Why I would do steroids
You might have heard that world athletics is in ‘crisis’ according to the IAAF chief, Lamine Diack following a German documentary which claimed that the ‘majority of Russian athletes dope’ along with allegations that the IAAF itself have covered up or not reported positive tests.
Since steroids were introduced into the public consciousness via Ben Johnson in the 1988 Olympics they remain a kind of dark presence over any sporting endeavour: records and achievements invariably go hand in hand with the question of whether ‘doping’ was involved.
That was fast; was it too fast?
A word often associated with steroids and competition is ‘cheating’.
Steroids are for cheats. Dopers are ruining the sport by cheating.
Testing positive for PEDs in pro sports is a one-way ticket to acrimony, becoming a pariah and earning the eternal opprobrium of thousands of fans.
In the eyes of the general public, you’re the Dick Dastardly of the pack: conning and conniving your way to the gold medal while the others around you are working their cotton socks off and just eating steaks and going to bed early.
This is certainly the picture painted around Lance Armstrong, who added to the aptness of the analogy by behaving like an arrogant and aggressive bully in the process of ‘deceiving’ his legions of fans and the wider sporting world.
Do people like Armstrong and Johnson deserve the criticism they get for taking PEDs?
I want to start by saying that I have personally never taken steroids or PEDs and probably never will. Since I’ve never actually used them I can’t really profess to be any sort of authority on the subject regarding their actual consumption.
But if I were an aspiring professional athlete, I would find it hard to say no.
That’s because I understand what the human body is capable of, and not capable of, and because as with anything I am a competitive person: I want to get to the top.
Can you get to the top of pro sports without resorting to steroids?
In my honest opinion: no, you wouldn’t have a chance.
How can I make this assumption?
Since steroids are generally illegal and banned in most professional sports, we have to look at the reasons why an athlete would do them, and whether the benefits outweigh the risks.
Let’s start with main deterrent: the risk of being caught.
How do you get caught? You fail a drugs test. The amount of money spent on drugs testing is huge. Authorities like the IAAF (the International Association of Athletics Federations), WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency)and USADA (United States Anti-Doping Agency) work with national sports governing bodies spend millions on developing tests to ‘beat the cheats’.
If someone tests positive, you’ve caught the cheater, right?
Does it mean everyone else who took the test is clean? Not by a long shot. The information is out there, of former coaches of elite athletes who say that passing drugs tests is a matter of knowledge, not being clean.
Victor Conte, the former owner of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative (BALCO) who did jail time for producing and supplying PEDs to confirmed steroid using Olympic athletes like Marion Jones, Tim Montgomery and Dwayne Chambers is on record as saying that passing even Olympic standard drugs tests is an IQ test.
There are other coaches who say that they would never let their athlete’s take a test without knowing they would pass.
The more rigorous the testing protocols, the more you have to do to get around them. In sports with no year round testing this is a simple as just cycling off when compeition comes around. For Olympic style year-round random testing this means being more prepared- using masking drugs that cover the presence of PEDs or using ‘designer’ steroids where there is no current test.
What makes me so sure that athletes are going to these lengths? Can’t you just accept they could be clean?
Trust me, when I was younger or only a few years into training I never doubted the natural status of pro athletes.
Being interested in becoming stronger and bigger I used the athletes I saw in professional rugby and athletics as an inspiration: that guy is 5′ 10″, 15 stone (95kgs), lean and fast: I might not be as good as him but it’s only a matter of time and training until I can get a similar physique.
Oh look, this supplement company supplies the England Rugby Team, I should get on that too.
It’s only after you have been training for years and years, with consistent dedication to eating and training hard that you realise you’ll never be anywhere near this level, not naturally.
Maybe they have ‘elite’ genetics? Of course they do. They are obviously genetically gifted to be where they are.
But there is a line between being gifted and being superman.
For example let’s look at Chris Froome going up Mont Ventoux in 2013. If you don’t following cycling Mont Ventoux is a famous stage on the Tour de France, the principal part being the steep ascent of the aforementioned mountain.
On his way to a TdF victory Froome blew everyone away up the climb, accelerating away from his main rival, a convicted doper who had served a ban, in the final stages and ending up with a time similar to Lance Armstrong’s best- which has now been wiped off the books due to his confession to heavy doping when he did it.
Regardless of his drug use many noted cycling commentators have mentioned that in their opinion Armstrong was truly physically gifted as a bike rider, and one of the ‘biggest engines’ ever on a bike. You have to be, to win in an era where pretty much everyone was doping.
Are you telling me that Froome is such a genetic freak that he can match a doped-up genetic freak like Armstrong, all natural?
People who want to believe sports are clean will at this point point to technology and ‘better understanding of nutrition and training etc.’
