THE SPORTING SCENE

                                                                       DRUGSTORE ATHLETE
                                                                         To beat the competition, first you have to beat the drug t

                                                                                       BY MALCOLM GLADWELL

                                                                 t the age of twelve, Christiane                 Anabolic steroids have been used to
                                                          A      K n a ck e - Sommer was pluck e d
                                                          from a small town in Saxony to train
                                                                                                             enhance athletic performance since the
                                                                                                             early sixties, when an American physi-
                                                          with the élite SC Dynamo swim club, in             cian gave the drugs to three weight lifters,
                                                          East Berlin. After two years of steady             who promptly jumped from mediocrity
                                                          progress, she was given regular injections         to world records. But no one ever took
                                                          and daily doses of small baby-blue pills,          the use of illegal drugs quite so far as
                                                          which she was required to take in the              the East Germans. In a military hospital
                                                          presence of a trainer. Within weeks, her           outside the former East Berlin, in 1991,
                                                          arms and shoulders began to thicken.She            investigators discovered a ten-volume
                                                          developed severe acne. Her pubic hair              archive meticulously detailing every
                                                          began to spread over her abdomen.Her               national athletic achievement from the
                                                          libido soared out of control. Her voice            mid-sixties to the fall of the Berlin Wall,
                                                          turned gruff. And her performance in               each entry annotated with the name of
                                                          the pool began to improve dramatically,            the drug and the dosage given to the ath-
                                                          culminating in a bronze medal in the               lete. An average teen-age girl naturally
                                                          hundred-metre butterfly at the 1980 Mos-            produces somewhere around half a mil-
                                                          cow Olympics.But then the Wall fell and            ligram of testosterone a day. The East
                                                          the truth emerged about those little blue          German sports authorities routinely pre-
                                                          pills. In a new book about the East Ger-           scribed steroids to young adolescent girls
                                                          man sports establishment,“Faust’s Gold,”           in doses of up to thirty-five milligrams a
                                                          Steven Ungerleider recounts the moment             day. As the investigation progressed,for-
                                                          in 1998 when Knacke-Sommer testified                mer female athletes, who still had mas-
                                                          in Berlin at the trial of her former coaches       culinized physiques and voices, came
                                                          and doctors:                                       forward with tales of deformed babies,
                                                                                                             inexplicable tumors, liver dysfunction,
                                                              “Did defendant Gläser or defendant Binus       internal bleeding, and depression. Ger-
                                                          ever tell you that the blue pills were the ana-    man prosecutors handed down hundreds
                                                          bolic steroid known as Oral-Turinabol?” the
                                                          prosecutor asked. “They told us they were vi-      of indictments of former coaches, doc-
                                                          tamin tablets,” Christiane said, “just like they   tors, and sports officials, and won nu-
                                                          served all the girls with meals.” “Did defen-      merous convictions. It was the kind of
                                                          dant Binus ever tell you the injection he gave
                                                          was Depot-Turinabol?” “Never,” Christiane          spectacle that one would have thought
                                                          said, staring at Binus until the slight, middle-   would shock the sporting world. Yet it
                                                          aged man looked away. “He said the shots           didn’t. In a measure of how much the
                                                          were another kind of vitamin.”
                                                              “He never said he was injecting you with       use of drugs in competitive sports has
                                                          the male hormone testosterone?” the prose-         changed in the past quarter century, the
                                                          cutor persisted. “Neither he nor Herr Gläser       trials caused barely a ripple.
