athletes drug testing in sport

Athletes Drug Testing In Sport: What do you do when running breathes meaning into every moment of your life - and you're suddenly told that you can't run anymore?

What do you do when you're a five-time world cross country champion and an Olympic gold medalist - and you're banned from your sport, even though you have done nothing wrong?

What do you do when you painfully recall your childhood, when you wandered barefoot and alone along the muddy streets of Muranga, Kenya, wondering whether you could ever possibly have a good life? How does it make you feel - now that the authorities who govern your sport have decreed that you can no longer compete - when you remember the miraculous day in primary school when running changed your whole life?

On that hot day, your teacher organized a race for the whole school, and you remember starting slowly but then passing everyone and running far, far ahead of your classmates, hearing their shouts of 'Ngugi! Ngugi! Kimbia pole pole!' grow increasingly faint behind you. You remember how it felt to run faster than everyone else - the hot air pouring into your lungs, the sweat beading up on your forehead, the impact of your feet hitting the ground, but especially the incredible power in your legs - and the long, quick strides which pulled you clear of the stumbling mass of other runners. You remember thinking that soon you would be tired, but instead the little flame inside you - the red-hot spark that said Run! Run! - roared into an unquenchable fire.

You remember smiling at your teacher's astonished stare, remember feeling great for the first time in your life. You had found something that you loved to do, something that you could do better than anyone else, something that made you feel like an important person. You had found running.

Nine laps of agony
And you remembered that first school-yard competition on another hot day in a place very far from Kenya, when you competed against the best runners in the world in the Olympic 5000-metre final. In that race in Seoul, Korea, you were dead-last and seemingly out of the race after the first two laps, but you suddenly burst into the lead with a breakneck sprint, moving so quickly that the other runners thought you were mad, or thought you were just the pacesetter for someone else, and let you go without a second thought. But you didn't stop accelerating until you were 50 metres clear, and then - running alone again but this time through a haze of agonizing pain - you held the scalding pace for nine more laps. When the other runners finally realized that you weren't ever going to slow down, they panicked and surged toward you like hungry lions, but it was too late.

And then, when you actually held the gold medal in your hand, you were very proud, and you realized that running had given you everything that was good in your life, things that were much more important than Olympic gold medals or world-championship trophies. Running had given you your family, your friends, and your career. Running had given you life.

The 'Ngugi route'
And that inner fire for running never went out, even after four world championships and an Olympic victory. In 1992, when everyone said that you were old, slow, and finished, you came back and won a l H world cross-country championship, surging through the snow and ice on a treacherous Boston course, letting the wind bite into your face with every step - and feeling terrific. You simply had more courage than anyone else, more capacity to handle the hard, hard training that you liked to carry out. At the Kenyan training camp near Embu, your
fellow teammates had named a long stretch of hilly, twisting roadway and trail the 'Ngugi route,' out of awe and respect for your training abilities. The 'Ngugi route' was longer, harder, higher, and tougher than the trails the other runners used for their workouts. Running at close to race pace on the route - as you did nearly every day - was more like torture than training, but it made you great. You had become the best runner in the world by working much harder than anyone else had ever dreamed of doing.

Then - an intruder
And then one day a strange man came to the door of your home in Nyahururu, Kenya. Speaking in harsh tones, the interloper demanded that you, a Kenyan army officer, give him some of your urine for drug testing. This man, a total stranger accompanied by an unknown woman, entered your home without asking permission, reminding you of the people who had come to your place with evil intent not long before, who had tried to rob you and screamed: 'We want all the money you made in Europe - now!'
No one had told you about the strange new drug- testing policy, which had been made necessary by Europeans and Americans who were cheaters, who weren't willing or able to work as hard as you. No one had told you that you had to submit to an encroacher who ordered you around in your own home; no one had told you that if you didn't cooperate with this arrogant man, you would lose the cornerstone of your life. The most exotic thing that had ever entered your body had been white cornmeal, you'd never even heard of clenbuterol or synthetic testosterone, and your most high-tech training technique had simply been to run so hard that you were ready to vomit.

But then, a few days after the meddler's visit, you - John Ngugi - had heard an anonymous voice on the. radio say something which shook you to your very core. The voice had stated that you were banned from international competitions for four years, and all because you refused to give your urine to a total stranger. It must all be some kind of weird joke or dream, you thought, but you soon learned that it was true, that you might have already run your very last race. You, the best cross country runner in the history of the world, had been outlawed!

Starting to rebuild
So what do you do when your life is suddenly taken away from you? At first, you retreat from the world, hoping that the intense anger you feel won't destroy your spirit. You rely on family and close friends; you try to focus on the business which your prize money has helped you to start. And then, you begin to react like the champion you really are. You start to build, to plan for the future; you once again allow yourself to hope.

On a recent visit to Nyahururu, Kenya, I had an opportunity to visit the great Ngugi. Understandably, he was not overly excited about the prospect of chatting with strangers; in fact, on a previous visit, a security guard outside the Ngugi home had turned me away. On my second attempt, it was only through the intervention of another Kenyan runner, Antony Maina, that Ngugi agreed to talk to me. He turned out to be a gracious, generous, articulate, and humorous - but angry - man. The following interview ensued: O.A.: John, when did you start running?

NGUGI: Like most Kenyan runners, I started running just by going back and forth to school. It was 8K to school and 8K to get back home again, and I would often run fairly hard.

O.A.: You first became aware that you were an excellent runner in school competitions. Did you have any role models or heroes?

NGUGI: I wanted to be just as good as Henry Rono. When I was growing up, he was the best runner in the world.

