Bonds & Kenteris: The drugs don’t work

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Updated: March 30, 2011

This week is a busy one for drugs cheats, with both Baseball “Super Slugger” Barry Bonds and Greek sprinting “sensation” Kostantinos Kenteris in the news for all the wrong reasons.

Bonds is currently on trial in the States on perjury charges for allegedly lying to a Grand Jury in 2003 regarding his use of performance-enhancing drugs, while Kenteris is charged in Greece with falsely claiming that a motorcycle accident led him and fellow athlete Katerina Thanou to miss a doping test on the eve of the 2004 Olympic Games.

The real question we need to ask though is not why they both made the decision to illegally enhance their performance, but how did the think they were going to get away with it?

Kenteris, winner of gold in the Men’s 200m in both the 2000 Olympics and 2002 European Championships, was a rank outsider going into the 2000 games, but came from almost nowhere to win his heat and ultimately the final. I remember watching both live and noting his race strategy was more akin to a long distance event, he seemed to move into another gear with about 50 metres to go after cruising for the first 150, whether the drugs only kicked in at that point is not known, but it would explain a lot.

Studies have shown that the twitch speed of muscle fibres has a large bearing on athletic performance, and the male sprint events are dominated by athletes of West African origins, where genetics has given them faster twitch speeds. Kenteris’s victory, however, owed more to anabolic than genetic advantage, and his performances immediately raised some eyebrows. In fact, Kenteris was the first Caucasian male to win a medal at the Olympic 200m event in 20 years.

Bonds, who currently holds the Major League Baseball all time home run record (albeit followed with a very large asterisk), exhibited many tell tale signs of steroid abuse, as those involved in his current trial will testify. Anyone who followed his career can attest to noticing massive changes in his physique symptomatic of drug use. One of the most bizarre and glaring was his increased hat and shoe size, noted by his team’s Clubhouse manager. As always, there’s also an ex girlfriend more than willing to testify, in this instance as to Bonds’ shrinking testicles as well as other physical side effects. Revenge is dish best served cold.

Can we conclude from these cases that only the most blatant users of illegal substances are caught, or are cheating athletes such an exception to the norm that they make themselves conspicuous? I’d like to think it’s the latter, and that the various anti-doping bodies are doing a sterling job of identifying all those who illegally seek to gain an advantage. But that would be naïve, for every Bonds or Kenteris; it’s possible that there are two more slipping undetected through the screening processes.

Either way, both athletes have become considerably wealthier as a result of their exploits, and where the opportunity for vast financial gain exists, with only the slight possibility of being caught, it’s difficult to envision a sports world completely free of drugs.

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