In light of the Tour de France season, the recent post from Noah Hoffman, and a general inclination towards pushy opinions, the following is a rant on doping submitted by one of the oldest and most loyal JK readers. The American ski world has been very quiet about doping, doping culture and doping history. Perhaps that should change.
The doping problem is crushing my soul, and most of us are now desensitized to the depression of the news. Doping control agencies fight honorable battles in the rat race of keeping up with the cheaters (War on Drugs, anyone?), but every positive B sample sparks assumption and rumors among the masses, fear and doubt among leaders, and most importantly is like stealing the halloween candy from every young person that idolizes the accused. It is a jab at the spiritual heart of sport.
But why do we want to participate in a sport where doubt hangs over a stand-out performance? Are we really OK with downgrading the roles of our athletic heroes by secretly questioning the validity of their victories, the very same silver-tipped heroes who wield the almost magical power to inspire and motivate us toward the possibilities our own dreams?
Ever since I was a kid I have felt a thrill whenever an underdog overcomes all odds to win a race. Sometimes it brings me to tears. It feels like my own destiny is being lifted up with theirs, like I could win that race too, and it makes me want to win it. The thrills of their victories weave the very fabric of soul that drives me to sport. Heroes are the root of my inspiration to be an athlete.
For me, that thrill is the life-blood that reminds me that I am alive and playing a part in the drama of being a living thing. Everyone can easily accept that life has obstacles, and for those who’s bodies are awakened by the thrill of that primordial tension, sport is the best tool in the shed to begin the work of carving out a meaningful life from the stone block of that struggle.
And what heroes we have! Spillane and Demongs’ charges in Vancouver, Hoff and Legkov in the Sochi 50K, Bjornsen’s charge in the Sochi team sprint, and Caldwell dishing fresh-served depth after Kikkan’s Sochi disappointment. These thrilling moments are absolutely priceless. They serve as the mythic Gods of the present, modern symbols of perfection with the angelic prowess to prove to our kids back home that they can also win that race.
But what happens to the potency of these heroic deeds when the slightest shadow of doubt is cast over the purity of their sport? How crushed and confused are the young Italian, Finnish and Russian fans when their idols are diminished by desire and deceit? And would our heroes have pushed themselves over the line if they doubted the authenticity of their competition?
As long as we think about doping in terms of management, we will remain in a sort of survival mode defined and limited by the damage control that we are able to conjure up against it. If we really want to finally remove this old splinter from the heart and soul of our sport, we have to stop aiming the fire extinguisher at the flames and target the root of a far more painful problem:
The moral integrity of the athletes.
Cheating is not the problem. Cheating is nothing but the pathological result of a decaying self-image just as much in the collective culture as in the doping racer. This problem exists only because we have all forgotten why we are athletes in the first place, and the challenge to reclaim our core values rests on the shoulders of every last man, woman, and child. We have to remember that winning medals alone is not the highest honor, and that the burden lies on all of us, right now.
We have to start remembering that sport is at its core a method to practice the art of living as a human being. It is a means of understanding ourselves and our place in the world by directly confronting necessary hardships, and to selflessly pass on what we have learned to those that follow after us.
Sport exists because it models the realities of life, and this model is the vital life-blood that validates our tireless pursuit of success. It cements meaning under our fund raisers, and volition behind our demand for recognition in a country obsessed with “bigger” sports that lost touch with this purpose long ago. Any skier who understands this will never tire of rollerskiing in the rain. In fact, nothing will keep them from it.
But what can we do?
This is an invitation to take a more mature and intelligent approach to sport, and see it first and foremost as the life path that it is. The arena of competition is nothing other than a pure space - hallowed by leaving our pride at the gates - in order to practice the art of living with each other. It is primarily a place to learn that we are no better than our peers, and to purify our minds of this useless egoic rate-race. The true gift of competition is the lesson that all of life’s challenges can be summed up in the burning pain of lactic acid; that they are nothing but ephemeral illusions waiting, nay begging to be metabolized.
All we have to do is remember that we are all here to perfect the art of skiing - to become utter and absolute masters of the sport, not just of the medals, and to leave a legacy of inspiration for our successors by honoring the purity of the deeds of our heroes. This is a quantum leap for the ego, and the result is that we are ALL IN in terms of blood sweat and tears, but ALL OUT in terms of expectations, judgement, and ego.
So what’s the yard stick to measure if we are doing it right? It’s simple: If the pursuit of our dreams generates any kind of negativity within ourselves, we have lost the path. Disappointment with a performance, looking for approval from others, abandoning humility and the search for the truth when a skier jumps into your lane, are all forms of negativity. We can still fight hard without negativity, because fighting with negativity only requires abandoning our core values.
Living by this code doesn’t limit our striving for gold medals. It just means we have to master the art of striving, to pursue the medals to the ends of the earth with the same boundless conviction while also mastering the extremely delicate balance of effort and humility; burning the engine hot but clean, without a trace of judgement, with an experiential understanding the natural forces and values that fuel the fire within.
And the fire must burn bright! The defense must let the dogs out! The ab-sweat-drenched-beast must hunt! Unleash hell in the tracks and leave it all on the course! HEIJA HEIJA HEIJA!!!
The trick is to simply to stop fueling this fire with even the smallest shred of desire, and start fueling it with the the wisdom of the values that bind us all together. It means developing real and lasting faith in ourselves and our true potential still yet to be revealed, giving birth to a whole new process of wisdom, honesty, integrity, and all the other passé catch-phrases that lost their value through sheer overuse back in our childhood.
This change is free, requires no governing bodies or controlling agencies, will have a profound impact on all areas of the sport, and starts with you and me, right here, right now. All we have to do is upgrade our message from this crude and over-simplified mantra:
"We are here to win medals…”
…to this more evolved and intelligent version:
"We are here to perfect the art of discovering and unlocking our individual and collective potential, only so that we can pass it on to the generations to come…”
…medals or no. The mission? To refine our vision of success, rise up to meet the rest of the world, and then lead by example through the qualities we have developed within us.
Cheating is the most controversial topic in sport because even the deceit of others has the power to shame every single drop of sweat falling from our own foreheads. I challenge you to pick apart everything I have said and to prove me wrong in the forum comments of your own mind, to choose a position on this topic, and to decide what you are going to do about it. Don’t say anything to anyone, but just own it, and live by it.