Thursday, 11 October 2012

Why must cyclists take drugs? What's the fun in that?

I don't often get very angry, and Lance Armstrong's alleged involvement in 'the most sophisticated, professional and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen' has left me more bemused, disappointed and saddened than angry. After all, when those of us who do sport for the sheer enjoyment of overcoming (in part only) our own limitations, without chemical enhancement, I wonder where Armstrong's enjoyment of the sport, sense of humanity and personal pride went to. Can you win a race and be proud when the drug won, really?

I did get angry, however, when I heard Alex Dowsett's response on the news. The 24 year old British cyclist said that he believed that Lance Armstrong remains 'a legend of the sport' despite the doping accusations against the American.

What's worse, his remarks were made not because he doesn't believe the accusations. And I suspect that those accusations are fairly accurate. The US Drug Authority responsible said that it was as strong a case as any they had ever brought. Dowsett went on to say: 'He is still a legend of the sport. A guy who had cancer came back and won the Tour de France. It's not really important and I really don't think it matters what I think.'

Not important? Not his call? Of course it is. He is being listened to, watched and admired by a whole new generation of budding cyclists in this country, and as a role model he can't be neutral. What is it about this celebrity culture of ours that so craves victory that nothing else matters?

Over the past year, in my feeble 63 year old way, I have enjoyed discovering that I can run, just. 8.5 minute miles are about as much as I can realistically manage. But I have found myself childishly delighted, and running has brought me such joy - no fame though. In running, the bonus has been the discovery that it gives me the quietest and most solitary place in the universe, a place I've been looking for unconsciously for years.

And now, to cap it all, I have a distinct sense that running is a gift that I have to offer God. I can't explain it any better than that, but it has come to me that when I run, I am being truly myself, and that can't but delight God. So, please, please, don't let's allow hubris (overweening pride) to overwhelm us. It is our humanity and our pain that we celebrate when we run the race, not some fictive superhuman image.

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