O.A.: Why have so many outstanding runners come from Kenya?

NGUGI: You've got to understand that almost all of the great Kenyan runners have come from rural areas - and have been terribly poor. They see running as a way to help their families. Starting a running career is like opening up a business; you do it to help the people you care about.

O.A.: When you were a young runner, did you receive good coaching?

NGUGI: Very good. Some army recruiters had noticed that I was running very strongly in the Kenyan district and provincial championships, so I was recruited for the Kenyan Army team and actually joined the army in 1983. In the army, I had the good fortune to join the Kahawa Garrison team, which has included the likes of Sammy Nyangincha and Godfrey Kiprotich, just to name a few of the good runners who have been there. We would spend part of the year training near Nairobi, at an altitude of about 5500 feet, and another part of the year near Nyahururu, at over 8000 feet. In the garrison, I received good coaching from Joseph Kwashiida, and the solid food and high morale were also a great help. O.A.: When did you first realize that you could become a top international runner?

NGUGI: Probably in 1984, when I finished sixth in the Kenyan trials. That gave me a lot of encouragement for the future.

O.A.: When did your career as an international runner actually begin?

NGUGI: I competed internationally for the first time in 1985, finishing first at 1500 metres in Cairo, Egypt, in 3:37. In 1986, I won my first of four consecutive world cross country championships (1986-1989). Out of those four years, 1987 was probably the most interesting one. I had been injured before the Kenyan national trials that year and finished only 77th, but I was selected for the world team because I was defending world champion. Needless to say, some of my teammates were not very happy; they felt that I hadn't really qualified for the team in the proper way. The world- championship race itself was very hard; I was tired from all the intense training I had done at our national camp, and Paul Kipkoech tried very hard to beat me. My other championships were much easier; in fact, in 1988 and 1989, the races felt no more difficult than a good workout. As you know, I came back in 1992 to win a fifth world title.

O.A.: You've been an inspiration to young runners in Kenya.

NGUGI: Thank you, I try to encourage young runners, especially here in the Central Province of Kenya. I'm supporting a regional running club which my friend Ibrahim Kinuthia has started; there is plenty of talent here. O.A.: What is your current training like?

NGUGI: Right now, I'm just running 20K every day. I'm actually in training for a marathon, which I'll compete in after my suspension is over.

O.A.: Could you come back to win a sixth world cross-country title? NGUGI: There's no way for that to happen, man. However, I CAN win a major marathon. When my suspension ends, I'll be 35 years old - definitely not too old to run a great marathon.

O.A.: Can you tell us a little bit about what happened on the day that the IAAF drug tester came to your home?

NGUGI: Sure. I was a five-time world champion. I thought mistakenly that I would be treated with respect by the running community. But one day this mzungu* came to my door along with his girl friend. They were out for a picnic together and he wanted to show her that he was a powerful man - that he could order me around. He rapped on my of fice door and said, 'We want some of your urine for testing.' O.A.: What happened then?

NGUGI: I had never, ever heard of such a thing: In Kenya, a complete stranger can't come to your home and demand your urine.

O.A.: Actually, it's not all that common in Europe or the States, either.

NGUGI: It would have been one thing if the KAAA (the Kenyan governing body for athletics) had told me that this situation might occur, but they never said anything. They should have educated me, told me I would be in trouble if I refused. After all, isn't one of the functions of your governing body to educate athletes? I told the drug tester, 'If you want my urine sample, then arrange for me to come to Ngong race track (in Nairobi); don't come to my home and demand it in front of my family. But he just said, 'We must have it now.''
O.A.: Did the KAAA give you any support in your protest to the IAAF?

NGUGI: None at all; in fact, I believe that someone in the KAAA may have sent the drug tester to my home in the first place, knowing that I would probably refuse to be tested. The KAAA people are jealous of runners who do well and drive Mercedes; they prefer that Kenyan athletes remain poor. O.A.: So, no support at all from the KAAA? NGUGI: Well, one Kenyan KAAA of ficial did say to me, 'If you pay us 300,000 Kenyan shillings (about 7500 U.S. dollars), your troubles will be over.' O.A.: What can you do now?

NGUGI: There doesn't appear to be much chance that the ban will be lifted. Bear in mind that my four- year suspension is the same as I would have received if I had actually been caught with drugs in my system. I've never used drugs. As you know, I've been checked for drugs many times in my career- after all my World Championships, at the Olympics, and during the European Grand Prix, and I've always tested negative. Anyway, it's stupid for them to send a tester to Nyahururu to try to catch me. Am I trying to set a world record here? If they want to detect someone, they should do it while he or she is in serious training or at an actual competition. O.A.: So how do you carry on?

NGUGI: One day someone just came and cut short my career, but I have to go on. I have to take care of my family.

And Ngugi is caring for his family very well. He operates a successful wholesale and retail store in Nyahururu, Kenya, with two trucks which constantly navigate 450 miles of dusty, pot-holed roads between the harbour in Mombasa and the loading dock at his store. He's a loving husband and father to two children, a five-year-old, up-and-coming male runner nicknamed 'Saddam' and a seven-month-old girl he calls 'Bush.'
And every day Ngugi answers the seemingly impossible question: What do you do when you, the greatest cross country runner in the history of the world, are told that you can't run anymore, even though you are completely innocent? Beneath his calm, friendly exterior, Ngugi keeps his passion for running burning brightly. Instead of becoming bitter, he lets his rage harden and strengthen his determination. Like the true champion that he is, he doesn't give up. After all, if you're John Ngugi, you simply fan your inner flame - and make plans to come back.

Owen Anderson

athletes drug testing in sport

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