An Ode to Innocence, by Ward Nicholson

Why There is No Drug Problem in Track or Distance Running (satire)

Okay team, before the race, first a good warmup to break a sweat, get our heart rates up, the neurons firing, and the rhythm going. While we're warming up, take a look around and consider: How could anyone ever possibly doubt that --

  • The president would never lie to the American people. (Repeat after me: "I am not a crook!" "I did not have sex with that woman!")
  • Born-again Christians don't sin.
  • Nice teenage girls don't get pregnant.
  • The government would never use Social Security numbers as a means to track its citizens, and I still believe them.
  • Priests are all celibate.
  • I have no idea how my car got to going that fast, officer. Somebody must have slipped nitroglycerine into the gas pump the last time I filled up.

Got your second wind going now? Okay then. Bang! We're off...

1. Just because sprinters are ripped like bodybuilders and behemoth throwers are as big as those dirty, refrigerator-sized weight-lifters is no reason to think they might be using drugs too. Well, okay, a FEW cocky sprinters and gorilla throwers might be, but few distance runners would, because they are mostly such well-mannered, self-effacing, skinny nice guys. Rest assured WE ARE NOT NAIVE about the extent of the drug problem.

OF COURSE we understand how pervasive it may be in football, basketball, cross-country skiing, cycling, bodybuilding, weight-lifting, and so forth. But track is DIFFERENT because there is this big wall between us and these other sports that surround us. This wall--nay, this MOAT--is our TESTING PROGRAM and there is NO HARD EVIDENCE from it that anyone but a very few are cheating. Everyone remember these two mantras because we will be repeating them regularly.

2. It's altogether possible to get the same results without drugs if you just train harder and smarter. It just might take a little longer is all. You don't have to take drugs to get ripped like a bodybuilder. There are even separate competitions now for "natural bodybuilders" that prove it. It works so well, in fact, just to demonstrate the point, that natural bodybuilding federations only allow ergogenic substances truly natural to the body like the hormone IGF-1, thiomucase, creatine, vanadyl, and so on.

3. Just because throwers were already popping dianabol like candy in the amateur era of track in the 1960s and 1970s, and Finns were blood-doping in the Olympics as early as 1972 (remember Ali-Leppilampi? and Maaninka in 1980? and Vainio in 1984?) is no reason to get overly suspicious and believe that anybody might be doping in greater numbers today like the other sister sports we know of that DON'T do testing. Why? Because TRACK HAS TESTING. Maybe not for the favored drugs of today like human growth hormone (HGH) for speed and strength events, and erythropoietin (EPO) for distance runners, but we DO at least have testing. So keep your opinion to yourself and don't be so annoyingly negative. That was then, this is now.

4. Even though distance training methods haven't undergone much significant change in the last 20 or 30 years, the reason times just keep on improving on a mass scale at the elite level, especially in the last 5 or 10 years, is because runners are trying so much harder than they used to. Why? Because pharmaceutical science simply hasn't been able to keep pace with people's natural abilities and willpower. People are training harder than ever before and all it takes to do that is just willpower and strength of character. Drugs can't help you train hard. Drugs are only of help to those who don't train hard in the first place. Train hard enough and drugs simply can't help you any further.

As a result, people at the top are giving up drug use in ever greater numbers. Also, track's increasing professionalism in the form of increasingly high performance qualifying standards, and the money to be made these days in track lead to increasingly responsible and ethical behavior, with less incentive to cheat than ever before.

5. Distance runners are different from, and more pure, than other athletes. They aren't as motivated by money, name, fame --mainly by shoe contracts to keep them in a fresh pair of Nikes; they're a true breed apart. (All any poor distance runner really wants is a shoe contract so they can continue putting in their 100 miles a week to purify their souls through the conquering of pain.) Remember again the important mantras -- unlike the 1960s and 1970s, WE HAVE TESTING now, and it can catch lots and lots of drugs, just not the favored drugs of today like HGH and EPO for example. But we KNOW no one is using those because we have NO HARD EVIDENCE they are, and it would just be negative thinking to believe they might be.

Especially since some of us coach athletes we know are clean, we can be absolutely 100% certain no one else is using either. Those who believe otherwise are simply wrong because that's not our personal experience. And let's just not consider all those cyclists using EPO. Put them out of your mind. We don't have to think about any of that if we don't want to. The two sports are worlds apart (particularly in Europe).

6. Kenyans, Ethiopians, Moroccans, Algerians, and other third-world African distance runners especially would never cheat. All any African distance runner cares about is that the Africans continue to beat the mzungus (white foreigners). The Africans have gotten so good that they have called a truce with each other and agreed not to try too hard to beat each other, only hard enough to beat the mzungus. (This is why you can never predict for sure whether an Ethiopian, Moroccan, or Kenyan will win these days.) That way life is easier, they can ease up a bit with all the hard training, and eliminate the potential temptation of using EPO to get the edge over one another.

