2012 Summer Olympics:
Inspiring a Generation
“At base, we attend games and we become sports fans because we are enthralled that these young men and women are capable, with their bodies, of what we could never manage with ours. We envy and cheer their graceful superiority. When athletes take performance-enhancing drugs they destroy that basic truth.” –Frank DeFord ’09H, NPR commentator and writer
This year, more than 16,000 athletes competed at the 2012 London Olympics. Long before the athletes arrived in London, officials and scientists were busily preparing a laboratory in Essex. Hailed as the most high-tech facility in the history of the Olympics and estimated to be the size of seven tennis courts, the laboratory was created specifically for anti-doping purposes. The facility ran continuously with a staff of over 1,000 collecting and processing samples for turn-around times as short as 24 hours.
International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge urged Olympians to compete clean:
“Reject doping. Respect your opponents. Remember that you are all role models. If you do that, you will inspire a generation.”
According to a study in Drug and Alcohol Dependence by Heiko Striegel, about seven percent of young athletes admitted to doping at some point in their career—this would represent a little over 1,000 athletes at this year’s Olympic games.
The topic of clean sport received significant attention as the 2012 Olympic motto and theme was “Inspire a Generation.” The slogan accompanied the launch of the Inspire Programme, an initiative involving more than 10 million people to make real and lasting changes in local communities through sport. London Organizing Committee Chairman Lord Sebastian Coe said, “It is the heartbeat, the very DNA of this organization and a rallying cry for the athletes to come to the UK to perform at their very best and inspire the world. Millions will have been inspired by what they have witnessed over the summer.”
Setting the Gold Standard
The modern-day Olympics began in the late 1800s due to the efforts of Baron Pierre de Coubertin. He lobbied to resurrect the games hoping they would bring back the ideals of physical, mental, and spiritual excellence displayed in ancient times. Coubertin also founded the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and wrote the Athlete’s Oath, which athletes at the first modern Olympics in 1896 took at the opening ceremony—a tradition still in place today:
In the name of all competitors, I promise that we shall take part in these Olympic Games, respecting and abiding by the rules that govern them, in the true spirit of sportsmanship, for the glory of sport and the honor of our teams.
Since then, the Coubertin-founded IOC has worked to uphold the ideals and integrity of the games. IOC efforts are continually hampered by doping among athletes—a problem that has become rampant in the twenty-first century.
Erosion of Innocence
In 1904, Thomas Hicks ran to Olympic victory in the marathon with the help of raw egg, doses of brandy, and injections of strychnine, which is a stimulant for the nervous system. His medal was never taken away as a reliable testing method was not introduced until 1974.
For its part, the IOC created a Medical Commission in 1967 to deal with doping problems. The Commission was charged with protecting the health of athletes, respecting both medical and sports ethics, and establishing equality for all competing athletes. Beyond promoting anti-doping agendas, the IOC Medical Commission studies alternative methods such as sports medicine and nutrition to help athletes.
The most famous Olympic doping case concerned Canadian Ben Johnson, the 100-metre champion who tested positive for stanozolol, an anabolic steroid, at the 1988 Olympics. He was subsequently stripped of his gold medal.
The East German Olympic teams of the 1970s and 80s were also exposed for having used anabolic steroids. The evidence was not discovered until the fall of the Berlin Wall despite the teams almost doubling their medal wins within a decade.
By the late 1990s, the IOC Medical Commission had taken an even stronger stance on maintaining the integrity of the games by forming the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). WADA works toward a world in which all athletes compete in a doping-free sporting environment. The Agency sets the anti-doping standards for the sporting community all over the globe. Both the IOC and WADA continue to fight for a pure Olympics focused on mind, body, and spirit.
The United Kingdom Anti-Doping Chief Executive Andy Parkinson notes that the intense scrutiny placed on athletes only hampers their efforts for clean competition:
“The pressure on today’s athletes, coaches, and indeed nations continues to increase, and the whole sporting community needs to understand this and manage the need to ‘win at all costs.’ Combine this pressure with the weakness of human nature, and it is easy to see how people are tempted to risk everything for the sake of success.”
A Lifetime of Regret
The creation of the expansive anti-doping station at this year’s Olympics came on the heels of the British Olympics Association (BOA) rescinding its lifetime ban for drug offenders. WADA only enforces a two-year ban for athletes caught doping and had declared the BOA noncompliant with its global codes. The BOA has since instituted the two-year punishment.
