The drumbeat of drugs drones on………………………..

There are certain inherent benefits of having had the opportunity to observe something “up close and personal” over a long period of time. Put that together with several working brain cells and the fallout can be revealing, and perhaps even beneficial. That is pretty much the case with me and the sport of track and field. I got my first track and field A.A.U.. card almost sixty years ago ( 1949 ). By 1953 I was peripherally at the elite level of the sport in the United States. By 1956, while attending law school at the University of Chicago, I was working and training with Olympians ( University of Chicago Track Club ). By 1968 I had coached my first Olympian (Esther Stroy ) onto the U.S. Olympic team. In 2008 I worked with several athletes at the Beijing Olympics, including David Oliver who won a bronze in the 110 hurdles and Tiffany Ross-Williams who was a finalist in the women’s 400 meter hurdles. Over all those many decades I have seen many philosophical and physical changes take place within the sport. But the most pervasive influences and impact in the sport are drugs.
The emphasis philosophically and psychologically during my early years in the sport ( 1949-1960 ) was “natural talent”. It was during this time that black athletes in America, and later from Africa, started to make both a qualitative and quantitative difference. The racist and apologist excuse for blacks beating whites was the notion that ” blacks are just naturally better at certain things,… and physical activity was one of them, along with music and rhythm.”  Intellectual and serious cranium  activity naturally fell to, and was the preserve of whites”. But I stray. The emphasis and glorification was placed upon athletes being “natural” to the point where even weight lifting was looked upon as a minor form of “cheating”, and no self-respecting athlete with a scintilla of integrity would ever stoop to that level to attain success in “pure” sport.
Right after the 1948 and 1952 Olympics it became obvious that World War II had ravaged and decimated the male youth of Europe, and had badly stunted the development of European female athletes as well,and provided the United States with an overwhelming advantage because of its school, university and club system of sports, plus having had fewer casualties compared to Europe during World War II. At the same time, the emphasis on drug use as a means to enhance and preserve health was carried over from World War II. In addition to the drug momentum from World War II being carried on, more and more research was done in the area of health, wellness and performance drugs. So given the basic inequity as regards talent pool, facilities and opportunities favoring the U.S., the availability and knowledge about performance enhancing drugs, and the sense that drugs were a way to “level the playing field”, there was a natural “justification” and progression when it came to drugs being used on Olympic European athletes. This is not to say that during this time, and after, Europe was the only area that used drugs, because it was apparent as early as the middle 50s and early 60s that certain American athletes were using and benefiting from drug use. However, in general the drug use among American athletes was limited to a few athletes in certain throwing events. There was still this myth and mentality among runners that weight training not only was unethical, it was also counterproductive because it made athletes “muscle bound” and prohibitively inflexible.
As the Olympics grew in stature as a world wide athletic event of great importance to the world, it also produced a geopolitical platform for competing cultures to demonstrate their superiority over each other through the medal count at the Olympics. The Cold War between the West and socialist/communist countries heightened both the need to win at all costs and the systematic development and use of drugs to achieve victory. This was done at tragic costs to athletes, both those who participated and those who did not.. It has been well documented that East German and Russian athletes encountered serious and life shortening consequences from their drug use. One estimate has it that least 10% of those who used performance enhancing drugs were
victims of some sort of serious health issue or life shortening affliction. My own reckoning is that this is a very low percentage of people who have suffered serious negative health issues as a result of drug use in sports. On the other end of the spectrum, I was recently asked in a very angry tone by a former prominent sprinter, ” Do you have any freaking idea how much money I lost finishing 4th and 5th to people I knew were dirty ?” I have always wondered, just how much money Ben Johnson cost Calvin Smith by breaking his record in the 100 meters ?”.
Right after the break up of the Soviet Union and  essentially the end of the Cold War, the U.S. won 30 medals in track and field at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. At the Atlanta Olympics the U.S. track and field medal count was down to 24. By 2000 it was down to 20 ( 14, if you factor in drug busts ).  In 2001 I became Chair of the High Performance Division of USATF. The High Performance Division was the USOC and USATF response to the drastic drop in medal count . The total mission and mandate of the HPD was to,… ” increase the U.S. medal count in major international competition.”. With that as my mission, mandate, and clear command, I set  out, with the critical and essential help of several others, to put in place projects and programs that would do just that, increase the U..S. medal count in, “major international competition”. It was, and is, obvious that the most direct and straightforward strategy to increase the U.S. medal count is to eliminate drug use among athletes all over the world. If drugs are eliminated from the Olympics and World Championships, the U.S. medal count would go up expediently. Basically I am advocating ” Back To The Future”. In other words, if we return to the conditions of the “good ole days” when drugs were not a significant factor, the U.S. would dominate pretty much in the same way it did right after WW II. Drugs USE changed the culture of post WW II American dominance at the Olympics and drug ELIMINATION would return us to that very same lofty status.
