BEIJING 2008. Will the XXIX Olympiad live up to its billing as the Greatest Show on Earth or will it again be marred by drug scandals?
Time was when I looked forward to the Summer Olympics more than any other sports event. The rare occasions when athletes from Great Britain managed to triumph over the rest of the world would fill me with national pride.
In my days as a sports reporter, I was lucky enough to cover the Barcelona Games (in 1992) and discovered the enormity of the event.
The opening ceremony for the 2008 Olympics takes place on Friday but I, for one, won’t be glued to NBC’s coverage during the next three weeks.
The reason why? Because, these days, it’s impossible to really know who’s clean and who’s not.
My belief in the Olympic ideal – the pursuit of sporting excellence in the spirit of true sportsmanship – disappeared the day Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson won the 100 meter sprint in Seoul, shattering the world record in the process.
Johnson’s subsequent disqualification after a drug test revealed the presence of the banned steroid stanozolol (American Carl Lewis was awarded the gold medal) rendered one of the most hyped showdowns in sport meaningless.
Ever since then, my reaction to any sporting achievement has been slightly cynical. Did human growth hormone have anything to do with it?
Cycling's greatest race has turned into a French farce
Of course, it’s not just the Olympics that has been overshadowed by drugs. This year’s Tour de France was a French farce. It seemed that every day, a rider and his team were being pulled out of the race due to a positive test. Was the King of the Mountains really the King of the Mogadons?
To steal a book title, baseball is another Game of Shadows. Turns out most of the sport’s leading home run hitters – Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds – were “juiced.”
Bonds broke Hank Aaron’s record for the most home runs in Major League Baseball last year but many believe this record should now have an asterisk placed against it: achieved with the aid of steroids.
Apart from the legal process, the only retrospective action baseball can take is to deny them access to the Hall of Fame. But the dilemma is just who took steroids and who did not.
Remember all those supposedly female runners from East Germany who dominated the track and field events at Olympics in the 1960s and 70s? Well, they now have a mustache and smoke a pipe.
Seriously, they even have to test for gender now. And in the ever-evolving field of medicine, how many drugs go undetected?
That’s why when the next man goes under 9.72 seconds for the 100 meters, my reaction will be: does anyone care?
Beijing 2008 is already under the microscope due to China’s human rights issues. Organizers will be praying for a clean Olympics. Let the Games begin…without me.