The work of a lifetime can be destroyed by a single act. Romanian gymnast Andreea Raducan certainly understands this concept in light of recent events. Her Olympic gold medal was stripped from her for using pseudo-ephedrine, a banned substance found in cold medicine that works like adrenaline to make the heart beat faster. Raducan claims her doctor gave her the medicine, and the International Olympic Committee seems to agree. However, Raducan is ultimately responsible for what enters her body. No drugs should, if sports integrity is to be preserved.
The list of banned substances is not secret. Different organizations governing Olympic sports do have varying lists, but athletes, coaches and doctors can and must familiarize themselves with what drugs they may and may not use. The stakes are too high to ignore such serious regulations.
The effects of steroids, one drug notoriously abused by athletes, last a lifetime. Some may argue that the use of certain drugs that only mildly enhance athletic performance give no more of an advantage to the athletes that take them than improved technologies only recently integrated into many sports. But sleeker swimsuits or more efficient bicycles cannot irreparably harm an athlete’s body the way drugs can.
Of course at the center of this drama stands a 16-year-old girl – the best in the world at her particular sport – shamed and humiliated for taking medicine for a cold. To have worked tirelessly through the pain of seemingly endless practice sessions, to have sacrificed so much and have everything forfeited after conquering the world is terribly sad. But with that in mind, how could an athlete not take every conceivable precaution to ensure compliance with drug regulations?
Raducan’s case calls to mind other instances of doping: Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson in 1988 and Irish swimmer Michelle Smith in 1996. Some athletes may make mistakes as Raducan and her doctor, now banned from participating in both the 2002 Salt Lake City winter games and the summer games in Athens in 2004, clearly did. Some may purposefully and deliberately circumvent the rules to gain that all important edge. No matter their motivation, athletes cannot use performance-enhancing drugs for any reason if the integrity of sport – the famed level playing field – is to be preserved.