Are they really heroes?

November 24, 2016
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“Many Olympic champions weren’t those who are gifted, but those who lie. That makes me sick.”  This was a quote from a documentary narrated by Russian track runner Yulia Stepanova about doping in sports, a practice that shocked the world.

The story of Yulia Stepanova revealed the dirtiest side of sports -- doping or steroid use. As a finalist in the biggest international track & field competitions, Yulia took on a new battle against the systematic doping inside Russia. The documentary and news stories ultimately lead to the total ban of Russian athletes competing in the Rio Olympics and the unexplained death of multiple Russian sports officials. Yulia and her family were considered traitors to Russia and had to stay on the run in order to escape potential life threats. So what’s the million-dollar story behind this all?

Yulia had the insider perspective of Russia’s systematic doping problems by witnessing the problem and experiencing doping herself. She was asked to take steroid by her coach in order to improve her athletic performances. This demand actually makes sense, for her coach takes 25% of her total income as a salary. For those who have no promised meal for tomorrow, a ‘shortcut’ to fortune, fame and success certainly looks enticing. There is another reason for doping: it allows you to survive the domestic competitions in the first place and get to global stages, in addition to competing with athletes on world-class stadiums, by way of obtaining better, undeserved scores. Yulia admitted that her personal best on 800 meter race was a result of banned stimulants in her body. Yulia was proved to be doping in 2013 and all her results since 2011 were cancelled, even though her coach promised to her that she wouldn't be tested positive if she follows all instructions. After this experience, Yulia decided to return clean and tell her story to the world.

The whole world was shocked by the problem that has been poisoning athletic events and young athletes for so long. These issues had never been revealed, until now. After being revealed, the performance of all Russian athletes became open to question and are labeled as ‘fake.’  What’s even more crucial is that problems creating by doping on a deeper level have start to come to people’s attention. The effects of doping are long-lasting and deadly. Most banned drugs for athletes, as far as we know, work as stimulants that increase the amount of activity of certain organs inside the body. Unfortunately, once the increased amount of a certain substance becomes daily, certain organs wilt and stop functioning. This will significantly and damage an athlete’s health conditions, and often even lead to sudden deaths. An overdose of stimulants in a short period of time will likely cause sudden fatality. In the span of 20 years, from 1968 to 1988, 100 athletes died of overdosing on steroid. Along with this, many women athletes often suffer from masculine traits. Even as athletes are completely aware of the risks of health damage and suspension of their sports careers, they often don’t have much of a choice. As one Russian track runner said during an interview after a match: “It’s not Russia’s problem. It’s world problem.”

The runner made a valid point. Doping in athletic events has become widespread and a very urgent issue, yet most people are not aware of the dirty truth under the table or simply don’t care. Fans simply want to see the good Sunday game with their friends and family. That makes the job of fighting the system and starting a revolution against the issue even more imperative. How are we supposed to look at the athletes competing in Olympic Games as heroes and pride of the world anymore? Does the ‘Olympic Spirit’ even exist for these doping athletes? When the high profits in commercial athletic events secretly have drug issues going on behind the scenes, the public is often becomes blind to the issues at hand. Yulia was a catalyst for change, and will likely indeed lead to a change in the attention given to Olympic steroid use. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has started forming stricter forms of regulation and countries have started to form stronger regulations on athletes. What needs to be done is a complete reform of athletic agencies and systems. There is no silver-bullet to this matter, and I cannot make easy conclusions on a proposable solution, but the point is clear: We’re now on the right track by starting to resolve Olympic drug issues and we have to stick to it.

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