Armstrong’s heyday was in the early 2000’s. He won his last Tour in 2005. So in 8 short years they learned enough about eating right and training right that they could produce natural performances that can mimic ones washed in steroids.
As I explored in a previous post, studies have shown steroids can make you physically better than those who are training naturally, even when doing nothing.
What could they have possibly found in food and training that we didn’t know 8 years ago that can bridge that gap? And if so, why aren’t they sharing that with the rest of us who could also have massive leaps in our performance, without the need to resort to drugs?
The point is, at elite level, EVERYONE is insanely talented, hard-working, dedicated and competitive. When you have exceptional athletes proved or confessing to doping being beaten by others who are still officially clean, the ‘genetics’ argument can’t be true.
If you or I doped and ran against a clean ‘genetic freak’ then we’d still probably lose. But if I was already extremely gifted, my equally gifted competitor wouldn’t be able to keep up.
Above all, sports is a business, and people are competitive.
So drug testing is a joke. The risk of getting caught is down to how prepared you are. Let’s turn to the rewards: what do you get for winning?
Obviously for mainstream sports and main athletics events, the rewards are enormous, both financially and in terms of fame and recognition.
People have always and will always do things a lot worse that take PEDs in the pursuit of wealth and fame. If there is money on the table, you’d better believe that people will do what is takes to get it.
Sports are entertainment. The public are interested in seeing extraordinary things, records falling. If you are a sponsored athlete, your job is to win.
This isn’t school sports day, where everyone is given a medal for taking part. It’s a cut-throat business where one hundredth of a second can separate glory and obscurity.
With drugs testing the way it is, is it likely that hyper-competitive people wouldn’t choose to dope and go for gold?
When it comes to whether people would do anything ‘questionable’ in any facet of life, I think the principle question should always be: is there a lot of money at stake?
Yes? Then they’re doing it, no doubt.
At the top level, even with steroids you have to work hard. Being on top as a pro still means you have to have the right combination of genetic talent, dedication, competitiveness and mental strength before you take the drugs.
PED use in pro sports is not cheating. It is a necessary part of their job, to wring out the most performance possible from their bodies, and test the limits of human performance.
It is still amazing what they manage to achieve, and I admire the single-mindedness that is needed to drill yourself to the point of being the best in the world.
If PEDs were totally removed from all sports tomorrow everyone would stop watching, because no-one is going to pay hundreds of pounds to watch a man run the 100 metres in 10.5 seconds, not when we’ve seen closer to 9.5.
If anything I would like to see steroids legalised and complete transparency in athletics and pro sports. Rather than open up a floodgate of people taking PEDs it would mean that everyone involved right now could be open and honest about it.
The take away would be that people would know what it really takes to get there and be able to make an informed decision about whether they would ever choose to go down that road.
What about their health?
In the media steroids are particularly vilified for their effect on health. If we let people do them openly, aren’t we risking athletes health? Surely it can’t be good for them to have to take PEDs in order to win?
If we are interested in protecting the general public what about the harm alcohol causes? Or smoking? They kill a lot of people but no authorities are seriously considering banning them or making them illegal.
In a pro sports sense what about the injuries and concussions? What about the boxers who risk severe brain damage and early dementia when they decide to take up the sport?
What about the general physical toll on the knees and joints of training to the limit week in week out that athletes willingly subject themselves to, in the knowledge that they will be more likely to get arthritis in later life?
When you sign up to play rugby, you accept the risks to your health. If you don’t want to take the risks, you don’t play, or you go play tennis.
If you want to be a pro athlete you accept that PEDs will play a part. If you can’t handle that, you do something else. No-one is forcing you.
If I wanted to be a top athlete, with money, sponsorships and glory on the line, I would take steroids.
But I don’t and I’m not, so it’s not worth it. But it’s nothing to do with having morals or ethics, just pragmatism.
If I did do them, and I lived in a country where they were legal, one thing I wouldn’t do is lie about it. That’s the thing I really can’t stand. That is cheating.
If steroids were made legal in countries like the USA, then fake naturals couldn’t stand behind the defence that they have to lie to protect themselves from the law.
They would have no excuse to hide behind, and would have to admit that they are lying to scam people out of their money on supplements and routines that will never produce their results without the juice.
I didn’t write this article to ruin your perception of pro sports. I just think that if you’re interested in training, fitness and physical performance this is all something you need to be aware of.
Now that I know, I still appreciate great performances. But no longer think or believe that I can get anywhere near it, no matter what I do, without resorting to chemical supplementation.
It makes me appreciate my own training achievements and be realistic about my goals and limits.
Above all, it protects me from all the bullshit that flies around the fitness industry, because I know what they are claiming is not possible, and that supplements are just a load of cheap powders.
It’s an important part of maintaining motivation. Know what’s possible and go for it.
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