Editor’s note: the following is an essay written by 1984 Olympic gold medalist Alexi Grewal. A full article on Grewal and his admitted use of performance enhancing drugs appears in the April 15 issue of VeloNews.
Sons have a propensity to follow in their father’s footsteps. For that very reason I write this. My son, your son or daughter, should have the right to find the sport better than it is now or was in our day.
My first temptation to dope came the first time there was something at stake. Such a thing so small as making the 1978 junior worlds selection camp and such a thing so grand as having to compete with Greg LeMond was all it took for me to pop that pill (street speed) and throw all reason to the wind.
Although I was to dope several times more in my career, that day struck a fear of performance drugs deep into me. The form I had, especially the “good legs,” were thrashed in one short two-man time trial somewhere out in the Arizona desert. I cannot even remember if LeMond won or lost that day. But I do remember dragging two fully fractured legs to the finish the next day.
As I progressed up the scale, stimulants like caffeine were just a by-word. Rocket fuel was tea with one Vivarin, double rocket fuel was tea with two. As an amateur among the pros, caffeine injections replaced the pills and the stomach cramps went away too. When in Rome do as the Romans do!
The hard stuff, ephedrine, was reserved for when you really needed it, a few certain events where I was prone to asthma, and when you really wanted it, such as the Bob Cook Memorial. Ephedrine was illegal of course so I never used it when I knew there was testing! Even so, a time or two, I was caught out by inadvertent usage or surprise testing.
The fear of doping hit me for real the day I dropped into the continental professional scene. From day one with Panasonic-Raleigh it was made known that “The Program” was the high and holy way, salvation open to all, and required of all to survive and win. Faux doctors like Ruud Bakker, no more than pseudo-credentialed soigneurs, introduced me to the gospel of champions. That all of them said and took the Holy Vow. Team director Peter Post, as the high priest, intoned that I must listen to the “doctor” and submit to the “Preparation.” Our syringes came gift wrapped in the morning and evening during stage races, and in the 2007 Tour de France one of my former roommates sat behind the wheel of a team car pulling feathers out of his hair.
Somehow grace intervened for me. Should I have ever been headed for classic or Tour podiums surely I would have entered the full-blown ’roid ranks. Dangle Liège or Paris glory in my face and there is no question both feet would have crossed that line. No one wants to hear that but it is very true. Whether it be the blood of bulls or goats, I would have drunk from that cup in a heartbeat for any measure of that glory.
So in a sense or in reality I have been there and done that. Even more, I have always turned a blind eye as have we all at one time or another. As the priest and Pharisee walked by the beaten and robbed man, so we too have walked by the remnants of life left in our sport, hoping somehow someone else would have courage enough to risk reputation and respectability to say enough is enough.
When will it end? When Floyd Landis or Tyler Hamilton or any one of the many other “all prisoners are innocent,” fallen stars finally and ultimately does hard time. Don’t think they won’t, they will. Who are we kidding? Prisons and jails are filled with men whose transgressions are much less. Face it people, come on now! Trading $70,000 for a briefcase of refrigerated hot-rod blood, your own or someone else’s! Drive it across international borders, for some bike rider to drink and be celebrated as some kind of cult worship rock star for winning a bike race? Have we lost our bloody minds?
Can we not return to some sense of justice and reality? Have not some like David Millar and Bradley Wiggins and others proven that honor is still honorable? Cycling will always be the sport that requires the most suffering, but just the same the “prisoners of the road” can manifest a courage the world needs to see. We can, and now we must lead the world in the face of this disgrace, of which almost all of us have had our part. We can and should affect the attitude of men and of nations, and if there is such a thing as providence we certainly had better!
My prayer and heart is that if, and I still hope that that day comes, that my son desires to taste the “King of Sports” that he can do so knowing that somewhere along the line and in some fashion I came clean and was willing at least once to speak out and do something so that what I saw and experienced is not what he will. He deserves that and it is required of me. And I think I am not alone. I did enough time in the game to know how it was and who did what. All of us who were there, and who can speak up, should do so. It is such a paradox that the sport that has the most potential to reform addicts, to help them to connect with long-fried neural pathways from such things as methamphetamine, is the sport that is so filled with performance-enhancing drugs.
When are we going to get a clue as to the value of our sport, of what we can do with the vehicle that means so much to us that our masters racers selfishly race on and on instead of looking at what we have to offer to the broken and less fortunate in our cities and our country. Maybe this whole doping issue is here to turn us from our own selfishness to see that we have not as yet realized that the bicycle and bicycle racing has a purpose and meaning we have yet to even think about or care to understand. I think we are missing the real reality of what we have in the bicycle and in the racing of it. Some of our more forward thinkers are starting to realize that we as cyclists actually have something to offer mankind; take Tom Ritchey for example.
Maybe the time has come to start looking at a broader perspective of the entire sport and issue. Maybe the bicycle has a place in time and space that we are being called at this time in the ultimate crisis of our competitive sport to know and appreciate.
Maybe, just maybe this is not an end but a beginning.
— Alexi Grewal