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Olympic Athletes Were Using Plenty of Drugs in London: Why Don't We Let Them Use the Safe Ones?

The media do not blast scandalous headlines about Olympians poisoning themselves with alcohol, a deadly drug whose cartels actually sponsor the Olympics.
 
 
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Athletes came to London to win medals... and also to get high and party. In a story published by ESPN, US gold medalist Ryan Lochte talks about leaving the Olympic Village for a drug-taking experience with London soccer fans. Australian soccer’s Alicia Ferguson said the Olympic organizers encourage recreational drug use by athletes during the Closing Ceremonies. US soccer goalie Hope Solo talked about some athletes who are such “extremists” that they will take 20 doses in a night. She even admitted that she and other members of the US Women’s soccer team used a recreational drug all night and appeared on NBC’s Today Show while still under the influence!

Why haven’t the media been blasting scandalous headlines about our Olympians poisoning themselves with a deadly recreational drug and about the drug cartels whose product kills 2.5 million people annually worldwide? Because those drug cartels are official Olympic sponsors and their product is legal.

The Worst Drug an Athlete Could Use

Heineken UK is an official London Olympics “provider and supplier.” Budweiser is an official sponsor of Team USA. Yet, according to the American College of Sports Medicine, “alcohol consumption is high enough for alcohol to have been named the most abused drug in … Olympic sports by the … USOC.” According to the report, “alcohol abuse is at least as prevalent in the athletic community as it is in the general population” and has negative effects on reaction time, hand-eye coordination, grip strength, jump height, fatigue, aerobic performance, and hydration. Unlike any other drug, alcohol “affects the body’s every system, linking it to several pathologies, including liver cirrhosis, ulcers, heart disease, diabetes, myopathy, bone disorders, and mental disorders.”

Usually Olympic alcohol use just ends in embarrassment, like 20-year-old Belgian cyclist Gijs van Hoecke, who was booted from his Olympic team when photos of him clearly overdosed became an Internet sensation. Sometimes Olympic alcohol use leads to anti-social behaviors that affect others. Australian rower Josh Booth was just kicked off the Olympic team and sent back home after he vandalized two store windows in a fit of anger over his sixth-place finish following an alcohol overdose that required hospitalization. 

When it comes to drugs and the Olympics, one might think of the world’s most decorated Olympian. However, long before being known for marijuana, US swimmer Michael Phelps had to deal with charges of driving drunk in Maryland at the age of 19 after the Athens Games.  Back in 2009 he was spotted partying in New York and “drinking straight from a bottle of Grey Goose” and had “ordered four bottles of vodka.” But the infamous photo of him smoking cannabis from a ROOR bong – a type marijuana aficionadi use – led the USOC to apologize profusely, stating it was “disappointed in the behavior” and Phelps is a “role model” responsible for “setting a positive example for others, particularly young people,” and “regrettably, he failed to fulfill those responsibilities.”

When it comes to recreational drugs, like the rest of the Olympics, it is only acceptable to promote the sponsors’ products.

Promoting the most dangerous recreational drug…

Athletes are subject to a four-page set of rules regarding social media that primarily forbids advertising for non-Olympic sponsors and the use of Olympic trademarks. These rules do not forbid the promotion of drug overdose, as evidenced by Tour de France winner and British cycling gold medalist Bradley Wiggins. Here he is on Twitter with a photo titled “Getting wasted at at StPauls,” while another tweet explains how he is “blind drunk at the minute and overwhelmed with all the messages."

The Olympic organizations can administer their own controls over social media when postings simply reflect badly on the team. Australian swimmers Nick D’Arcy and Kenrick Monk got themselves in trouble with Australian officials when they posted some pictures of themselves holding automatic pistols and pump-action shotguns at a legal US gun store. Officials called the social media postings “foolish and clearly inappropriate” and banned them from using Twitter and Facebook.

Did the British Olympic Association admonish Wiggins for any foolish and clearly inappropriate social media use in his promotion of drug overdose? No, in fact, they praised him. ”He is absolutely thoroughly entitled to have a fantastic party and celebrate,” BOA chairman Colin Moynihan said. ”Nobody deserves it more.”

… while banning the safest recreational drug

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) maintains a list of prohibited substances for athletes. Making that list depends on meeting two of the following three criteria:

  1. It has the potential to enhance or enhances sport performance
  2. It represents an actual or potential health risk to the athlete
  3. It violates the spirit of sport

Alcohol certainly matches #2 – it definitely is a health risk to the athletes. As for #1, a performance enhancer, the American College of Sports Medicine says “low amounts of alcohol (0.02-0.05g/dL) can result in decreased hand tremors, improved balance and throwing accuracy and a clearer release in archery.” But only archery, karate and motor sports ban alcohol use in competition (pg 9). In fact, you can legally compete drunk in every other sport, as Russian high jump gold medalist Ivan Ukhov did back in 2008. As for #3, violating the spirit of sport, if the spirit of sport is to celebrate the fittest and finest in human achievement, how does promoting the abuse of one of the most harmful drugs to humans not violate that spirit?

In its anti-doping code, the US Anti-Doping Agency notes that cannabinoids are a banned substance in all forms, whether it’s an illegal joint of homegrown or a legal Marinol pill. “USADA strongly advises athletes not to use cannabinoids at any time,” they explain on the same sheet that counsels athletes they can get a “therapeutic use exemption” for the medical use of stimulants and narcotics.

Let the best natural athletes compete!

Such an exemption might be beneficial to the athletes in 17 states that recognize medical use of marijuana, but one must question if alcohol use is accepted and encouraged why should cannabis be banned for anything but moral reasons? Nobody claims marijuana use “enhances sport performance” unless it’s the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest and it certainly provides far less “health risk to the athlete” than alcohol.

As for the nebulous “spirit of sport” rule, what deflates the spirit of sport more than knowing the best natural competitors aren’t competing?  USA Wrestling failed to even advance beyond the first round in Women’s 72kg when USA’s Ali Bernard lost 3-1 to Sweden’s Jenny Fransson. Would the woman who dominated her in the USA trials, Stephany Lee, have advanced? We’ll never know, because she was suspended for a positive test for cannabis. In judo, Men’s 73kg judoka Nick Delpopolo had his seventh place finish vacated when he tested positive for cannabis metabolites. Does the athlete who’s now the seventh place finisher and his country feel any more proud? And how different would Olympic history be if the proof of Michael Phelps’ cannabis use was metabolites on an Olympics anti-doping test and not a photo in a British tabloid?

Russ Belville is the host and producer of "The Russ Belville Show" at RadicalRuss.com.