                                                          ever mentioned Oral-Turinabol or Depot-
                                                          Turinabol,” Christiane said firmly. “Did you            Today, coaches no longer have to co-
                                                          take these drugs voluntarily?” the prosecutor      erce athletes into taking drugs. Athletes
                                                          asked in a kindly tone. “I was fifteen years        take them willingly. The drugs them-
                                                          old when the pills started,” she replied, be-
                                                          ginning to lose her composure. “The training       selves are used in smaller doses and in
                                                          motto at the pool was, ‘You eat the pills, or      creative combinations, leaving few tell-
                                                          you die.’ It was forbidden to refuse.”             tale physical signs, a n dd rug testers con-
                                                                                                             cede that it is virtually impossible to
                                                          As her testimony ended, K n a ck e -               catch all the cheaters, or even,at times, to
                                                          Sommer pointed at the two defendants               do much more than guess when cheat-
                                                          and shouted, “They destroyed my body               ing is taking place. Among the athletes,
                                                          and my mind!”Then she rose and threw               meanwhile, there is growing uncertainty
                                                          her Olympic medal to the floor.                     about what exactly is wrong with dop-
52                   THE NEW YORKER, SEPTEMBER 10, 2001

 TNY—09/10/01—PAGE 5 2
ing. When the cyclist Lance Armstrong                                                                      tion. No athlete of Johnson’s calibre has     measured in hundredths of a second;
asserted last year, after his second con-                                                                  ever been exposed so dramatically, but        athletes, once they have reached their
secutive Tour de France victory, that                                                                      his disgrace was not quite the victory for    early twenties, typically improve their
he was drug-free, some doubters won-                                                                       clean competition that it appeared to be.     performance in small, steady increments,
dered whether he was lying, and others                                                                         Johnson was part of a group of world-     as experience and strength increase.But
simply assumed he was, and wondered                                                                        class sprinters based in Toronto in the       these were quantum leaps, and to Francis
why he had to. The moral clarity of the                                                                    nineteen-seventies and eighties and           the explanation was obvious. “Angella
East German scandal—with its coer-                                                                         trained by a brilliant coach named Char-      wasn’t losing ground because of a talent
cive coaches, damaged athletes, and cor-                                                                   lie Francis.Francis was driven and ambi-      gap,” he writes;“she was losing because of
                                                                                                                                                         a drug gap, and it was widening by the
                                                                                                                                                         day.”(In the case of Koch, at least, he was
                                                                                                                                                         right. In the East German archives, in-
                                                                                                                                                         vestigators found a letter from Koch to
                                                                                                                                                         the director of research at V.E.B. Je-
                                                                                                                                                         napharm,an East German pharmaceuti-
                                                                                                                                                         cal house, in which she complained,“My
                                                                                                                                                         drugs were not as potent as the ones that
                                                                                                                                                         were given to my opponent Bärbel Eck-
                                                                                                                                                         ert, who kept beating me.” In East Ger-
                                                                                                                                                         many, Ungerleider writes, this particular
                                                                                                                                                         complaint was known as “dope-envy.”)
                                                                                                                                                         Later, Francis says, he was confronted at
                                                                                                                                                         a track meet by Brian Oldfield, then one
                                                                                                                                                         of the world’s best shot-putters:

                                                                                                                                                             “When are you going to start getting seri-
                                                                                                                                                         ous?” he demanded. “When are you going to
                                                                                                                                                         tell your guys the facts of life?” I asked him
                                                                                                                                                         how he could tell they weren’t already using
                                                                                                                                                         steroids. He replied that the muscle density
                                                                                                                                                         just wasn’t there. “Your guys will never be
                                                                                                                                                         able to compete against the Americans—their
                                                                                                                                                         careers will be over,” he persisted.

                                                                                                                                                             Among world-class athletes, the lure
                                                                                                                                                         of steroids is not that they magically
                                                                                                                                                         transform performance—no drug can
                                                                                                                                                         do that—but that they make it possible
                                                                                                                                                         to train harder. An aging baseball star,for
                                                                                                                                                         instance, may realize that what he needs
      a                                               est               e
“Only c reless and stupid people ever get caught in drugst,”one steroid xpert says.                                                                      to hit a lot more home runs is to double
                                                                                                                                                         the intensity of his weight training. Or-
rupted competitions—has given way to                                                                       tious, eager to give his athletes the same    dinarily, this might actually hurt his per-
shades of gray. In today’s climate, the                                                                    opportunities as their competitors from       formance. “When you’re under that kind
most telling moment of the East Ger-                                                                       the United States and Eastern Europe,         of physical stress,” Charles Yesalis, an
man scandal was not Knacke-Sommer’s                                                                        and in 1979 he began discussing steroids      epidemiologist at Pennsylvania State
outburst. It was when one of the sys-                                                                      with one of his prize sprinters, Angella      University, says,“your body releases cor-
tem’s former top officials, at the begin-                                                                   Taylor. Francis felt that Taylor had the      ticosteroids, and when your body starts
ning of his trial, shrugged and quoted                                                                     potential that year to run the two hun-       making those hormones at inappropriate
Brecht:“Competitive sport begins where                                                                     dred metres in close to 22.90 seconds, a      times it blocks testosterone. And instead
healthy sport ends.”                                                                                       time that would put her within striking       of being anabolic—instead of building
                                                                                                           distance of the two best sprinters in the     muscle—corticosteroids are catabolic.
