September 19, 2000

Faster, Higher, Stronger

Some people are taking that motto too literally.

The 2000 Summer Olympic Games are well underway, as is the three-ring circus of drug testing. The big debate in Canada right now is whether equestrian show jumper Eric Lamaze should be allowed to compete at the Olympics.

Lamaze has survived not one, not two, but three lifetime bans for drug use; one in 1996 (cocaine) which was lifted after a year; one in August 2000 (supposedly a different, unnamed substance contained in a mislabelled herbal supplement) which was soon lifted when the honest error became apparent; and one on September 8, 2000 when it was discovered (by testing) that Eric's reaction to the unfair ban had been to go back to cocaine.

Incredibly, the third ban was lifted on Monday by an "arbitrator". Still, the Canadian Olympic Federation has the last word on whether Eric may compete, and the country is still waiting for that word.

Why is it even being seriously considered? Because Lamaze is Canada's best hope for a medal in that sport.

I don't think he should be allowed to compete. The message that would send to the world about drug use (and about Canada) is unacceptable. Even though cocaine isn't used as a performance enhancer, it is illegal and dangerous.

Most of the opinions I've read, online and in the newspaper, agree with this view. I found one that doesn't.. and I really don't follow this logic. The author says Lamaze owes it to his team to compete. I think he owes it to his team to disappear into drug rehab and not come out again until he's clean.

This will go into history as yet another Canadian doping scandal. Hardly an Olympics (or other major athletic event) goes on without at least one. In the last Winter Games we had snowboarder Ross Rebagliati stripped of a gold medal (for a day or two, until it was reinstated) after traces of marijuana were found in his system. At the time it was suggested that perhaps he inhaled some second-hand pot at a snowboarder party. In any case, if you can win a snowboarding medal while high, you deserve it in spades.

There have been other incidents through the years but the first is still the biggest.. Ben Johnson at the 1988 Olympics - steroids. Gold medal reverted back to the U.S.   A national disgrace, later compounded by repeat positive drug tests and a subsequent lifetime ban in 1993. That one has been appealed but to no avail.

The decision on Lamaze should be made within the day. I truly hope it's the correct one.
(I'll add an update as soon as I can.)

Wednesday, 10 AM: The decision was made overnight and it is the correct one. It was made simpler by the fact that all Canadian Olympic athletes had signed an agreement including, among other things, not to do drugs.

CBC TV covered the press conference and during the commentary afterward, several former Olympic athletes were interviewed, and all expressed rather emphatically that they agreed with the ruling. Some of the comments I remember were that competing in the Olympics isn't a right, but a "reward" which is no longer deserved; and that if Lamaze had been allowed to join his team it would have been like "kicking sand in the faces" of the other athletes.

Now that it's done, I have to admit I feel bad for Eric Lamaze. He was also banned from the Atlanta games in 1996 for cocaine use; to work towards a goal for four years - twice - and be denied at the last minute, even if through your own mistakes, must be insupportable. I hope he gets the help he needs, and that this unfortunate story serves to deter others from following that path.

Linque Du Jour:   CBC News: You may be allergic to your computer

My worst nightmare!

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