Day 46 - Tyler's Book Club: Speed Trap
I was introduced to a book called "Speed Trap", written by Charlie Francis. The story focuses mainly on the disqualification of sprinter Ben Johnson at the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics. For my Canadian readers, some of you may be familiar with this story, or even remember the events that unfolded. For my American readers, you may also be familiar with the story, but with a much different perspective on things.
Former Canadian track coach Francis presents his account of events leading up to sprinter Ben Johnson's infamous 100-meter run at the 1988 Olympics, on the heels of which came the forfeiture of Johnson's gold medal for failing a drug test. Francis offers few regrets. Instead, he contends his pupil was possibly a victim of foul play (several theories are advanced), though he admits to Johnson's participation in a sophisticated steroids program. He argues that success on the international track circuit is largely dependent on chemical assistance, that the health hazard has been overblown, and that "if mature and informed elite athletes conclude that they must take steroids to survive in their sport, and can do so without jeopardizing their health, they should be able to make that choice freely." Such views are certain to be controversial while at the same time reflective of the direction the sport has taken in recent years. A disturbing, thought-provoking perspective.
Now I want to first and foremost state that I do not condone or advocate the use of steroids or other performance enhancing drugs. In fact, I myself try to train and live as 'natural' life as possible. Having said that, there are some pretty startling stories and anecdotes in this book that may open a few eyes.
As Ben's trainer, Charlie full-on admits the fact that Ben Johnson used steroids as part of his training program. The problem that arises, is the nature of international sport, and how little it (they) could do to stop rampant steroid use that took place throughout the 70's and 80's.
Francis goes on to explain in the book that athletes can work hard and train to their fullest potential, however in certain competitions, you are never going to even come close to the podium unless you use performance enhancing drugs. Why? Because everyone else is doing it.
I know that many of you may see international sport as being credible and having ways of catching the 'cheaters', but Francis explains not only the techniques used to bypass drug tests, but also the flawed logic and design of trying to catch athletes who 'cheat'. Not only that, but there are further topics to assess regarding the implications of 'catching' some of the biggest stars in the world and labeling them as a cheater.
I found that reading this book over the past few weeks has even bigger implications on my own thoughts as we head into the 2012 London Olympics. I definitely see international competition in a much different light...
As far as I can tell, the book is no longer in publication, and Mr. Francis himself passed away in 2010, but you can still purchase a copy of the book, in PDF form from this website. I will warn you, however, that the book contains countless spelling mistakes, but that does not detract from the potential credibility of it.
Going beyond the discussion of steroids and performance enhancements, this is a great read for anyone who is interested in track and field training, or for that matter, anyone who is active and enjoys the topic of performance in general. There is great discussion into proper training structure and recovery that cannot be missed.
Quote of the day:
"Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up."