     erhaps the best example of how                                                                        world, Evelyn Ashford, of the United          They break down muscle.That’s clearly
P    murky the drug issue has become is
the case of Ben Johnson, the Canadian
                                                                                                           States, and Marita Koch, of East Ger-
                                                                                                           many. But, seemingly out of nowhere,
                                                                                                                                                         something an athlete doesn’t want.”Tak-
                                                                                                                                                         ing steroids counteracts the impact
sprinter who won the one hundred me-                                                                       Ashford suddenly improved her two-            of corticosteroids and helps the body
tres at the Seoul Olympics, in 1988.                                                                       hundred-metre time by six-tenths of a         bounce back faster. If that home-run
Johnson set a new world record, then                                                                       second. Then Koch ran what Francis            hitter was taking testosterone or an ana-
failed a post-race drug test and was                                                                       calls,in his autobiography,“Speed Trap,”      bolic steroid,he’d have a better chance of
promptly stripped of his gold medal and                                                                    a “science fictional” 21.71. In the sprints,   handling the extra weight training.
suspended from international competi-                                                                      individual improvements are usually               It was this extra training that Francis
                                                                                                                                                         THE NEW YORKER, SEPTEMBER 10, 2001         53

and his sprinters felt they needed to reach                                    ment in “Speed Trap” comes when Fran-              itive—and Reynolds’s sample was num-
the top. Angella Taylor was the first                                           cis describes his bewilderment at being            bered H5. Reynolds lost the prime years
to start taking steroids. Ben Johnson fol-                                     informed that his star runner had failed           of his career.
lowed in 1981,when he was twenty years                                         a drug test—for the anabolic steroid                   We may never know what really hap-
old, beginning with a daily dose of five                                        stanozolol. “I was floored,” Francis writes:        pened with Johnson’s assay,and perhaps it
milligrams of the steroid Dianabol, in                                                                                            doesn’t much matter.He was a doper.But
three-week on-and-off cycles. Over                                                 To my knowledge, Ben had never injected        clearly this was something less than a vic-
time, that protocol grew more complex.                                         stanozolol. He occasionally used Winstrol, an      tory for drug enforcement. Here was a
                                                                               oral version of the drug, but for no more than
In 1984, Taylor visited a Los Angeles                                          a few days at a time, since it tended to make      man using human growth hormone,
doctor, Robert Kerr,who was famous for                                         him stiff. He’d always discontinued the tablets    Dixarit, inosine, testosterone, and Fura-
his willingness to provide athletes with                                       at least six weeks before a meet, well beyond      zabol, and the only substance that the
                                                                               the accepted “clearance time.” . . . After seven
pharmacological assistance. He sug-                                            years of using steroids, Ben knew what he          testers could find in him was stanozolol—
gested that the Canadians use human                                            was doing. It was inconceivable to me that he      which may have been the only illegal drug
growth hormone, the pituitary extract                                          might take stanozolol on his own and jeopar-                     ’t
                                                                                                                                  that he hadn used. Nor is it encouraging
                                                                               dize the most important race of his life.
