January 18, 2013 Melbourne, Florida - Competitive cycling is a huge worldwide sport. With the Tour de France being the Super Bowl for world’s elite cyclist, I watch it every year. As I watch this spectacle of amazing athletes compete day after day I have always wondered how the human body can be exposed to so much exhaustion and still respond. The 2013 Tour de France will cover 7 flat, 5 hilly, and 6 mountain stages with 4 summit finishes with only two days rest. How is it possible that a cyclist can ride 11 stages in a row covering over 1,011 miles day after day for 11 days without help? I can only imagine how many Tour de France riders use performance enhancing drugs? They do it because it works. Let me try to shed some light on this subject from my personal experiences in competitive sports.
During the midpoint of my twenty year USAF career from 1975 – 1984, I was a competitive power lifter. If you know anything about strength sports during the 1950s, 60s, 70s up until today, you know that steroids play a big part in a top athletes’ ability to remain at the top of his or her game. This was especially true in Olympic and Power lifting. In 1983, I competed in the military European power lifting championship competition in 1983 and 1984. In 1983 came in second in the 220 pound class with a respectable total of 1,400 pounds. In my weight class there was a lifter who I beat by more than 100 pounds. The next year, he came back and cleaned my clock. In each of the three lifts, Squat, Bench Press, and Dead lift, he did not even start lifting before I had finished each of my three lifts in each of these categories. He beat me by over 600 pounds. He increased each of his lift totals by more than 200 pounds each which is unheard of unless you, as they say are juiced up, taking anabolic steroids. The year of 1984 was my last year of competitive power lifting. The use of anabolic steroids was so pervasive at the big competitions, I chose not to use them. My decision caused me not to continue as a competitive power lifter.
During the 1970s super-heavy weight Olympic lifters like Vasiliy Alekseyev (Russian) and Serge Redding (Bulgarian) dominated the sport. Alekseyeve broke 80 world records between 1970 and 1977. Alekseyev was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated on April 14, 1975, titled "World's Strongest Man. The use of steroids followed their careers.
Who could forget the physique of Arnold Schwarzenegger when he won the Mr. Olympia title for the first time in 1970. He won the title six consecutive times. In 1977, Arnold admitted to using performance-enhancing anabolic steroids while they were legal. How many professional football and baseball players have used or are still using performance enhancement drugs to stay on the top of their game?
This brings me back to Lance Armstrong. Armstrong said in his interview with Opra that it was a “Win at All Costs” mentality. He said that doping was not really cheating. I can clearly see where a top athlete like Armstrong came to make a decision to use performance enhancement drugs to stay on top. When I was at that point in my competitive career, I chose not to follow that path. I have to say that I was an amateur and did not have the pressure professional sports puts in individual athletes. In my mind, there is no excuse for making the decision to use performance enhancement drugs.
Until next time, be safe in the sun and have a great day in the outdoors.