As long as any runner from Africa wins the race, they don't care who it is. Kenyans especially don't care, they just want to compete, and it is fine with them if their absolutely GREAT FRIENDS from Ethiopia beat them. It wouldn't bother them either if they lost to someone from Morocco or Burundi or Algeria.

Since Africans are primarily concerned with beating mzungus rather than having to make sure they can hold their own against or triumph over each other to win prize money, and since they are all basically from the same dark continent (Team Africa) and share their glory and winnings with each other, they have much less incentive to consider using EPO than the mzungus. Note that this is similar to how mzungus only care if any mzungu from anywhere beats the Africans, and thus why mzungus would only be prone to taking EPO to beat Africans, not other mzungus.

7. Perhaps it's conceivable a few aging Portuguese and Spaniards in the marathon or 1500m might be using--but that is probably all, so rest assured WE ARE NOT NAIVE about the extent of the drug problem. A Kenyan would never be tempted by EPO, even if a few championship titles went to 2:06 or 2:07 mzungu European marathoners instead of them. In fact, one of Kenya's top champions was recently heard to say, "Yes, we like to let the mzungus win a title once in awhile. We don't really need the money back at home in Kenya -- our families are already rich enough now. The 1999 World Championships marathon plus the big 2000 London race with all that money at stake we wanted to give to the mzungus. Anyway, if a few of them might be using that what-you-call EPO and beat us in a big race or two, it is of no concern to us. You see, we can always train harder than we do already if we really want to win, and burn out even more of our young Kenyans every two or three years."

8. Positive-thinking Pollyannas from the 1970s have at last been vindicated by those secret East German files that finally came to light. Just as we were told by such pundits of the day, the success of the East German athletes was primarily a function of their centrally planned system at locating and pharmacologically, er, I mean scientifically developing talent from very early ages, despicable though the Communist system may have been.

Likewise, the Kenyan success must be 100% due to a confluence of sociological factors. Genetics has little if anything to do with it, and drugs, absolutely -- ABSOLUTELY -- nothing. Just as it will always be forever and ever with these pure and simple dedicated folk. No Kenyan or Ethiopian or Algerian or Moroccan, not even one, ever took EPO or ever will, no matter how much performance standards might continue escalating. Unlike other runners, these runners have no limits that cannot be exceeded by simply trying harder. No Kenyan, not even one, would ever hide the fact of any use or lie about it either. (Especially to a mzungu journalist from World's Runner magazine taken for a ride in the wilds of Kenya.)

Simple, traditional cultures like this invariably maintain their indigenous values and are nearly immune to the corrupting influence of contact with the Western world. Rarely do they succumb as their countries begin to develop and modernize under the influence of medicine, technology, and especially television and T-shirts and Madonna and shoe contracts and Coca-Cola. We see examples of this all over the world again and again as third-worlders have adopted Western ways and technology yet have simultaneously maintained the purity of their indigenous cultures unfazed. Think of how successfully Colombians and Peruvians have resisted the lure of growing coca leaves for norteamericanos. Or the Southeast Asians, who have so altruistically helped out the West with software piracy eradication efforts and worked to stamp out the distribution of millions of bootleg copies of software programs on $5 CDs manufactured in the Far East.

Note that Kenyan runners still unquestioningly put allegiance to their country ahead of the individual, showing no evidence of being swayed by individual ambition or greed. For example, they would never think of defying the KAAA if it attempted to place a moratorium on individual participation in high-level competitions on the European circuit prior to important championships like the Olympics or Worlds to insure a top Team Kenya performance in the big ones. Avoiding overracing and sacrificing winnings in big-money competitions on the track circuit in the weeks leading up to big biennial and quadrennial championships is obviously considerably more important to them.

They would also be above suspicion from, for example, holding back from setting a world record in an event like the steeplechase in the 1995 World Championships so they could collect a big world-record bonus by setting the WR instead in a big-money meet-promoter's race five days afterward. They also shouldn't be suspected of having eased up to get 2nd place to let a teammate keep alive their winning streak in the steeplechase on the way to the huge pot of gold for unbeaten athletes in the 1999 Golden League series. Any tainted performances that might be motivated by money like this are clearly unthinkable.

9. Our sports and Olympic governing bodies are made up of dedicated, honest, upstanding representatives who would never take a bribe, like, say, to award the Games to any specific city (certainly not an American city like Salt Lake) or anything like that. We can likewise trust they would never intentionally "lose" drug-positives at the Games, like didn't happen in 1984 or any other Games, should the odd positive ever be found by our HIGHLY EFFECTIVE DRUG TESTING SYSTEM.

