Joe Lavin

February 21, 2006

Gun-Wielding Olympians on Drugs:
The Biathlon Doping Controversy

Today, I would like to discuss the serious issue of biathlon doping. Having watched well over 45 seconds of biathlon action last week, I feel more than qualified to discuss the biathlon. In fact, more than once, I've seen the movie "For Your Eyes Only," in which James Bond manages to escape from an East German biathlete, so I clearly know what I'm talking about here.

Like many, until this weekend, I didn't actually know there was such a thing as biathlon doping, but apparently several members of the Austrian biathlon team are suspected of using performance enhancing drugs, prompting the question: If a biathlete did use performance enhancing drugs, would anyone notice? And might it be a good idea for Dick Cheney to use those same drugs the next time he goes hunting?

Late Saturday night, Italian police raided the living quarters of the Austrian biathlon team and found more than 100 syringes and several drugs that may or may not be legal. Frankly, it's comforting to know that all major crime in Italy has been eradicated so that the police can now concentrate their resources instead on biathlon doping. Sure, I can understand using Olympic officials, but using the police does seem a tad aggressive. Then again, you have to admire the courage of the Italian police. Frankly, if I were in charge of a raid on Olympic athletes, I would not have chosen the ones with guns. I would have gone after the ice dancers instead.

I haven't actually seen the footage yet. (I was going to watch it on NBC, but I already knew the results.) Still, when you think about it, a police raid of biathletes is infinitely more interesting than the biathlon itself. Whereas the biathlon isn't exactly a popular sport, a police raid of biathletes would probably bring in millions of viewers. Throw in some forensics, and they might even beat "American Idol."

As it is, the Olympics had nowhere near as many viewers as "American Idol" last week. Not only that, the Olympics have also lost to "Lost," "Survivor," and even "Dancing with the Stars." NBC and the International Olympic Committee are no doubt paying attention. Next Olympics, be prepared for Biathlon with Celebrities. ("Watch out, Brad. Jen's got a rifle.")

Of course, the doping problem transcends just the biathlon. The police are going after cross-country skiers too. On Saturday night, Italian police also raided the Austrian cross country team and forced them to take drug tests in the middle of the night. This happened to be the night before the finals of the cross-country relay race. Coincidentally enough, the next day, the Italians won the gold medal in that event, while the Austrians, who had spent most of the previous night with the police in their bedrooms, finished in last place. Wow, imagine how proud Jeff Gillooly must be.

Still, doping is a serious issue, even if the name evokes images of teenagers sitting in their parent's garage smoking pot, rather than overachieving athletes using drugs to bring glory to their country. I, for one, am deeply against the use of performance enhancing drugs in sports. For me, it's a fairness issue. If the athletes are allowed to use performance enhancing drugs, why not viewers too? Have you actually tried watching some of these events without performance enhancing drugs?

None of this should really come as a surprise. During just about every Olympic games, there are several drug controversies. With all the news about athletes taking drugs, you would almost think it were a medal sport. And maybe it should be. "What a performance, Dick! Just look at her! She's stoned to the gills! That's the first ever triple-axel performed in the Olympics while on dope. You have to think the judges will give her high marks for that!"

NBC, take note. Live or not, here's an Olympic event that would clearly deliver some dominant ratings.

©2006 Joe Lavin

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