As Chair of HPD, I thought the best way to meet the drug challenge was to use “best practices” from other successful business models. The concept was based upon a case I read about of a computer hacker successfully beating the firewall of a major corporation and gaining access to their most valuable files and data. What was most informative to me was the fact that the company was more interested in how the hacker broke into their files and “beat the system” than they were in placing him behind bars. Voila and eureka, there it is ! At a meeting between the leadership of the USOC and USATF I proposed that we do the same thing as it regards drug cheats. I would recruit a number of drug cheats who would be willing to anonymously, and with immunity, explain the processes they used to defeat drug testing. These methods would be scrutinized and tested against the current testing protocols used by U.S. Anti Doping Agency (USADA ) to see if their methodology was really set up to catch and detect drug cheats. The plan was enthusiastically endorsed by the CEO ( Lloyd ward ) of the USOC as well as the president ( Bill Roe ) of USATF. At a meeting of national governing bodies at the USOC headquarters in Colorado Springs, I shared the plan with a couple of NGB representatives and was impressed with their genuine and enthusiastic response. In order to start small and expand, I got agreements from Swimming, Weightlifting, and Cycling to go with USATF. Each federation would provide input from different areas of drug use they thought most critical in their sport. For example, swimming had a do
ctor who was well versed in bio-engineering and what she thought might occur in this area as regards swimming. Weight lifting and cycling was charged to have input of a similar nature based upon what point on the drug compass threat to their sport would come from. USATF’s contribution would be to set up the symposium/conference and get athletes to explain how they successfully cheated the tests they were made to take. Feeling the need to involve USADA in the process in June of 2002 I started to place calls to Terry Madden who was heading USADA at the time. It took until October, with a number of unanswered calls, and a bit of coercion in the interim, to finally get him on the phone to discuss what we wanted to do. I outlined the process of getting all these NGBs together for a coordinated and cooperative effort by NGBs never before attempted to this degree to strategize and map out anti-drug process and protocols. He was not enthusiastic and advised me that he and the lawyer for USDA would get back to me a week later. A week later the phone call took place and I was advised by the USADA lawyer that anyone who testified as to their drug use would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, and where prosecution was not possible, their names would be exposed. I naively pointed out that this would undermine the whole factual aspect of the symposium. The response was, ” We do not give immunity to anyone. We do not guarantee the anonymity of drug cheats !”. Of course, a little more than a year later they did exactly that for Trevor Graham, the coach for Marion Jones and Tim Montgomery.
Jackie “Moms” Mabley was a very wise and very funny black comedienne back in my youth. One of her famous lines was, ” The only thing an OLD man can do for me,….. is to show me where a YOUNG man is !” Now that I am seventy four ( 74 )years old I can really feel the sting and impact of what she was saying. But further I understand one of the underlying messages in what black comedians were trying to communicate in those days of strict segregation and gross inequality. The message was, get a good understanding of negative and exploitative reality and find a way to turn it to your advantage. Let’s try this, ” The only thing a drug cheat can do for me,…… is to show me where a clean athlete will eventually get to !” This is based upon the reality and fact that drug attained marks in most events, if not all, are eventually matched and exceeded by clean athletes at some point in time. The secret and challenge is having the mental ability to “compress time”.  Now here is where it gets a little
complicated if you are not paying close attention. After the October Revolution of 1917 in Russia the communist leader, Lenin, had a real dilemma and problem on his hands. Marxist/Hegelian doctrine, under which he was supposed to be operating, dictated that there were two stages preceding the communist/socialist state. The steps were FEUDAL AGRARIANISM which would give way to INDUSTRIAL DEMOCRATIC CAPITALISM, which in turn would generate conditions that would lead to the utopian communist/socialist state. It was obvious to all that in 1917 Russia was at best at agrarian status and real democratic capitalism was no where in sight.  This being the case, Lenin was faced with either giving in to true Marxist doctrine and giving power to industrialists, or he could keep power and find a methodology or concept to deal with what he really wanted to do. What he came up with was the idea that he and his followers would telescope down history and time. They would “compress time”, they would bring about today what doctrine and dogma stated should not take place until much later. The same is true of coaching and training for clean athletes.. As long as we have drug agencies that are more concerned with their own existence and perpetuation, we are always going to have drugs. That means that clean athletes and coaches must find a workable philosophy and approach that realistically deals with the negative and exploitative conditions brought on by drugs. That means:
1. All the druggies and cheaters have done is to show you where clean athletes can, and will, eventually go.
2. What is the world record today, will eventually be exceeded by ordinary athletes tomorrow
3. What is required is a mindset that understands the above and training methods necessary to achieve the above
There are a couple of real important points that could/should be taken away from the above:
1. As hideous as drugs are, and despite all the platitudes that drug agencies spout, their real objective is self-survival and
self-perpetuation. So we need to prepare for drugs over the long haul.
2. The real and serious damage of drugs is not necessarily to clean athletes,… the real and serious damage is to the
druggies. Because clean athletes who know history and intelligently apply history can overcome and exceed drug
performances.
3. Clean athletes can not continue to use drugs as the reason and excuse for their not realizing their true potential. Athletes
less gifted than they will eventually exceed  what are now drug attained marks.
4. One reason for total elimination of drugs is based upon the damage it does to the integrity and essence of the sport and
the mental and physical health to the practitioners. Further, it is simply the best and right thing to do.
This has been a convoluted, and perhaps complex, course to get to this point. The course taken is one that has borne fruit in the sport at the highest levels. You do not have a real grasp on drug use now unless you have a better understanding of what the root causes were in the first place. You do not have the tools to overcome adversity, unless you are aware of the tools and approaches used by those who overcame the most adverse of adversity. You do not have the grasp on how to win unless you are familiar with concepts used to overcome dogma and doctrine that hold progress back.
Happy New Year !
Brooks T. Johnson – Teacher/Coach
Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Comments are closed.