Cap & Goggles

Only a Swimmer Knows the Feeling

Category: Drugs

How to Dope and Not Get Caught

French study reveals: Take a little, take it at night, never fail a test… See your results soar. 

The next time you hear someone proclaim innocence by pointing to all the drug tests she’s passed, try not to laugh. If a cheater is versed in the latest in the dark art of doping then there’s little chance of ever testing positive.

In a study publicized by the television station France 2, the massive benefits of ‘micro-dosing’ were laid bare. In a medical trial, eight athletes were injected with EPO, human growth hormones, corticosteroids, and other drugs – all in tiny doses. While the micro doses left no trace in drug tests, their benefits certainly showed up in performance. One of the runners reported an astonishing drop of 31 seconds in the 3,000 meters – in under a month of testing and clean results.

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The Smell of Smoke

Katinka Hosszu is the best all-around swimmer on earth right now… What everyone is talking about, but no one wants to say… 

There is no proof. There never is, not when it matters, not when it’s needed most. So, this is what happens: the coaches grumble; the experts roll their eyes; the athletes offer lukewarm congrats at the end of each eye-popping race. Everyone talks, but no one speaks up. Because only amateurs fail drug tests, and without that proof positive test it’s all just jealous hearsay.

Except the chatter is often true, and the visual evidence – on the body and the scoreboard – generally doesn’t lie.

Our latest Exhibit A: Hungary’s “Iron Lady” Katinka Hosszu. FINA’s reigning World Swimmer of the Year; three-time world champion; holder of five short course meter world records; and the woman who, last fall, became the first swimmer ever to surpass $1 million earned solely in prize money in the pool. She did this, of course, by globe-trotting the World Cup circuit and swimming a superhuman number of races at almost every stop.

This has resulted in a considerable amount of fawning press from the world’s swimming media. “Iron Lady” has a certain brand-name ring to it, and Hosszu keeps the headlines pumping. No one competes, consistently, at a higher level than she does. Repeat – no one, ever. Not Michael Phelps or Katie Ledecky and certainly not Ryan Lochte, who’s always tended to look like a beaten slow sack of chiseled flesh when he races while immersed in heavy training. But not Hosszu. Her consistency, her ability to recover, and her never-flagging form continues without breakdown, regardless of when or where the race is going down.

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The Russians Are Dirty

And they’re not alone… Doping is rife these days. Is swimming becoming “the new track & field”? 

How many positive tests does it take to convince you of a country’s guilt? According to the official stance from FINA, it’s not many. The letter of its law states that it’s four strikes and the country is out. If four athletes are caught cheating, then the whole damn federation faces a two-year ban. Except that’s not really true. See, they have to be FINA-sanctioned tests. If you’re caught with a positive test by your own federation, then that doesn’t count.

Which is how Russian swimmers are still allowed at international competitions, despite overwhelming evidence of doping on a widespread scale. Over the last four years, sixteen Russian swimmers have tested positive. Five tested positive last year at domestic meets in Russia, and are currently serving suspensions. This year, three more are serving drug bans for positive tests – including world record-holder and reigning world champion in the 200 breaststroke, Yuliya Efimova. And last week, the latest positive was revealed: open water stud Vladimir Dyatchin, a multiple world champion and the Open Water Swimmer of the Year back in 2007.

This wave of dirty results has placed Russia “at the brink” of being suspended from international swimming competition. Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko recently told Russian media that “one or two more breaches” and all of Russian Swimming could face an unprecedented suspension. This would be particularly humiliating for them, as they’re set to host next year’s World Championships in Kazan.

But FINA’s Grand Poobah, Cornel Marculescu, isn’t worried. He expressed full confidence in his comrades to host Worlds, saying that “the facilities are amazing and FINA is receiving a great support from the authorities of the Russian Federation.” I’m sure Cornel would also have been impressed by the state-of-the-art facilities in Leipzig and Berlin in the former East Germany a few decades back. But that’s not really the point. The Russians are dirty, and it’s starting to look a lot like back to the future.