that promotes lean muscle and that had                                                                                            that Johnson was the only prominent ath-
become, in Francis’s words, “the rage in                                                                                          lete caught for drug use in Seoul.It is hard
elite track circles.” Kerr also recom-                                             Francis suggests that Johnson’s urine          to believe, for instance, that the sprinter
mended three additional substances, all                                        sample might have been deliberately                Florence Griffith Joyner, the star of the
of which were believed to promote the                                          contaminated by a rival, a charge that is          Seoul games, was clean.Before 1988, her
body’s production of growth hormone:                                           less preposterous than it sounds. Docu-            best times in the hundred metres and the
the amino acids arginine and ornithine                                         ments from the East German archive                 two hundred metres were, respectively,
and the dopamine precursor L-dopa. “I                                          show, for example, that in international           10.96 and 21.96. In 1988, a suddenly
would later learn,” Francis writes, “that                                      competitions security was so lax that              huskier FloJo ran 10.49 and 21.34, times
one group of American women was using                                          urine samples were sometimes switched,             that no runner since has even come close
three times as much growth hormone as                                          stolen from a “clean” athlete, or simply           to equalling. In other words, at the age of
Kerr had suggested,in addition to 15 mil-                                      “borrowed” from a noncompetitor.“The               twenty-eight—when most athletes are
ligrams per day of Dianabol, another 15                                        pure urine would either be infused by a            beginning their decline—Griffith Joyner
milligrams of Anavar, large amounts of                                         catheter into the competitor’s bladder (a          transformed herself in one season from a
testosterone,and thyroxine,the synthetic                                       rather painful procedure) or be held in            career-long better-than-average sprinter
thyroid hormone used by athletes to speed                                      condoms until it was time to give a spec-          to the fastest female sprinter in history.Of
the metabolism and keep people lean.”                                          imen to the drug control lab,”Ungerlei-            course, FloJo never failed a drug test. But
But the Canadians stuck to their initial                                       der writes.(The top East German sports             what does that prove? FloJo went on to
regimen,making only a few changes:Vi-                                          official Manfred Höppner was once in                make a fortune as a corporate spokes-
tamin B12,a non-steroidal muscle builder                                       charge of urine samples at an interna-             woman.Johnson’s suspension cost him an
called inosine, and occasional shots of                                        tional weight-lifting competition.When             estimated twenty-five million dollars in
testosterone were added; Dianabol was                                          he realized that several of his weight             lost endorsements. The real lesson of the
dropped in favor of a newer steroid called                                     lifters would not pass the test, he broke          Seoul Olympics may simply have been
Furazabol; and L-dopa, which turned                                            open the seal of their specimens, poured           that Johnson was a very unlucky man.
out to cause stiffness, was replaced with                                      out the contents,and,Ungerleider notes,
the blood-pressure drug Dixarit.                                               “took a nice long leak of pure urine into                he basic problem with drug testing is
    Going into the Seoul Olympics,then,
Johnson was a walking pharmacy. But—
                                                                               them.”) It is also possible that Johnson’s
                                                                               test was simply botched.Two years later,
                                                                                                                                  T     that testers are always one step be-
                                                                                                                                  hind athletes. It can take years for sports
and this is the great irony of his case—                                       in 1990, track and field’s governing body           authorities to figure out what drugs ath-
none of the drugs that were part of his                                        claimed that Butch Reynolds, the world’s           letes are using, and even longer to devise
formal pharmaceutical protocol resulted                                        four-hundred-metre record holder, had              effective means of detecting them. Ana-
in his failed drug test. He had already                                        tested positive for the steroid nandro-            bolic steroids weren’t banned by the Inter-
reaped the benefit of the steroids in in-                                       lone,and suspended him for two years.It            national Olympic Committee until 1975,
tense workouts leading up to the games,                                        did so despite the fact that half of his           almost a decade after the East Germans
and had stopped Furazabol and testos-                                          urine-sample data had been misplaced,              started using them.In 1996,at the Atlanta
terone long enough in advance that all                                         that the testing equipment had failed              Olympics, five athletes tested positive
traces of both supplements should have                                         during analysis of the other half of his           for what we now know to be the drug
disappeared from his system by the time                                        sample, and that the lab technician who            Bromantan, but they weren’t suspended,
of his race—a process he sped up by tak-                                       did the test identified Sample H6 as pos-           because no one knew at the time what
ing the diuretic Moduret. Human growth                                                                                            Bromantan was. (It turned out to be a
hormone wasn’t—and still isn’t—de-                                                                                                Russian-made psycho-stimulant.) Human
tectable by a drug test, and arginine, or-                                                                                        growth hormone, meanwhile, has been
nithine, and Dixarit were legal. Johnson                                                                                          around for twenty years, and testers still
should have been clean. The most strik-                                                                                           haven’t figured out how to detect it.
