Track Coach

TC223 Editorial Column

From the Editor – RUSS EBBETS


Icarus was a character in Greek mythology who suffered from hubris—a lack of fear of the gods. His father built him a set of wings that allowed him to fly. Icarus was warned about flying too high but due to hubris, he decided to fly to the sun. The feathers of his wings were attached by wax. The wings got hot, the wax melted and he fell into the sea and that, to paraphrase Lowell Thomas, “was the end of the story.”

The Lions Club is an international service organization that does charitable works in virtually every community in the United States. The Club is made up of business men and women and other community leaders who band together with the mission to make their communities, and hence the world, a better place. Personal disclosure: I have been a Lion for over 20 years.

Most clubs meet once or twice monthly with a standard format that includes a short business meeting, a meal and a 20-minute after-dinner speech by a community expert. The topics can run the gamut from soup to nuts. Proceedings are informal, friendly and usually 90 minutes well spent.

One night, over a decade ago, the dinner conversation turned to drugs and sports. The table talk was rapid fire with several Lions having strong opinions and quick solutions that were supported by references to, “when I was in high school” and “something I heard on talk radio.” Now understand, these are business people whose other main concern in life is the lack of downtown parking. Everybody had their two cents.

Most are aware that all large Olympic and World Championship festivals have some sort of teddy-bear type mascot that looks like a cross between Barney and a Smurf with a sing-song name like HiHo, MeNo or Utoe. Years ago, the first thing a victorious athlete would do was run to their coach or handler, grab a flag and the mascot and prance around the track for a victory lap before heading off to the drug tent.

When it came time for me to add my two cents I mentioned that today the medal winners are only allowed to run around with a flag and forbidden from getting flowers or a mascot. One of my fellow Lions thought that was a stupid rule. Then I told him that certain countries were smuggling clean urine inside the mascots that the athletes could dump into their pee cup. He just about fell off his chair.

As it turned out our disbelief was mutual. I tried to explain to him that one of the main reasons the Soviets boycotted the 1984 Olympics was that they were not going to be allowed to have all their athletes stay on a cruise ship parked in LA Harbor. Rumor had it the ship had dialysis-type equipment that would insure clean urine. Our mutual disbelief continued. And I couldn’t believe that he couldn’t believe.

I finished up telling him about the men and women of doping control who now have the job of watching you pee in the cup. Not listening, not waiting, watching. The first time I heard this I wondered what must go through the drug-tester’s mind? All those late nights in the lab, eight or nine years of higher education, PhD dissertation and it all comes down to a cup of warm pee. Do you really tell your relatives how exciting the Olympics are?

So imagine my sense of validation a few months ago when I stumbled across Icarus, the movie on Netflix. Honestly, I expected some half-baked, conspiracy theorist rendering of what somebody said about somebody else explained by some guy seen in dark profile with a garbled voice. Boy, was I wrong.

Grigory Rodchenkov was the guy. He ran the Russian pharma-archipelago. It was all there. The vials, the clean urine, the transport, the interception and the unbreakable screw caps. There was true scientific precision to all this. The only thing that boggles my mind is how they didn’t screw something up at least once with over 200 samples.

It was this evidence that got Russia banned from Rio and then banned from Pyeongchang although they let the drug-free Russians compete even though two later tested positive, if that makes sense. Actually, it only has to make “cents,” as in dollars and cents; remember we are talking about the IOC here.

After you get past the wonder of “did this really happen?” Icarus is a sad story. At the 90th Annual Academy Awards Icarus won the Oscar for Best Documentary. Rodchenkov, the central character, seems like a very pleasant guy who was pretty good at the cat and mouse game that is international sport. Today he’s a wanted man in Russia. At least one of his colleagues has mysteriously died. He lives in the U.S. now in the Witness Protection Program. No word what he’s doing with his Oscar.