We All Assume

by John Furgele

We loved it—every minute, or second of it, 9.81 seconds to be exact. Usain Bolt’s 100 meter dash to glory electrified the stadium in Rio and millions more around the globe. And, while the world showed its adoration for the gifted Bolt, it also showed its disdain for American sprinter Justin Gatlin. One was feted, the other, scorned.  One cheered, the other roundly booed.

Why? The obvious reason is Gatlin’s doping suspension that lasted four years. The second is likely that at age 34, the 2004 Olympic champion is still running at a very high level. Once one is labeled a cheat, the label sticks—forever. As they saying goes, “fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.” Why would the world embrace a Gatlin only to have him test positive again down the road?  Are people convinced that he is competing clean in 2016?

This hasn’t happened and since 2010, he hasn’t been caught cheating but that didn’t appear to matter. And, even though Gatlin has admitted to his past mistakes, he still contends that he may have received steroids via massage, claiming that a therapist rubbed illegal cream on his body. Most people are selling this explanation because we all believe that athletes are so in tune with their bodies that they wouldn’t allow it to happen.

PED use is rampant in sports—all sports. And, athletes are reluctant to talk about it and them. When you get a bunch of athletes together and ask them point blank, “should drug cheats be given a lifetime suspension?” very few say yes. Most skirt it, others turn it into another question, with others like American sprinter Allyson Felix cite that “there are rules in place.”

Does that mean a Felix uses PEDs? No, but so many athletes use supplements and some of these may contain a banned substance. Others are prescribed medications that eventually end up on a banned list. For years, doctors prescribed Russian athletes melodonium. The drug is supposed to help people with angina or heart failure, but it also helps athletes increase exercise capacity and recover quicker. So, because somebody discovered this benefit, coaches were able to get doctors to legally prescribe it for athletes to use.

Melodonium is what got 5-time Grand Slam tennis champion Maria Sharapova suspended this past winter.   She was using since 2006—via prescription—but didn’t see that it was added to the banned list before she tested positive for it.

Adderall is used to treat ADHD, but because it is said to mask fatigue, pain as well as increasing arousal, it became a drug prescribed to numbers of athletes whether they had ADHD or not. It keeps athletes in the zone and several of them, including Orioles slugger Chris Davis and Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz have received suspensions for having too much in their bodies. Adderall is what led to Gatlin’s first “doping” suspension in which he received a one-year ban.

So, why wouldn’t people like Felix, swimmers and others call for a lifetime ban for positive tests?   The answer is complicated, but because most athletes take some type of supplements, they stay quiet. Today’s natural energy booster could be tomorrow’s melodonium.

Back to Bolt. We believe he’s clean, we think he’s clean and we certainly behave and act like he’s clean, but how do we know? Really know? Well, for one, he’s never failed a drug test. But, that hardly matters. Ben Johnson passed all the tests until the 1988 Seoul Olympics and then admitted to years of prior doping. And, never believe any athlete who says that they never took PEDs.   Remember the finger of Rafael Palmiero and of course, the years of denials by Lance Armstrong.

I must admit, I love Bolt and I am a fan. I want to believe that he’s never cheated and I don’t think he has. Unfortunately others have cast huge shadows of doubt and that’s not fair to the Bolts, Phelps (Lilly,) Kings and (Katie) Ledeckys of the sporting world. It’s the case of the innocent suffering because of the guilty—the few bad apples spoiling the bunch.

Many athletes convince themselves that everybody is “on something.” They use this to justify taking PEDs and as long as they don’t get caught, they can accept and live with it. When we see a Bolt run the 100 meters in 9.58 seconds, we want to be awed, but because of history, there is some doubt. For now, we have to hope that the process is fair and on the up and up.   If Bolt wins—and passes the tests—we have to believe that he’s clean. If we can’t, then why even watch sports anymore?

Tonight, we will watch Bolt get in the blocks for the 200-meter dash. We expect him to win and to put on a compelling show.  We want to be thrilled and ingest the good of sport. Let’s just hope we can celebrate for decades to come.


Johnny Furgele is the Original 228.  Don’t ever be fooled by impostors and impersonators




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