Makau on a mission, 2011 Berlin Marathon, photo by PhotoRun.net
The Lance Armstrong fiasco is just another example of how far we have come from celebrating athletic performance as part of one's life, instead of, in todays' lexicon of reality shows and celebration of the notorious, making sports performance the end all and be all. Sports athletes have become personalities, which is both good and bad.
As a child, I was a huge baseball fan. I loved stories of Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays. I even tried to catch one handed like Willie Mays. In 1967, going to see Cardinal games, with my Aunt Patty, I saw Bob Gibson, Curt Flood among others play. In 1972-73, I remember going to games with my Mom, with most of the games being extra innings. Baseball was amazing.
Years later, learning about Babe Ruth and his carousings, made him more of a real person to me: a great athlete, with the failing and travails of a normal human.
This past weekend, while having a beverage of an adult nature with a few friends at one of my locals, I was asked by an American football fan what I thought about Lance Armstrong. I told him, that while I was sad, for the sport and society, I had little sadness for Mr. Armstrong. I have a hard time shedding a tear for Mr. Armstrong as, while his cheating was hugely complicated, at some point in one's life, one must pull their head out of their proverbial backside and put a line in the sand. At some time in one's life, one must "Man up", to use the vernacular, and take responsibility for the bad and good one has done. Armstrong did not do that: USADA, WADA and UCI brought him back to reality.
I am firmly convinced that Lance Armstrong was a tremendous athlete, perhaps a cyclist who was a once in every fifty years phenomenon. Without any drugs, he might have won three or four Tour de France titles, a tremendous feat. However, we will never know now, as UCI, WADA, USADA, in showing him that he is responsible for his actions, played into the little ignorant secret that is thought worldwide: Drugs made Lance the best. Drugs did not make Lance the best, they gave him the recovery to train at a level never seen before. He got this, HOWEVER, from cheating. He was a tremendous athlete, using EPO and a drug cocktail, put him into super human status.
I am reminded of a skit on Saturday Night Live during the 1980s, where the All-Drug Olympics skit was shown. A skit highlighting a former Soviet bloc weightlifter who was, per the announcer, using every drug available plus some animal tranquilizers, had both of his arms torn off trying to life some ungodly weight. A funny skit, but gets one to thinking, how close are we to this? I must get a note a month about just throwing out all bans on drugs and let sports fall where they may. I believe that is the wrong approach.
In the case of Patrick Makau, I am disturbed. In this day and age, anyone who sets a record in the sport I love, track & field, is considered, at least for a moment, to have used some type of enhancement.
Like Toni Reavis, I will be greatly surprised if Mr. Makau ever tests positive for an illicit drug. I will find great sorrow in such a result as well, because, Mr. Makau obviously possesses huge ability and huge drive. His performances have inspired us, and I hope, will inspire us in the future.