However, Centenary alumna Kathy Johnson Clarke ’81, team captain of the 1984 U.S. Olympic gymnastics team as well as a silver and bronze winner, believes the BOA was on the right track. She hopes to help completely eradicate the use of performance-enhancing drugs in not only the Olympics but all athletics. As a member of the Advisory Board for Global Sports, Clarke lobbies for athletes to compete clean.
“Being an Olympian is the ultimate honor and privilege, so I believe it should come with the highest level of personal responsibility,” said Clarke. “A lifetime ban is an appropriate punishment and the only step toward eradicating drug use in sport.”
Clarke was introduced to gymnastics relatively late and began practicing at the age of 12. At Centenary, she developed as a team gymnast, going on to win the American Cup in 1977 and the floor exercise gold and all-around competition silver at the 1977 U.S. Nationals. In 1978, she placed eighth in the all-around for the World Artistic Gymnastics Championships. Though she was named team captain of the American squad, Clarke missed her chance to compete for gold in the 1980 Olympics due to the U.S. boycott of the games. She remained competitive in gymnastics until she was finally able to compete at the 1984 Olympics. Clarke was only the second American female gymnast to receive medals in both the World Championships and the Olympics.
Today, Clarke focuses her attention on improving conditions for gymnasts and other athletes. Beyond her work with the Advisory Board for Global Sports, she serves on the Advisory Committee for Justice for Athletes, an organization supporting the emotional health of young people in sports, and the National Athletic Advisory Board for Athletes for a Better World.
Dr. Jason Maggio ’01, who runs Shreveport-based All the Way Health Center, was at this year’s Olympic games assisting the athletes as a wellness physician. Though he believes that sanctions for doping are debatable, Maggio found that the new facility kept the playing ground fair and aided in maintaining true sportsmanship.
“The new tests checked for 240 prohibited substances and up to 6,250 samples were checked,” said Dr. Maggio. “However, it can be frustrating for the athletes to work that hard and have the media drive the public into thinking, ‘Is that natural or even humanly possible?’ You bet it is is! It’s the Olympics, where amazing awaits!”
Preparing Mind, Body, and Spirit
Maggio agrees with Olympics founder Coubertin’s ideal to focus on the physical, mental, and spiritual excellence of the athlete.
A polyclinic located in Olympic Park served as Maggio’s station throughout the games. The facility was deemed a polyclinic as it provided services that ranged from sports medicine and primary care to dentistry. The clinic was a controlled environment in which the medicine and aid given to athletes could be carefully monitored for anti-doping purposes.
Maggio is a part of Maximized Living, a health delivery system and compliant standard of care for chiropractors. Members of Maximized Living take care of the U.S. World Athletic Teams at international events. He underwent three levels of certification and advanced training in nutrition, detoxification, exercise, and mental wellness to work with Olympians.
After graduating from Centenary, Maggio became fascinated with the chiropractic philosophy—that a person could heal from within without the use of drugs or surgery.
“I hope that I’ve been as much of a blessing to the athletes as they have been to me,” said Maggio. “There is something very different about the mindset of an Olympian. Our athletes were ready—mind, body, and spirit. The decisions, dedications, and desires that these athletes have taught me will absolutely make me a better doctor and person and have changed my life forever.”
Always an Olympian
Despite IOC President Rogge’s warnings to compete clean, the World Anti-Doping Agency reported that over 100 potential Olympians were stopped from competing at the Games because of doping, while the International Olympic Committee announced a number of positive tests during the course of the Games. Mere hours after the closing ceremony of the Olympics, Nadzeya Ostapchuk, a shot putter from Belarus, was stripped of gold for testing positive for steroids. She was the eighth athlete caught doping during the 2012 London Olympics.
UK Anti-Doping Chief Executive Parkinson sees the athletes caught doping as a victory for clean competition and the portent of good things to come:
“In the blink of an eye the London 2012 Olympic Games are over, leaving us with fantastic memories, amazing athletic performances and a legacy to inspire a generation through sport.
For the global anti-doping community this means a legacy of clean sport, where tomorrow’s athletes believe in striving to be the best they can without the use of performance enhancing substances.”
The Olympics remain a time-honored tradition, where nations come together to see men and women push beyond their limits to achieve gold. Both Maggio and Clarke treasure the once-in-a-lifetime experience that connected them to the world-at-large.
“It’s incredibly fulfilling to be part of something so much bigger than yourself, to be a part of history,” said Clarke. “Winning a medal at the Olympics with my teammates forever changed us
and bound us together in a very powerful way. Never former, never past, always an Olympian.”
Baron Pierre de Coubertin originally set forth an Olympic Creed that encouraged the clean, competitive spirit—something that Maggio, Clarke, and the many other Olympic supporters are striving for every day: The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.