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To win at all costs?

We are all so excited that SA was selected to host World Champs 70.3 in September next year. Many SA athletes are training hard to qualify for World Champs which is, as a coach, so great to be a part of. However, with 70.3 World Champs 2018 on our door step, dedicated athletes unfortunately also become obsessive athletes and for some (not all) qualification becomes a “qualify at all costs” scenario.

The constant topic for everyone competing in the sport of triathlon, or for that matter any sport, is DOPING. As wannabe pro athletes, both Kent & I have been drug tested many times in our lives. We’ve had WADA rock up at our door step at 8:30pm on a Sunday evening while we are both in PJs on the couch with our 3 fur ball children guiltily eating a R95 tub of Haagan Das ice cream!  One particular evening I’ll never get – the dogs started barking so we looked out the window only to find 2 people climbing out a red corolla and walking towards our door. I shouted at Kent – lock the door and hit the alarm! No offense to our friends who work for WADA but they looked extremely dodgy both climbing out the car each carrying a large black bag at 8:30pm on a Sunday night!

We shouted at them from our now locked trellidor – what do you want – don’t ring the bell you’re going to wake the baby!! “good evening Claire, my name is Tom and we are here from WADA to drug test you! “

Nooooooooo! I was SO angry!! Luckily Kent is the more calmer, diplomatic and more understanding individual between the 2 of us and he welcomed them into our house, offered them coffee whilst I ran to put some proper clothing on, muttering all the time at how unfair this was and how dare they interrupt my ice cream eating chilled Sunday evening! Uuuuu and Lord help them both if they spoke too loudly waking Logan up!

I eventually found my sense of humour, put the ice cream back in the freezer and started drinking water so I could wee in a bottle! 2 hours later I had finally given them my sample, we thanked them and I went back to my ice cream.

Another incident I’ll never forget is after the Energade sprint race at Van der Biyl park. I was asked to drug test but because I was so dehydrated I was really struggling to give a sample.  Long story short, I landed up in floods of tears with a migraine from now over doing the liquid and PK (AKA Claires Dad) started negotiating with the WADA representatives and demanding why on earth I needed to do this drug test. As a young 19 year old Triathlete I was absolutely terrified of WADA and had full respect for the system and I knew exactly what was expected of me. So, typical PK & Claire characters (like daughter like father) we landed up shouting at each other in front of these poor WADA reps who just wanted me to wee in a bottle!! We were literally the LAST people left at the race to my Dads utter horror, and, to top it all off we had to stop 3 times on the way home for me to wee again!!!

My point of these stories – drug testing is a common occurrence amongst athletes, and although plenty of athletes are still manging to get away with it – WADA is definitely working hard at cleaning up our beloved sport and making it fair for everyone. Unfortunately though, athletes and doctors are clever and they have figured out many different ways to still use illegal substances without getting caught.

Now, although I’ll never understand it, we need to ask ourselves the question of WHY? Perhaps its because it is the athletes job – it puts money on the table and if everyone else is doing it then why not? Some of them feel there is no other way out – they don’t have a choice and they don’t actually have another job option. In effect it just levels the playing field doesn’t it?

But for some athletes who don’t win money, this is supposed to be their hobby and their passion. Ego? The competitive drive to win can be fierce!  I’m not too sure here but all I can say is for those athletes that do take illegal substances – the long term cons definitely outweigh the short term benefits. Just to name a few: PED (Performance enhancing drugs) can cause impotence, balding and steroid rage. PED can stunt growth in adolescences. More serious effects include heart and liver damage and an increased risk of blood clots. PED abuse also leads to contradictory, complex, behavioural and psychiatric changes. Increased frequency of mental illness including schizophrenia, mania and depression! The list goes on!

Some athletes argue that they could ride better if they took PED or even a motor on their bikes, but that’s not the point of the sport. However others argue that PED have become so prevalent that the only realistic option is for sporting authorities to let athletes use what they want as long as they do it safely. A good example is a Kenyan athlete training at altitude with a natural ability to just run fast may have a hemocrit level of 50 – this is the legal limit. Some may argue – then why can’t athletes take EPO to raise their levels to 50 to equalise the playing field? BUT…. If we look at all the negative effects of performance enhancing drugs it makes you think twice. I for one would like to live a long healthy life instead of running the risk of having a heart attack at age 40! And this is the exact reason why WADA don’t legalise doping as their goal is to protect the athletes long term health.

 All to get that extra few minutes in a race and possibly a podium? The irony is, most athletes are so self involved and concerned about their own races that I can pretty much guarantee they wont remember who was on the podium from one year to the next but they will remember who was banned for doping!!

Although many AG athletes are not tested, there has been an increase in random testing for all ages and not just the pros. For this reason it is vitally important AG athletes are aware of banned substances in every day medicines. You definitely don’t want to be THAT athlete that gets banned for “drugs” when it was an honest mistake of taking your child’s cough mixture because that was the only thing in the cupboard at 1am in the morning to stop your coughing from waking the family!!

Bottom line is – all of us athletes who hold morals & values in high regard,  wouldn’t consider PED – BUT – don’t then be caught out by being uneducated in those substances that are on the banned list.

You can download the Drug free sport app which helps you see all banned substances both in and out of competition.

For those athletes who DO take performance enhancing drugs – this is your decision, and yes, I won’t beat you in a race, but at least I’ll go to bed every night with a clear conscience knowing that I’ve given my best shot in training and racing, and if I do somehow get that time I was training for or podium spot I can look in the mirror at myself and know that I had 100% earned it!