I use to collect anything and everything Track and Field. Newspapers and magazines, fliers and stats sheets from Penn Relays, IC4A’s and the NCAA Championships, National Championships, Pan-American Games, The Goodwill Games and even the Boston, New York, LA and Chicago Marathons. I can tell you the winners of practically every event of every major Championship from every country without pause or hesitation. I even put together my own track team of champions that traveled the country back in the day. Our war chant was the famed song by Luke "DoDo Brown" ... Don't Stop Get it Get it !!" As bad as that imagery was, it worked for pumping up the adrenalin for the big meets. I even ran with two championship teams in America and Internationally wearing Nike like a badge of honor with "DoDo Brown" setting the pace.
One of my most memorable times in my running career was when I trained in Russia in my new Red White and Blue Nike speed suit. There wasn't a day I was not asked if I was Carl Lewis. I would constantly be asked if I was "Carl Lewis" and if I can be challenged. After about 20 times of being asked, I just gave in and said "yes, I am Carl Lewis" and started signing his name on shirts and shoes. They never knew the difference.
My photo album is full of pictures I have taken with Track Champions from around the World. Some I knew personally, others in passing. Still there were many others I had bonded with because I admired them. Admiration due to the hard work and shared experiences of getting up at 4 AM and training until 7 AM, eating breakfast and then taking a nap until 1 PM. Getting up again to work on technique and running splits or jumping into sand and dirt pits (I was also a Long Jumper -- thus the confusion of being Carl Lewis) and then hitting the gym to soon have dinner at 7 PM and bed by 9 PM (five days a week) to be on a bus, or a train or a plane to be at a track meet on Thursday and then back on Sunday to begin the torture again. It was grueling, it was stressful, and it was fun because you formed a family that had extensions internationally. As much as people made fun of "our" sport (we were called the people who ran in underwear), we all knew deep down that there was a real respect for what we did. Regardless of the distance or the event; 50 meters to 26 miles, the long jump to the hammer throw, we represented the World and champions were made through the joy of victory or the agony of defeat.
Now I know, like all sports where (commercial) dollars can make a difference, the lure of cheating can be evident. Baseball has its cheaters as we are currently noting with the Mitchell Report on MLB, Football has theirs, WWE's Chris Benoit use of steroids which caused him to kill his family, Blood Doping in swimming, cycling and the triathlon, its all becomes common place as the stories become daily news.
In my early years as a runner I will tell you that I was no joke. You got on the track, you got smoked. Prideful enough to tell you just before you stepped in to your blocks. I also knew those athletes that would go from zero to overdrive in a matter a weeks. An improvement that would be questionable and often was but only in silence and or locker room whispers.
In Europe I was often asked if I was on "the juice" and if I wasn't, did I want to be. Coaches hinted if I needed to make "that next level", sometimes you need to take supplements to join the "elite team". But I am a traditionalist and I soon found out that my glory days for the wind at my face and the dust at my back were soon to be over. And it was when my superhuman speed no longer was considered "Super". I watched as my talent when from on pace to slow motion as my competition warped into a whole new level of acceleration. Like the laws of nature, my voice could not keep place with the speed of light and I became normal. The above average man; the recreational athlete. I went on to coaching, I wrote, I recruited, I moved on, and I soon become a spectator.
In the 1990's in my transition from active to inactive running status, I watched a young high school girl from California named Marion Jones working magic. She was a coach's dream, a spectator bliss, everything the sport needed. Marion Jones was the real deal. At her high school prime, she ran times surpassing the elite runners of the world and we all salivated for her debuted on the international scene. When she did, she had shown the world she was the real deal. Even when people said, "No way Marion Jones can run that fast".
I argued that she could because she had consistently shown the World. Her times where realistic. Why? Because Marion Jones was consistent with her running times in high school and college. As a coach I studied Marion Jones’ stats to look at the logical progression in her physical times. Nothing peaked suspicion. Even when Marion Jones' first husband, C.J. Hunter, was caught using drugs to enhance his abilities I defended my champion stating that she did not need to "juice". Why? Because she is a Champion. And when her second husband, Tim Montgomey was busted for steroids, I didn’t yell as loudly but I still stood in my Marion Jones corner because in Track circles, you do not say out loud what you have not seen or know first hand.
My running buddies often challenged my support for Marion Jones for not “juicing” but was quick to finger me for accusing Flo-Jo for her superhuman performances and times? I would tell them, "... she doesn't need them drugs, she is the real deal, built for running, had all the guts and ability, she don't need drugs to beat up on the World, Marion's times are realistic". Since 1997 until 2007 I would hold true to my defense.
On October 4, 2007, my heart was crushed. Marion Jones had announced that she used drugs during her bid for the 2000 Olympics. That news was like loosing a family or better yet, finding out your child was in the hospital because of a car accident due to a drug over-dose. My pride has fled and now my sorrow blanketed my soul for the sport. What Marion had done was kill the last hope that there was at least one clean runner out there. I had even given up on Michael Johnson a long time ago and now Marion Jones is on that same list.
Do I want an apology? I am not sure. I know I have the capacity to forgive but this is more than personal it is in defense of all the positive energy I gave to my champion. On the track, in practice, my prayers that GOD would bless her with great performances and to keep her safe and healthy. My phone rang with the news of, "I told you so", and I had to humble myself and accept it. I am hurt and I know I lost my friend with this news. Not Marion Jones ..... but Track and Field.
So here we are with baseball and its drug mess. MLB now has this list of cheaters and the Nation is scrambling to decide what to do with its heroes. Do we move on, do when take back the love as well as the millions of dollars we toted out to the BAD MEN WITH BATS? We now know that the cheating goes across all our sports now. Can we really call ourselves the BEST?
I recently watched a documentary on the life of Billy Jean-King, not only a pioneer to the WTA and Women's Tennis, but much like Muhammad Ali and Jackie Robinson, she changed the face of professional sports and the status of the amateur. What stood out in her life-story was the dedication Billy Jean-King had and the level of professionalism she exhibited. Billy Jean-King's nature was often criticized as being "hard", "cold" and unapproachable. Although she won a record number of titles, her response to why she was rigid and closed was simply that in America, no one wants to love a looser or even second place. If you aren't number one or a winner, "NO ONE CARES". And we all want that love from your country.
Add money, commercialism and fame to the equation as well as a big fat slice of suspended belief and you have what we call in America an era of Enhancement and Cheating. The Chinese have done it. The Germans have done it. The Soviets/Russians have done it. Every nation wanting that status of being NUMBER ONE has and is doing it. And America has been doing it as well and for years. My lack of shock and awe is, WHY ARE PEOPLE JUST CATCHING UP AND ACKNOWLEDGING IT NOW?