Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2006 | Poor Floyd Landis.
No one explained to the disgraced Tour de France cyclist that his lame excuses for testing positive for a banned performance-enhancing substance works only for the athletes that play team sports.
In San Francisco, Barry Bonds can claim he thought he was rubbing flaxseed oil into his body and Giants fans accept the laughable story. They cheer Bonds because all they care about are the home runs he hits to win games for the team they grew up with since childhood.
Among Raiders fans in Los Angeles and Oakland, the late Lyle Alzado is fondly remembered as a manically ferocious defensive end that helped the Raiders win a Super Bowl, even though he later admitted his rage was fueled by steroids and he speculated the cancer that would kill him was caused by steroids abuse.
In San Diego, there are two Ken Caminitis. The Ken Caminiti who later admitted he used steroids when leading the Padres to the National West title in 1996 as the league MVP and National League pennant in 1998 is still a beloved figure. But Padres fans shake their heads in disgust at the Ken Caminiti who died of a drug overdose two years ago because he couldn’t free himself from drug and alcohol addiction.
Funny, but isn’t there something backward about how the two Ken Caminitis are viewed? The steroid user cheated sports (not to mention the runner-up in the 1996 MVP voting) while the addict is the victim of a disease.
Now Marion Jones’ coach, Steve Riddick, has offered the first in what will undoubtedly become a series of lame excuses to explain news of her positive test for EPO in June while we wait to learn if her B sample also tests positive. But it won’t work because Team USA every four years in the Olympics doesn’t provide the year-in and year-out hometown team affiliation that works in pro sports.
Next up for athletes like Landis and Jones is a role in Casablanca. They’ll say they’re “shocked, shocked” that performance enhancing drugs are used in sports as they accept their winnings.
Listen, let me tell you about Quincey Clark, a San Diego Olympic wrestler from Lincoln High. Consider his story the next time you hear an athlete express shock that a banned substance turned up in their body.
We were in the press room at the 2000 USA Wrestling National Championships in Las Vegas discussing Clark’s upcoming matches that would go a long way toward earning the berth he did indeed claim two months later on the U.S. Olympic team in Sydney.
As we talked, Clark spotted a barrel of iced-down Red Bull that was freely available. He picked up a can, studied the label and rolled it in his hand to the side that listed the contents. Clark read every ingredient, careful that he wouldn’t be ingesting something that would lead to a positive test for a banned substance.
Red Bull was relatively new then – at least it was to a strait-laced guy like Quincey Clark if not to the college bar scene that mixes the energy drink with Jagermeister into a potent combination.
Confident nothing banned was listed, Clark took a sip. Then he thought better and put down the can without finishing it. It wasn’t worth the risk to drink a product unknown to him.
So let’s see, Quincey Clark, who competes in a sport with little financial reward and reduced to blurbs as opposed to headlines, is more wary of accidentally ingesting a banned substance than a Tour de Francis cyclist or track athlete who stand to lose millions of dollars if caught cheating?
Athletes turn to performance-enhancing drugs once they’ve climbed to a ceiling of competing against athletes they can’t beat with talent and skill. They can’t accept defeat and they rationalize that others are cheating and making millions.
Clark had reason to fall into this trap by 2000. At the 1999 World Championships, Clark lost in overtime in a quarter-final match to an Iranian wrestler who went on to earn the bronze medal. The medal would later be stripped from the Iranian for using steroids, but it was too late for Clark to ever know if steroids gave the Iranian the edge in their overtime match and that Clark could have also gone on to claim a bronze medal.
A bronze medal at the 1999 World Championships on Clarke’s resume also might have earned him a favorable seed and thus a better shot at an Olympic medal in 2000. Instead he found himself seeded in the toughest pool of his weight class and didn’t make it out to the medal rounds.
Are Floyd Landis and Marion Jones any less naive than Quincey Clark for not being careful about what they put in their body?
No, that’s not it. They simply aren’t as honest with themselves, their fans and their sport.