Opinion: Age Group Doping Control

Today we are featuring a guest opinion piece by Ulrich Fluhme about age group doping. Ulrich who is better known as Uli runs the Gran Fondo New York and is also a member of other slowtwitch forum. The opinions expressed in these editorials are those of the individual authors, and do not necessarily reflect the position of slowtwitch.com, its staff, forum members and/or advertisers.

Age Group Doping Control

In late 2011, I contacted USADA about performing doping control tests on Gran Fondo New York 2012 participants. I am the CEO of the event and strongly believe in clean and fair racing to be an integral aspect of competition. We offered $100,000 worth of prizes and we don't want to award cheaters. In April 2012, USADA performed the out of competition doping control tests on behalf of Gran Fondo New York (which later all came back negative). These were followed up with tests in the finish area of Gran Fondo New York on May 20, 2012 immediately after cyclists crossed the finish line. A month after the race, USADA informed us that out of the ten participants we tested on race day, two were using EPO.

Some people make doping by amateurs sound harmless. They say that they don't care if a competitor takes drugs because they race for themselves, for the sake of racing and being part of the fun. However, doping at an amateur level is rarely about that free pair of tires or even about the $100,000 of prizes. Cheating is about the athlete's ego: going up on the podium and receiving social recognition.

Others warn of false positives, raise the issue of recreational drugs and doubt an age grouper knows everything he/she consumes.

My response to those people is:

1) We only know about "false positives" courtesy of the lies of professional athletes. It's a non-issue in reality.

2) If you want to race, don't do recreational drugs. I hear people say that weed is not performance enhancing. But I'm also told that it can mitigate the stress during taper that comes with performance expectations.

3) Read the Slowtwitch forum to see how informed today's athletes are about nutrition. Everyone is and should be well aware what chemicals they ingest. Tainted supplements? Don't use supplements. Stuff that works is a PED, everything else just makes your pee glow and an industry happy.

Taking testosterone as an aging athlete is like injecting EPO because you have a naturally low Hematocrit. By all means, if it makes you feel better, do what you want. But then don't compete. There are open waters, roads and trails to do sports. Age group racing is just that: the body becomes weaker over time, that's normal, and by competing against people of similar age you are competing with others who are in a similar physical condition. Just because you're 50 and want to feel 30, it does not mean you have a medical condition. And for the few that have a true condition, there is a TUE.

Doping by amateurs isn't harmless. It hurts everyone. Family, friends and teammates find out they've been lied to. An employer questions if a person who is capable of cheating in their hobby also lacks ethics in their job. The doping small business owner might lose customers. And the neighborhood kids who looked up to the rider now have the rug pulled from under them. Last but not least: the athlete is putting his health and even life in jeopardy. Many have already died from EPO overdoses.

Organizers who put on events that invite fierce competition have an obligation to do their part to provide fair racing conditions. A race needs rules, otherwise it becomes a free for all, the competition becomes a farce and consequently utterly pointless. It's time that organizers of large running races like the New York Road Runners and competitive amateur cycling events step up and perform doping controls among amateurs. And so should of course the likes of WTC (Ironman), Challenge, Rev3, Life Time Fitness and others in triathlon. WTC has at least some AG testing in place as we found out recently.

The primary goal of age group testing is not catching the cheaters. It is about deterring dopers from competing at our events. It's about making that 9pm doorbell ring uncomfortable for a doper. Don't let the few dopers take away our passion for a healthy amateur competition. Ask the event director what he/she does against doping. Support and help the event in their efforts. But also stay away from events that could afford controls but don't do them and by that, essentially allow drugs. Let them know your choice.

Ulrich Fluhme

If you have any questions on how to implement such controls, don't hesitate to contact USADA or send Uli a PM on the ST forum. Uli also tweets @ulif