ing (and unintentionally hilarious) mo-                                                                                               Perhaps the best example of the diffi-
54                     THE NEW YORKER, SEPTEMBER 10, 2001

culties of drug testing is testosteron e .I t
has been used by athletes to enhance
performance since the fifties, and the In-
ternational Olympic Committee an-
nounced that it would crack down on
testosterone supplements in the early
nineteen-eighties.This didn’t mean that
the I.O.C. was going to test for testos-
terone directly, though, because the
testosterone that athletes were getting
from a needle or a pill was largely indis-
tinguishable from the testosterone they
produce naturally. What was proposed,
instead, was to compare the level of
testosterone in urine with the level of an-
other hormone, epitestosterone, to de-
termine what’s called the T/E ratio. For
most people, under normal circum-
stances,that ratio is 1:1,and so the theory
was that if testers found a lot more testos-
terone than epitestosterone it would be a
sign that the athlete was cheating. Since
a small number of people have naturally
high levels of testosterone, the I.O.C.
avoided the risk of falsely accusing any-
one by setting the legal limit at 6:1.
    Did this stop testosterone use? Not at
all. Through much of the eighties and
nineties, most sports organizations con-
ducted their drug testing only at major
competitions. Athletes taking testoster-
one would simply do what Johnson did,
and taper off their use in the days or
weeks prior to those events.So sports au-
thorities began randomly showing up at
athletes’ houses or training sites and de-
manding urine samples. To this, dopers
responded by taking extra doses of epi-
testosterone with their testosterone, so
their T/E would remain in balance.Test-                                                  •           •
ers, in turn, began treating elevated epi-
testosterone levels as suspicious, too. But
that still left athletes with the claim that      smoothing over the old, incriminating           the test for that period, you can probably
they were among the few with naturally            spikes. The patch has another advan-            pass the test. And if you don’t want to
elevated testosterone.Testers,then,were           tage: once you take it off, your testos-        take that chance, you can just keep your
forced to take multiple urine samples,            terone level will drop rapidly, returning       testosterone below 6:1, which, by the way,
measuring an athlete’s T/E ratio over sev-        to normal, depending on the dose and            still provides a whopping performance
eral weeks. Someone with a naturally el-          the person, in as little as an hour.“It’s the   benefit. “The bottom line is that only
evated T/E ratio will have fairly consis-         peaks that get you caught,” says Don            careless and stupid people ever get caught
tent ratios from week to week. Someone            Catlin, who runs the U.C.L.A. Olympic           in drug tests,” Charles Yesalis says.“The
who is doping will have telltale spikes—          Analytical Laboratory.“If you took a pill       élite athletes can hire top medical and
times immediately after taking shots              this morning and an unannounced test            scientific people to make sure nothing
or pills when the level of the hormone            comes this afternoon, you’d better have a       bad happens, and you can’t catch them.”
in his blood soars. Did all these precau-         bottle of epitestosterone handy. But, if
tions mean that cheating stopped? Of              you are on the patch and you know your               ut here is where the doping issue
course not. Athletes have now switched
from injection to transdermal testoster-
                                                  own pharmacokinetics,all you have to do
                                                  is pull it off.” In other words,if you know
                                                                                                  B    starts to get complicated,for there’s a
                                                                                                  case to be made that what looks like fail-
one patches, which administer a con-              how long it takes for you to get back           ure really isn’t—that regulating aggressive
tinuous low-level dose of the hormone,            under the legal limit and successfully stall    doping, the way the 6:1 standard does, is
                                                                                                  THE NEW YORKER, SEPTEMBER 10, 2001       55

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a better idea than trying to prohibit drug                             rider who had a hematocrit above fifty          if he didn’t, how on earth did he win?
