McGwire failed to dispel rumors that he was a steroids user by not denying he used the drugs and then by telling the committee he “didn’t come here to talk about the past.” Sosa was as equally evasive. When asked by a reporter whether he used steroids, Sosa said, “Why do you want to ruin this beautiful game?” On the other hand, Conseco’s tell-all book, “Juiced,” alleges rampant steroids using and named names. Juice is what the players call steroids.
Rumors of McGwire and Sosa using steroids began after their famous 1998 baseball season, when they went mano a mano in a thrilling home run derby that resulted in a new single-season home run record (70) for McGwire. This was nine more than the previous record (61) set in 1961 by Roger Maris, who broke the record no one wanted to see broken, the record (60) of the immortal Babe Ruth, the Bambino. Roger Maris was not forgiven for the rest of his life.
Now the very popular McGwire and Sosa must spend the rest of their lives living under a cloud of suspicion about their steroids-tainted careers.
Conspicuous by his absence from the committee’s hearings was the slugger Bobby Bonds, the current single-season Home Run King (73) and the player who probably will break “hammering” Hank Aaron’s all-time record (755); Bonds has 703. Bobby’s disingenuous spin on his steroids using is that he did so unwittingly, deflecting responsibility away from himself and towards his doctor at BALCO, a medical institute currently under investigation for its role in the steroids scandal.
Steroids entered the lexicon of the Olympics during the 1960’s after performance-enhancing drugs were used by athletes of the former Soviet Union. For the Soviets, the Olympics were another cold war battleground, an opportunity to demonstrate the superiority [sic] of their communist system over The American Way while the whole world watched. Olympic gold medals were propaganda medals, too; and the Soviets would cheat to win them.
Two stellar Soviet track and field athletes of the ‘60s were the Press sisters, Olga and Volga, the one-two punch of the women’s team. But their world records and gross physiques aroused suspicion of steroids using. One competitor said she became suspicious when she noticed the two amazons were growing five o’clock shadows, sprouting facial hair is one of the deleterious effects steroids has on women. As soon as drug testing was introduced at international track meets, the Press sisters disappeared from the face of the earth, or to a gulag in Siberia.
The East Germans picked up from where the Soviets left off, by producing steroids that could not be detected. This is how half of divided Germany became a dominant force in women’s gymnastics and swimming from the 1972 Montreal Olympics until the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1992. It was only after the former Soviet bloc country began airing its dirty commie laundry that the extent of steroids using among East German women became public.
For decades, the athletes were given little blue “vitamin” pills, which, unbeknownst to them, were steroids. A steady diet of the pills had repercussions for the women, many of whom subsequently suffered permanent illnesses, had miscarriages, and bore children with birth defects. One former swimmer complained of the humiliation of always being addressed as “Sir” or “Mr.”
Those women finally had their day in court when the coaches responsible for the whole sordid business of steroids distribution were dragged into a German courtroom. The women were vindicated and the coaches were fined and imprisoned though the trial was more of an indictment of the discredited communist system than it was an indictment of steroids.
Canada’s Ben Johnson was exposed as a steroids cheat at the 1988 Seoul Olympics when he tested positive for steroids after his world-record (9.7 seconds) performance against Carl Lewis, his hated American rival, in the 100-meter dash. It really didn’t come as much of a revelation to me, though; Ben’s body looked abnormally muscular, even for a sprinter. In that 100-meter dash, it looked as if Ben’s body was about to explode. “Ben Johnson,” said Carl Lewis, “was a mediocre sprinter who got better by using steroids.”
Mark McGwire’s physique aroused my suspicion after seeing him wearing just a towel in a comic cameo role on an American TV sitcom. He looked like the side of beef that “Rocky” Balboa used for a heavy bag in the eponymous movie. Earlier in his career McGwire was tall and lean, a player with a respectable batting average and home run statistics. After he bulked up in his 30’s ? steroids promote tissue growth ? he routinely knocked the ball out of the park.
Barry Bonds’ career has a trajectory similar to McGwire’s. Barry’s best seasons began when he was 35 years old and when most players’ physical prowess begins to fade, unless, of course, they are using performance-enhancing drugs.
The abrupt end of McGwire’s career only adds to the circumstantial evidence against him. How is it possible that a player could hit more homers than any man before him did, and then not finish the following season because of permanent injuries? Steroids may stave off the damage being done to one’s body through injuries, but over time the damage is compounded and, therefore, the body never recovers completely. This explains Mark McGwire retiring from baseball at his peak.
It is a given that bodybuilders (and the L.A. Highway Patrol) use steroids ? Arnold Schwarzenegger’s past using is an open secret, too ? but nobody cares about vain meatheads who are obsessed with the body beautiful. But people do care about international championships in which they believe athletes are competing on a level playing field. The Tour de France is one such championship, and the French are determined to keep steroids -- the using of which is a high crime in France -- out of their cherished bicycle race.
Lance Armstrong, the Tour’s living legend, has been tested repeatedly and pronounced clean of steroids. Yet allegations against him persist as a way of explaining the Texas phenom’s dominance -- he will attempt a seventh-straight victory this summer ? of the Tour. I find it hard to believe, though, that a man who has recovered from testicular cancer would expose his body to any performance-enhancing drug. I doubt it.
The Beijing Olympics are in the offing, and keeping the games free of performance-enhancing drugs is its highest priority. The Chinese team itself will be closely monitored because the short-lived success, in the late ‘90s, of its swimmers was attributed to “blood doping,” a clever way of super charging athletes with their own stored blood right before a race.
As the litany of Olympic athletes suspected of steroids using increases including Marion Jones of the USA, it is incumbent upon the International Olympic Committee to guarantee games free of drugs. If not, the specter of steroids will loom over many gold medal performances.
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