Lance Armstrong’s exposure sprouted a renewed attention for doping in sports. Firstly, of course, within cycling, but recently the debate around performance-enhancing drugs intensified with regard to other sports as well.
For instance, Christophe Rochus stated that he believed that doping is significantly present within tennis, pointing a hesitant finger towards Rafael Nadal. Although this may be the opinion of one player, there are more disturbing signals. Roger Federer called for more doping tests in tennis, since “some substances can’t be discovered right now.” Andy Murray agrees, but adds “don’t accuse me or my rivals of doping.” (Where have we heard that before?) James Blake said something that, to me, sounds sensible: “[we should be] realistic with this much money involved, $1.9 million for the winner of the U.S. Open, people will try to find a way to get ahead.”
Talking about high stakes, what about football? Former Argentina international, Matías Almeyda, wrote in his autobiography that doping was everywhere in Italian football. Eufemiano Fuentes admitted that he worked not only with cyclists, but also with tennis and football players, something that may prompted Yannick Noah to suggest that the Spanish football successes of recent years may be related to doping. In any case, the FIFA (the international governing body of football) apparently thinks that doping has been and still is a problem, given their recent decision to introduce biological profiles for players.
This is all very worrying for me. As I mentioned before, I was, let’s say, quite mad when I found out that Armstrong actually doped, given that I heartily cheered for him in all of his Tour de France victories. But are you now going to tell me that, as Dr Fuentes suggests, we actually should have won the first World Cup football title (a particularly sensitive issue for us, the Dutch)? Or that I passionately cheered for FC Barcelona, in recent years by many considered as the best team ever – but who are actually just a bunch of cheaters?!
Such thoughts have bothered me already for quite a while, but today all alarm bells rang. Today I watched the World All-Round Speed Skating Championships for men, which in recent years has been dominated by a national hero: Sven Kramer. As a matter of fact, he can become the first one ever to win this race for the sixth time. Speed skating is a sport that is seriously followed by the Dutch. Why? Because we win. Why do we win? Well, perhaps to a large extent because other countries, except maybe Norway, don’t care about it.
This weekend, Kramer had a bad start, with Norwegian rival Håvard Bøkko taking a significant lead after the first distance (500 metres). Commentators grew excited – maybe this tournament wasn’t a done deal after all! Kramer ended all Norwegian hope by crushing everyone in the second, longer distance (5,000 metres), as Bøkko already predicted he would. All of a sudden, the doping suspicions entered my mind again. No. It cannot be. Right?
I cannot remember how often I watched the footage below. Sven Kramer and Håvard Bøkko have a heroic fight on the 10,000 metres in 2008. For 12 minutes, or equivalently 9 kilometres, they skate side by side, not losing sight of each other for a second. But then Sven Kramer launches a massive attack. He accelerates to such an extent that he goes as quick in the outer lane as Bøkko goes in the inner lane, resulting in a fabulous 27.9 seconds lap time – absolutely unheard of in a 10,000 meters race.
Most sports-loving Dutch(wo)men love Kramer. They are proud of him – as am I. He has been unbeatable for years. Yes, he does pick his races, but when it matters he can always bring something extra (wasn’t there an American cyclist who did that too?). Something so much extra that everyone else immediately remembers who’s in charge, if somehow they naively managed to forget. But remembering Lance’s recent downfall, I cannot help but fear: Is what I see on the footage above not too good to be true? Is such an acceleration, after 12 minutes of some of the hardest and most extreme physical efforts, well, possible?
So, please, Sven? Please swear that you never used, and please, promise you never will? Pretty please?