use. Take the example of erythropoietin,                               per cent would be suspended—a delib-               The problems with hematocrit testing
or EPO. EPO is a hormone released by                                   erately generous standard (like the T/E        have inspired a second strategy, which
your kidneys that stimulates the produc-                               ratio) meant to avoid falsely accusing         was used on a limited basis at the Sydney
tion of red blood cells, the body’s oxygen                             someone with a naturally high hemat-           Olympics and this summer’s World
carriers. A man-made version of the hor-                               ocrit. The hematocrit rule also had the        Track and Field Championships. This
mone is given to those with suppressed                                 benefit of protecting athletes’ health. If      test measures a number of physiological
red-blood-cell counts, like patients un-                               you take too much EPO, the profusion           markers of EPO use, including the pres-
dergoing kidney dialysis or chemother-                                 of red blood cells makes the blood slug-       ence of reticulocytes,which are the im-
apy. But over the past decade it has also                              gish and heavy, placing enormous stress        mature red blood cells produced in large
become the drug of choice for endurance                                on the heart. In the late eighties, at least   numbers by EPO injections.If you have
athletes,because its ability to increase the                           fifteen professional cyclists died from         a lot more reticulocytes than normal,
amount of oxygen that the blood can                                    suspected EPO overdoses. A fifty-per-           then there’s a good chance you’ve used
carry to the muscles has the effect of                                 cent hematocrit limit is below the point       EPO recently. The blood work is fol-
postponing fatigue. “The studies that                                  at which EPO becomes dangerous.                lowed by a confirmatory urinalysis.The
have attempted to estimate EPO’s im-                                      But, like the T/E standard, the hema-       test has its weaknesses. It’s really only
portance say it’s worth about a three-,                                tocrit standard had a perverse effect: it      useful in picking up EPO used in the
four-, or five-per-cent advantage, which                                set the legal limit so high that it actually   previous week or so, whereas the benefits
is huge,” Catlin says. EPO also has the                                encouraged cyclists to titrate their drug      of taking the substance persist for a
advantage of being a copy of a naturally                               use up to the legal limit. After all, if you   month. But there’s no question that, if
occurring substance, so it’s very hard to                              are riding for three weeks through the         random EPO testing were done aggres-
tell if someone has been injecting it. (A                              mountains of France and Spain,there’s a        sively in the weeks leading to a major
cynic would say that this had something                                big difference between a hematocrit of         competition, it would substantially re-
to do with the spate of remarkable times                               forty-four per cent and one of 49.9 per        duce cheating.
in endurance races during that period.)                                cent. This is why Lance Armstrong                  On paper, this second strategy sounds
    So how should we test for EPO? One                                 faced so many hostile questions about          like a better system. But there’s a per-
approach, which was used in the late                                   EPO from the European press—and                verse effect here as well. By discourag-
nineties by the International Cycling                                  why eyebrows were raised at his five-           ing EPO use, the test is simply pushing
Union, is a test much like the T/E ratio                               year relationship with an Italian doctor       savvy athletes toward synthetic com-
for testosterone. The percentage of your                               who was thought to be an expert on             pounds called hemoglobin-based oxygen
total blood volume which is taken up by                                performance-enhancing drugs. If Arm-           carriers,which serve much the same pur-
red blood cells is known as your hemat-                                strong had, say, a hematocrit of forty-        pose as EPO but for which there is no
ocrit. The average adult male has a                                    four per cent, the thinking went, why          test at the moment. “I recently read off a
hematocrit of between thirty-eight and                                         ’t
                                                                       wouldn he have raised it to 49.9, partic-      list of these new blood-oxygen expanders
forty-four per cent. Since 1995, the cy-                               ularly since the rules (at least, in 2000)     to a group of toxicologists, and none
cling authorities have declared that any                               implicitly allowed him to do so. And,          had heard of any of them,” Yesalis says.
                                                                                                                      “That’s how fast things are moving.”The
                                                                                                                      attempt to prevent EPO use actually pro-
                                                                                                                      motes inequity: it gives an enormous ad-
                                                                                                                      vantage to those athletes with the means
                                                                                                                      to keep up with the next wave of phar-
                                                                                                                      macology. By contrast, the hematocrit
                                                                                                                      limit, though more permissive, creates a
                                                                                                                      kind of pharmaceutical parity.The same
                                                                                                                      is true of the T/E limit. At the 1986
                                                                                                                      world swimming championships, the
                                                                                                                      East German Kristin Otto set a world
                                                                                                                      record in the hundred-metre freestyle,
                                                                                                                      with an extraordinary display of power in
                                                                                                                      the final leg of the race. According to
                                                                                                                      East German records, on the day of her
                                                                                                                      race Otto had a T/E ratio of 18:1. Test-
                                                                                                                      ing can prevent that kind of aggressive
                                                                                                                      doping; it can insure no one goes above
                                                                                                                      6:1. That is a less than perfect outcome,
                                                                                                                      of course, but international sports is
                                                                                                                      not a perfect world. It is a place where
                                                                                                                      Ben Johnson is disgraced and FloJo runs
                                                   “My guess is our tax reb has arrived.”                             free, where Butch Reynolds is barred for

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TNY—09/10/01—PAGE 5 8
two years and East German coaches pee          him: at the very least, a masseur, a doc-
into cups—and where athletes without           tor, a coach, an agent, and a nutritionist.