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Under Water, Going Mad

Sydney Morning Herald calls swimming: “the worst job in the sporting world”… Here’s why… 

I was somewhere around my 400th consecutive lap of the morning, nearing the end of a 12,000 for time, and I was all the way around the bend. As a Brit might say, I was quite mad. Which isn’t to say angry, though I was that too. But mostly, I was insane. Madness had swallowed me up on that long ago Friday morning. There wasn’t a sane, rational thought left in my chlorine-soaked mind. As soon as I touched the wall, I started ranting, throwing my mesh bag, shouting at lane-mates who had surely skipped laps.

Not my finest hour.

Does that sound familiar to anyone?

Chances are, if you spent your years between age 10 and 20 as a Swimmer (the “S” must be capitalized), you can relate to these madman emotions. Chances are, you’ve swum out to your tether of sanity. It’s a point of pride. For all of us.

Yet, this is also why the Sydney Morning Herald recently ran a less-than-inspiring column entitled: Swimming: the worst job in the sporting world. Ouch. Really? And this a missive from Down Under, where swimming is damn near a religion? How dare they. Haven’t they heard about USA Swimming’s “Funnest Sport” campaign? As someone who has spent the better part of his career celebrating – ok, selling – the virtues of swimming at all levels, I took immediate offense. Then I clicked on the story.

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Aussies Adrift

Ian Thorpe and Grant Hackett both in rehab… 

They’re the two greatest freestylers of their generation, possibly the two greatest in history. They own sixteen Olympic medals between them, eight of them gold. They did it all as athletes, and they always came across as two of the nicest, smartest guys in the sport.

Now, in retirement, it appears the wheels have come off.

Earlier this month, Ian Thorpe was found drunk and disoriented on the streets of Sydney early one Monday morning. He was admitted to rehab soon after. While his managers have denied that Thorpe is suffering from alcoholism and depression, he has admitted to both demons in the past.

Earlier this week, Grant Hackett was also spotted in the wee hours one morning without his wits about him. After losing his four-year-old son Jagger in the Crown Casino hotel in Melbourne, Hackett was seen wandering the hotel lobby almost naked, shoeless, wearing only a singlet. Fortunately, his boy was subsequently found on the 20th floor of the hotel, 14 levels above the apartment where Hackett and his children were staying. Days later, Hackett was bound for Los Angeles, where he too checked into rehab. His managers also played down a problem, but reports are that a dependence to the sleeping pill Stilnox (aka Ambien) is to blame.

What’s going on with these guys? When did their glory-filled lives begin to crack? Why can’t these icons keep it together?

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Breaking Badly, a Story of Meth and Medals

The drug-fueled descent of Scottie Miller, Aussie butterfly great… 

He was once the most talented flyer on earth. His long flowing stroke won him Olympic silver in the 100 fly at the 1996 Olympics. He added a bronze on the Aussie’s 4 x 100 medley relay at those same Games. His butterfly leg was the one that put them on the podium. Scottie Miller was one of those guys who had the world by the balls when he was 21. His talent in the water was matched by matinee idol good looks. The ladies loved him. He married a stunning blonde TV personality.

And then he began to snort and pop and smoke it all away. The downfall of this one-time champion reads like an E! True Hollywood Story. He was a swimmer’s version of a child star who couldn’t cope with life out of the spotlight, who found solace in very hard partying, and then drifted further into the abyss and started selling the drugs he was doing.

Miller has been playing on the shady side of the street for some time now. Four years ago he was arrested on Ecstasy charges, when police found the drugs, a pill press machine and almost a quarter million in cash at a storage facility belonging to Miller in Sydney. After a guilty plea, he somehow he got off without jail time, presumably after serving up names of his connections. He served 100 hours community service and completed a two-year suspended sentence and promised to get his shit together. He didn’t.

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