10. Cycling may be nearly 100% dirty, but distance running is almost 100% clean, because--chant with me once again -- WE HAVE DRUG TESTING NOW. Make no mistake, these are EFFECTIVE drug tests that catch almost everyone still using the drugs people were using 20 and 30 years ago like dianabol and stanozolol. And what's more, effective, unambiguous, foolproof, legally unchallengeable tests for the drugs in use today that have only been obtainable recently like for just the last 2-3 Olympiads or so such as HGH and EPO will be coming soon. Heck, as long as people don't get too greedy about bumping their testosterone ratio up more than about three or four or five times normal, we can even nab them for using that too with the ole 6:1 test.

Even the newer hormone drugs like IGF-1, drugs that even the "natural bodybuilding" federations <wink, wink> sanction for use, are ones that we might be able to test for by the 2008 or 2012 Olympics. Never let it be said track is not strict on drugs compared to other sports. Unlike those guys -- especially if we forget about CREATINE for a moment -- we are truly committed to a bona fide natural sport, where only TRULY natural aids like high-altitude/low-oxygen sleep chambers are allowed.

Designer drugs?! We'll have 'em covered by at least the 2016 Games! Gene implantation to increase density of capillaries and mitochondria? We can probably have a test ready as early as 10 or 15 years after first hearing about it, just as it looks like we will have managed to do with HGH and EPO. We are forming committees and studying the problems and committed to upping funding for drug testing to almost the bare-minimum level we can get by with, just as soon as we finish paying for all those summer villas, travel junkets, and hookers for our illustrious IOC members. (There is only so much money in the budget after you get paid gajillions of dollars for Olympic TV rights. First things have to come first.)


Okay, team, now that we're really breathing hard and some of you may be hyperventilating by now, we should be well-primed for some important words from our top three "Ode to Innocence" sponsors: That's YOU and ME and THE OTHER GUY. Chant loudly to increase the strength of your belief in how unthinkable cheating is for track people like us and our athletes:
Even if I knew I wouldn't get caught, I would never cheat on my taxes, and I can also vouch for the fact that all my close friends say they never would and never have either. THAT WOULD BE CHEATING!
Next let's join in and sing along with this catchy jingle from our 2nd sponsor:
I would never cheat on my wife or husband--that would be breaking the sacred vow of marriage. I know that none of my closest friends would either. THAT WOULD BE CHEATING!
And finally, let's hear from our 3rd Ode to Innocence sponsor. Don't be shy about joining in:
I would never cheat or lie or fudge my qualifications on a job application form just because I thought everyone else was doing it. I would also never copy any commercial software programs to use for free just because everyone else was doing it either. THAT WOULD BE CHEATING!
Wow, team. If so few of us would cheat on our taxes, wives or husbands, or to get a job or bootlegged software just because we thought everyone else was doing it, it stands to reason few of us would be tempted to cheat by taking performance-enhancing drugs if ever put in that situation, nor would our favorite athletes either. Why? Because that kind of behavior would be just that much more unthinkably different, wouldn't it? Isn't it reassuring to know that so few of us are capable of that kind of thing and are so resistant to temptation?

Okay, here we go into the home stretch....

11. Those who coach or manage clean athletes on the circuit and who make sure others know about it would be among the first to know if there were others who were dirty, and among the best sources of information about the extent of any drug problem. After all, if you were a dirty athlete or knew someone who was, and were looking for someone to talk to, wouldn't this be just the sort of person you would let in on your secret to help wise them up as well as absolve your own conscience?

If people on the circuit like this vouch that there's not a drug problem, then we can rest assured there simply isn't one. Furthermore, if there were REALLY a drug problem, wouldn't we all be privy to tons of firsthand reports from athletes itching to spill their guts and get the word out? Especially to the press, and to athletes and coaches and managers who were CLEAN? Wouldn't we have reams of HARD EVIDENCE demonstrating endemic use of these drugs we don't test for yet like EPO and HGH? You bet we would! So if you don't have hard evidence, just keep your ideas to yourself. We don't need to hear them. If we don't hear about any problems, we don't have to think much about them, and besides, it would just spoil our enjoyment of the sport if we knew. Ignorance is always bliss.

12. To think there is a drug problem in distance running is a most annoying example of negativity. It is just BULLSHIT. We are enjoying an unprecedented era of unheard-of performances where there has been mass improvement at the top by leaps and bounds. These are the best of times. Let us never lose sight of the fact that the truth is always positive. We can take comfort believing that very few distance runners, and absolutely no Africans, use EPO or any other drug. Why? Because of our powerful and hypnotic mantras. Let's all repeat them one more time. All together now, keeping your eye on the swinging stopwatch:








Okay team, we've crossed the finish line. Stop and take a few deep breaths. Pleased with your performance? Good. You should have no need of lashing yourself to the mast resisting the siren call of any of the following alternative, time-honored slogans few others might be holding in mind as they prepare for their next all-important competition:




© 2000 by Ward Nicholson. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission. For more of Ward's entertaining satire, see 29 Common Reasons Why Your Vegetarian Diet Isn't Working and The Morality of Human Omnivorousness elsewhere on the web.