access to the cutting edge of medicine         He is not in medical school. He does not
are condemned to second place. Since           go hiking in rocky terrain before major
drug testers cannot protect the purity of      track meets. When Bannister told him,
sport, the very least they can do is to        last summer, how he had prepared for
make sure that no athlete can cheat more       his four-minute mile, El Guerrouj was
than any other.                                stunned. “For me, a rest day is perhaps
                                               when I train in the morning and spend
      he first man to break the four-           the afternoon at the cinema,” he said. El
T     minute mile was the Englishman
Roger Bannister, on a windswept cinder
                                               Guerrouj certainly has more than his
                                               share of natural ability, but his achieve-
track at Oxford, nearly fifty years ago.        ments are a reflection of much more
Bannister is in his early seventies now,       than that: of the fact that he is better
and one day last summer he returned to         coached and better prepared than his op-
the site of his historic race along with the   ponents, that he trains harder and more
current world-record holder in the mile,       intelligently, that he has found a way to
Morocco’s Hicham El Guerrouj. The              stay injury free, and that he can recover
two men chatted and compared notes             so quickly from one day of five-hour
and posed for photographs. “I feel as if I     workouts that he can follow it, the next
am looking at my mirror image,” Ban-           day, with another five-hour workout.
nister said, indicating El Guerrouj’s sim-         Of these two paradigms, we have al-
ilarly tall, high-waisted frame. It was a      ways been much more comfortable with
polite gesture, an attempt to suggest that     the first: we want the relation between
he and El Guerrouj were part of the            talent and achievement to be transpar-
same athletic lineage. But, as both men        ent, and we worry about the way ability
surely knew, nothing could be further          is now so aggressively managed and aug-
from the truth.                                mented. Steroids bother us because they
    Bannister was a medical student            violate the honesty of effort:they permit
when he broke the four-minute mile in          an athlete to train too hard ,b eyond what
1954. He did not have time to train            seems reasonable. EPO fails the same
every day, and when he did he squeezed         test. For years, athletes underwent high-
in his running on his hour-long midday         altitude training sessions,which had the
break at the hospital. He had no coach or      same effect as EPO—promoting the
trainer or entourage, only a group of          manufacture of additional red blood
running partners who called themselves         cells. This was considered acceptable,
“the Paddington lunch time club.” In a         while EPO is not, because we like to
typical workout,they might run ten con-        distinguish between those advantages
secutive quarter miles—ten laps—with           which are natural or earned and those
perhaps two minutes of recovery be-            which come out of a vial.
tween each repetition, then gobble down            Even as we assert this distinction on
lunch and hurry back to work. Today,           the playing field, though, we defy it in
that training session would be consid-         our own lives. We have come to prefer a
ered barely adequate for a high-school         world where the distractable take Ri-
miler. A month or so before his historic       talin, the depressed take Prozac, and the
mile, Bannister took a few days off to         unattractive get cosmetic surgery to a
go hiking in Scotland. Five days before        world ruled, arbitrarily, by those fortu-
he broke the four-minute barrier, he           nate few who were born focussed,happy,
stopped running entirely, in order to rest.    and beautiful. Cosmetic surgery is not
The day before the race, he slipped and        “earned” beauty, but then natural beauty
fell on his hip while working in the hos-      isn’t earned,either. One of the principal
pital. Then he ran the most famous race        contributions of the late twentieth cen-
in the history of track and field.Bannis-       tury was the moral deregulation of social
ter was what runners admiringly call an        competition—the insistence that advan-
“animal,” a natural.                           tages derived from artificial and extraor-
    El Guerrouj, by contrast, trains five       dinary intervention are no less legitimate
hours a day, in two two-and-a-half-            than the advantages of nature. All that
hour sessions. He probably has a team          athletes want, for better or worse, is the
of half a dozen people working with            chance to play by those same rules. o
                                                                                             THE NEW YORKER, SEPTEMBER 10, 2001   59

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