Choice. To willingly select an outcome. A yes or no. Everyone has to make them. Children, teenagers, adults. From a young age the word ‘Drugs’ didn’t mean much to me – other than – ‘say no.’ – perhaps a little naïve on my behalf but the situation never occurred all throughout my teenage years. However, the word has manifested it’s way into my life in a way I had never dreamed of. As an athlete competing at Olympic level, I regularly have to give drug tests in order to pave the way for clean sport. The often televised Diamond League athletics meetings are plagued by athletes returning from bans due to failed tests. Some athletes not only making the wrong choice once… but twice! During these meets, social media is rife with the words ‘cheat’, ‘drugs’ and ‘ban’. Certain athletes are trending for negative reasons rather than the superb performances. I remember as a kid watching Paula Radcliffe parade around the track with banners protesting for stronger bans against drug cheats. I never really fully acknowledged it at the time but now it resonates in the back of my mind. She was extremely outspoken all throughout her career and a true role model for younger athletes taking up the sport. Cheating should never be an option.
All sports contain cheats. People want to bypass their way to success and unfortunately drugs are the quickest way to do so. I am under no misconception that these athletes don’t also work hard – they have to – but they are unquestionably gaining a major advantage. Currently, there is no deterrent for athletes not to cheat other than their own moral fibre. Almost an ‘Lance Armstrong Syndrome’ – some athletes believe all their competitors are dirty and so perhaps lightens the blow in their own minds. They return to the sport having served their ban whilst the other athletes and race meet organisers don’t bat an eyelid – throwing themselves straight into the limelight again with several running faster than ever. This is by no means an attack on certain athletes – i’m sure they’re are many an athlete whom aren’t as squeaky clean as they are portrayed. I’m sure many of them are polite and kind individuals – convicted, cheating or not. I am also under no illusion that every single person makes mistakes. Human error is always going to creep in under certain circumstances, particularly with the added extras of money and championship titles – egos possibly take over.
When I started competing at a slightly higher level in athletics, I met Dwain Chambers at my first ever international. We were team mates and he was one of the biggest names on our team. I had so many questions that I wanted to ask – but I had never met him before and he had no clue who I was. After about 5 minutes of questions buzzing around my head – I blurted a few out. He was chatting about how he found it difficult being away from his young children. I asked if he thought his young boy would become an athlete and he replied that he would love him to take up the sport. I then asked how he would go around explaining to his little boy that he cheated. It was perhaps a bit of a strong and forward question to ask but I genuinely wanted to know. Dwain was extremely down to earth and open which I didn’t really expect. I had grown up thinking drug cheats were villains and horrible people – again a very naïve statement to think. Dwain couldn’t of been any friendlier and truly made me feel part of the team. He admitted that he felt it would be the toughest thing that he’s ever gone through. To tell his young boy, who idolises him and looks up to him so much – that he cheated – he took the easy route. For me, this is another huge contributing factor against cheating and it confuses me how people can lie and deceive in order to gain the benefits. Lying to their own family and loved ones – instead of admitting that they weren’t good enough to make it to the very top. Dwain genuinely did come across as a nice guy and I enjoyed being able to ask him questions on all sorts. Drug cheats aren’t murderers. They get distracted easily by the bright shining lights of success and the affluent thought that they will never get caught. I can see how it’s easy for certain personalities to be swayed but for me, it’s a mistake I wouldn’t be willing to make. Drug cheats should be banned for life, examples made, purely to try and stop other people from making the same mistake. Reduced sentences should only be offered after receiving enough substantial on how they got it, how they took it, the circle of people whom knew – every single detail of their scheme publicised.
Drugs are something that have personally never entered my radar. I have been competing since I was 12. I’ve been to the Olympics, World Championships and Commonwealth Games but they are something I’ve never come across. Maybe I am not a good enough standard to have ever been offered or know the right people. I find it difficult to get my head around why people make the wrong choice. Sport is difficult. Being successful at it – is never going to be easy. When money becomes involved people become more monstrous. For example, a drug cheat who is back competing can walk away with $10,000 for every Diamond League victory, an undisclosed appearance fee and a $40,000 jackpot win for the series. Meaning other clean athletes perhaps further down the field receive jack all. It tallies up to quite an impressive amount of money. This also doesn’t include private corporate sponsors. Yet when an athlete get caught doping they don’t have to give back any of their prize money directly to competitors. Yes, they loose medals and perhaps give back a percentage of winnings but it is never anywhere near what they have actually made. They can continue training through the duration of their ban wether it be a few months, 18 months or 2 years and pop up again for the next major championships alongside all the benefits they have previously gained from being on the juice.
Would I love to be an Olympic Champion? Of course I bloody would. But would I cheat my way to the top? Not a chance in hell. With my mother being a former athlete, she has always brought us up firmly against drugs in sport. She missed many a medal and perhaps thousands of missing prize money due to athletes who had an air of suspicion concerning them. Ultimately though, they were never caught and so were ‘clean’.
The current anti-doping system is good but not great. The blood passport has definitely been a huge step forward in possibly scaring some athletes but unfortunately the doctors and the scientists are always one step ahead. UK Anti-doping have been extremely regimental in testing me since I got added to the whereabouts system last October – being tested every month. But regrettably, other countries aren’t quite as strict. For those who don’t know, the whereabouts system is where an athlete is permitted to give a one hour slot (time and location) of where they are going to be each day – along with an overnight address. If the testers turn up to the hour slot you have allocated and the athlete is not there – it’s a failed test. Three failed tests results in a ban. These tests are known as in-hour tests. A tester can turn up at your door unannounced – an out-of-hours test – however, if you are not there, it doesn’t matter. If you are there,you take the test. It sounds relatively straight forward but it’s actually quite a difficult thing to get used to. Initially, I used to set my time slot at 10pm (because I knew I would be awake and hear the knock on the door) but various times I have been close to forgetting about my slot as i’ve nipped out to Tesco or gone to the cinema – something so small but ultimately being forgetful can get you into a lot of trouble! I find it much easier allocating 6 or 7am as I know I will definitely be in my house and most probably still in bed!
Out in Kenya, all funded GB athletes were tested by anti-doping whom had sent out testers all the way to Kenya but alas the same treatment wasn’t granted to other athletes from different nations. An Olympic Champion and Olympic Silver medallist were both in the camp and yet neither were tested (as far as we are aware) – this completely baffles me. The athletes in question were of a much higher standard than myself and yet they aren’t tested. Similarly, in the first quarter of this year – I was tested every single month with a few extra tests after my races. Justin Gatlin (convicted twice for drugs) has been tested three times whilst Tyson Gay (convicted for drugs) has only been tested ONCE! This confuses me to no end. Surely these people should be targeted and tested on a weekly basis just to keep them on their toes, perhaps slightly scaremonger them into thinking differently and from committing the same error again! I have absolutely no qualms about being tested day in day out, I am all for clean sport but I believe all athletes should be treated equally. Something needs to be done in order to make sure every nation is singing from the same hymn sheet.