The news today about Floyd Landis clearing his conscious so he can sleep at night… Should we be shocked? Should we even care?

This is becoming an all too familiar story, not just amongst pro-cyclists, but with a lot of professional athletes. Years of denying doping, sometimes even after positive drug tests, and then lo and behold, they actually were doping. Professional athletes may argue that it is their job to outperform, but despite the challenges of their profession, they are often doing something that many of us love to do despite not getting paid. Although they may not aspire to being role models, they become role models for their fans and other athletes that try to approach their greatness. This is why advertising and marketing works so well with professional athletes. If they weren’t idolized by their fans, then sponsorship and advertising would be defunct and a poor investment. When a pro uses a particular product, amateur athletes start to think that if it works so well for them, then it must be worth the expense. When they use banned substances for performance enhancement, amateurs and other pros alike start thinking that they had better use them too. Many pro-athletes that finally admit their doping state that one reason why they did so was because they felt the other guy probably was and would have an advantage.

When Mark McGwire admitted his doping habits, he told his athletes that it didn’t help, it was just psychological. Well, his athletes and many others probably dream of having results similar to McGwire. His claim that it wasn’t helpful probably didn’t make anybody considering doping to change their mind.

The prevalence of doping just gives professional sports an all around bad image. Many of us just like to go out and compete against ourselves, others in our age group, and against some of our friends and training partners. The professional athlete isn’t somebody most of us compete against. Instead we are just in awe of their athleticism because we know how hard we work to not even get close to them. I think it is great for races to showcase their pros because they show us what is humanly possible. If there is doubt though that what is “possible” is not through genetic gifts and good training but due to doping, then their performances are not nearly as impressive. This really hurts the sport and the pro-athletes that are not doping.

So, Landis… He has refuted his doping accusations for so long, and now admitted his wrong-doings. And with that he is trying to take some other pros down with him. This comes at a time when he isn’t performing that well. I have to wonder if he is starting to feel bad for himself that he isn’t doing as well now because he’s not doping and that the people that are beating him are. That’s possible, since other athletes have expressed their concern that they weren’t on an even playing field with athletes that may be doping. Pure here say from Landis is a rather gutsy move. I’m not sure what that is going to get him unless he has some proof. He already has established poor credibility, and then to go up against big names like this without any proof is more than just trying to clear his conscious.

The graphs below is from an article in The Science of Sport (an outstanding blog by the way), written last year. In the article Dr. Ross Tucker points out the estimated normalized power-weight ratio for the tour winners has risen drastically since the Lemond years. The article is worth reading, but he does mention a good point of what is physiologically possible, and does such a rapid growth in power-weight ratio imply doping. The implication is definitely there, even without this analysis.

Anabolic steroid use isn’t just popular amongst pro-athletes either. There have been prevalence studies of anabolic steroid use amongst students. Surveys may not be very accurate, but from the studies I looked at there is about 1-2% prevalence amongst high school and college athletes. That may not seem very high, and I’ve definitely seen claims that are much higher, but the fact that there is any is a bit outrageous. I was on the swim team and cross country team in high school, and never witnessed any steroid use amongst athletes. I suppose other sports may be bigger targets for steroid use than swimming and running. If student athletes are doping, then certainly there are probably some amateur athletes (weekend warriors) that are looking for an upgrade or a podium finish and are doping. There are many people striving to qualify for Kona, for example. I wonder how many amateurs are doping to give them the edge to get that spot. Even the thought about it takes away from the sport.

What do you think about the doping craze in sports? Do you think it’s a problem in amateur sports, and does it matter since we aren’t getting sponsorship and a paycheck?