that the 1924 Scottish curlers were Olympic champions, and not demonstration event winners. The IOC agreed, and changed their records.

It's been a funny old game.

IT'S sobering to reflect that no Scot under 40 will recall having witnessed an Olympic athletics gold from Scotland. Eric Liddell was our sixth track champion in eight Olympics (400m, 1924) yet Allan Wells (100m, 1980) is the only one since.

One athletics gold in almost 100 years, and none under sportscotland-administered Lottery funding.

With six Commonwealth medals (four gold) Wells remains the nation's most prolific athletics medallist.

Yet his final Commonwealth gong was in 1982; his national sprint records have survived for 37 years; and nobody has come within a tenth of a second of his 100m record this century - or half a second at 200m.

IT took 100 years, but it was worth the wait. Global sport was very different in 1908 when swimmer Henry Taylor was the last Brit to win three medals in one Olympics.

High-tech helped drive stream-lined, aerodynamic, full-time Hoy to equal that in Beijing. He'd a wind tunnel, velodrome, and backing of Lottery millions.

Taylor worked in a cotton mill, trained in his lunch break, swam on "dirty-water days" when pool admission was cheaper, or in canals. His high tech was a one-ounce hand-made silk costume. He died a penniless pool attendant. Hoy put his 200mph £140,000 Ferrari up for sale this week.

AMONG my most memorable interviews stands Shaul Ladany. High profile when we first met at the Munich Olympics, he'd survived Bergen-Belsen where 100,000 died, then 13000 more from typhoid post war. It was his first return to Germany.

He was nineteenth in the 20k walk, then survived the massacre which killed 11 Israelis. Twenty years later we learned they were tortured. One was castrated. Ladany thinks he escaped because the well-informed terrorists knew he shared with two pistol shooters.

He was disappointed to be ordered home, having a medal chance at 50k. Was he mentally scarred, I asked decades later: "Worse things happened in my life, but one can’t assess the cumulative effects."

He was five when his family escaped a direct hit on their Belgrade home, sheltering in a basement laundry. Neighbours in the adjacent cellar died. The Ladanys were among very few of Yugoslavia's 70,000 Jews to escape the Holocaust, but ended up in Belsen, where Anne Frank died.

He was sent into the gas chamber aged eight, but was reprieved and liberated in a ransom deal that saved 2000 Jews. "But my grandparents were made into soap at Auschwitz."

He won the world 100k title, and served in the Six Day and Yom Kippur wars.

Now 80, the former head of industrial engineering at Ben Gurion University is emeritus professor, still researching. "I published a research paper this year," he confirmed yesterday. "I train daily, and in July participated in the Nijmegen four-day March. Next week I will walk the Modein half-marathon. I'm happy my 50-mile record [set in 1952] and 100-mile one for 70+ still stand. It takes a lot of training to break them."

Sport's ultimate survivor is a metaphor for his nation.