Doping and the Next Generation

By: Molly Breslin

“Why should I bother to train and race so hard when I have no chance of being competitive?” “How do I justify all the sacrifices I’ve made to myself and to my family when someone who cheats is getting all the glory?” “I’m so upset; I thought ‘this person’ was my friend.” “Where do we look for role models in our sport and in our community? I don’t know who to encourage my children to look up to any longer.” “Well, is it really any wonder I can’t keep up?”

After the news of Ms. Balogh’s 4-year ban for doping was publically announced by Ironman and USA Triathlon, I contacted all of my clients – both past and present – and had an open discussion with them regarding doping and cheating in amateur athletics. Above are some of the comments voiced. It’s a real “gut punch” to a coach to have to hear such dismay from her athletes and it’s difficult to know how to respond in an era in which our sport is unfortunately rife with such behavior. Here are some links to very good articles on doping and cheating in amateur athletics:

NY Times: Swim, Bike Cheat?    •    Cycling's Biggest Threat: Amateur Doping

And an article from the UK - this is not just a problem in the USA:

Doping in British amateur sport

It was very disappointing that the Jackson Hole News and Guide chose not to publish a “bigger picture” story and instead gave us an article of one person’s defense of her actions. The Planet Jackson Hole chose not to publish anything at all. Those publications missed out on an opportunity to report on a much larger story that the community deserves to be informed on, to ponder, and to respond to. Where were the voices and opinions of our hardworking, honest athletes who deserve to be heard as well?

Sunshine truly is the best disinfectant. Ultra Runner’s comment (found below in the comments section) on this blog regarding the secrecy of doping is right on target. If we keep this topic in the dark then how do we combat it?  

Doping and cheating athletes inflict damage to our sport that has tentacles extending far beyond the events they compete in. Their behavior discourages other athletes from training to their optimum potential, putting forth their best efforts on race day, or even participating at all. Dopers gives our sport and our community a black eye. Amateur athletic events would not take place without the support of volunteers, sponsors, law enforcement, permit-granting organizations, and medical personnel. I hope that I speak for the vast majority of our athletic community when I thank all of you for your support, time, and resources. We GREATLY appreciate everything you do for us and please know that the actions of one individual do not define or represent us. 

Performance-enhancing drugs can have extremely deleterious health effects. Use of PEDs start as early as middle school in our youth. Kids are given substances by coaches, parents, other athletes, and event organizers/supporters. They are told things like: “It’s just a vitamin that will make you faster and stronger.”  “Everybody is taking it.” “This protein powder is good for you and you won’t be as sore.” “Don’t tell anyone else about this – we get it for free from our sponsors and they can’t afford to give it to everyone.” For their part, the kids generally have no idea what they are ingesting and have little to no knowledge of the risks involved. The recent local doping issue in Jackson gives us an opportunity as a community to talk to our children about this and hopefully prevent them from falling prey to it.  

Following is an excerpt from an article on a study on doping in youth published in The American Academy of Pediatrics in June 2016:

The Partnership Attitude Tracking Study (PATS) is an annual survey of parents and high school students regarding behaviors and attitudes about drugs and substance abuse. The 2013 PATS survey included responses from more than 3700 students. Steroid use increased slightly from 5% to 7% as compared with 2012. However, use of synthetic human growth hormone (hGH) almost doubled, from 5% to 11%, after being fairly stable from 2009–2012:

And here is a great resource from a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia regarding talking to your children/athletic charges about doping in sport.

The Mayo Clinic has a resource on their website that does an exceptional job of explaining PEDs and discussing their effects.

Perhaps we actually owe Ms. Balogh a debt of gratitude for giving us the opportunity to have this public discussion on doping and cheating. I believe, however, that the real thanks should go to Ironman, Purplepatch Coaching/Matt Dixon, USA Triathlon, USA Cycling, USA Track and Field, The North Face, and JHCycling for having the integrity and the courage to identify and sanction an athlete who has been caught doping. 

Thank you Forest, for providing a forum for productive discussion.

Molly Breslin - USA Triathlon Certified Coach
22Tri Athletic Coaching