has gone to zero - or has he?
I was going to write about something quite different this morning. I try to do bookish things on Saturdays but there is something that needs to be said this morning.
Yesterday Lance Armstrong, seven times winner of the Tour de France, announced he was giving up his fight against drug doping charges. He said something about "enough is enough" and other people started to say "he's guilty".
Perhaps he is. Perhaps he isn't. I don't know. I am not terribly interested in whether any one individual in sport takes drugs or not. I suspect that almost everyone who reaches the top of the field in their chosen sport does take performance enhancing drugs. Some get caught. Some don't.
Sport has almost certainly reached a level of achievement where it is only possible to be "the best" with some sort of external assistance. People do not do it unaided. They no longer run barefoot. It's a fact of life. All the anti-doping authorities in the world are not going to change that.
I once read a complaint somewhere that Roger Bannister only achieved his "four minute mile" because he had assistance from the wind. He did? I thought he was running around an oval so half the time he would surely have been facing into the wind. Maybe I am wrong but the article did tell me one thing. People will believe what they want to believe - and they will rarely believe the best of anyone, especially anyone who achieves more than they have when they have set out to achieve the same thing.
I heard Bannister interviewed recently and he spoke about his achievement as a joint achievement. There was a good deal of planning which went into that first mile. It is considered a "slow" mile now but there had been long discussions beforehand about how it might be achieved.
The pressure to win in sport now is immense. It is not even just the top athletes who are required to do extraordinary things. Any schoolchild now knows that participating is less important than winning. Schools can try to tell them otherwise but the message is out there in all sorts of other ways. Even when parents tell them "it does not matter" they know that, really, it does matter. They are not "the best" and being "the best" is all that matters. If you need to take performance enhancing drugs you will do it, despite what they might do to your long term health. You will do it and hope you do not get caught. Indeed the real sin is not taking them but being caught, letting the team down, embarrassing your country. It's like being a traitor.
Is it any wonder that I loathe that sort of sport? I am tired of the adulation given drug enhanced achievements. I am tired of the vast amounts of money poured into finding and producing those things.
If we spent as much money on finding cures for that range of diseases we call "cancer" then we would all be better off. I think Lance Armstrong might agree with that.