Figure Skaters and Drugs

December 5, 2012 § 1 Comment

Currently, you have people who don’t want Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens or Sammy Sosa to be in the Hall of Fame. There’s Bartolo Colon, Melky Cabrera and Yasmani Grandal, who respectively served and will serve 50 game suspensions for taking testosterone. Then there’s Carlos Ruiz with a 25 game suspension for amphetamines. Anabolic steroids and subsequent masking drugs like estrogen and clenbuterol are used in tandem to make one stronger. Testosterone aids in building muscle mass and physical strength. Amphetamines in its variants Adderall and Ritalin help increase focus, energy level and motivation. There’s erythropoetin (EPO) and human growth hormone (HGH) to aid in recovery from crazy exercise and injury.

Skaters + Drugz = ):

Skaters + Drugs? Say it ain’t so.

Very well, then. What happens if figure skaters used performance-enhancing drugs?

The Two Not-So-Positives

The only two skaters to test positive for performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) are 2002 Olympic Champion pairs skater Elena Berezhnaya and 2012 Russian champion pairs skater Yuri Larionov. Berezhnaya and her partner were stripped of their gold medals from the 2000 European Championships after her drug test came back positive for pseudoephedrine. She received a 3-month suspension from competing for not revealing to the International Skating Union of her prescription in advance. Larionov and his partner were stripped of their 2007  Junior Grand Prix finals gold medals due to doping, according to his blood sample. Larionov received a two-year suspension, which was shortened to 18 months.

What Happens If Someone Does Get Caught With Drugs?

Elena Berezhnaya and her partner won gold medals in pairs at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, while Yuri Larionov and his partner are 2012 Russian Championships silver medalists and are due to compete in the upcoming senior Grand Prix Final. I commend them for putting themselves back in a position to finish strong.

Matt Cain digs that.

Matt Cain digs that.

Rather than suggest a what-if and set off some international witch hunts for even combining prominent skaters with the thought of drugs, let’s bring up an analogous situation from the 2012 baseball season.

Melky Cabrera played 113 games for the San Francisco Giants, hitting .346/.390/.516, earning 2012 All Star Game MVP honors and setting things up nicely to receive a very lucrative contract worth at least 14 million dollars a year. That is an obscene amount of money reserved for the top ten players in the entire sport of baseball. It would’ve been his first mega-contract that would prove that his good season in Kansas City was not a fluke. It would’ve proved that Melky is the player that New York and Atlanta envisioned him to be.

The 50 game suspension and no-show in the postseason destroyed much of Melky’s value and leverage in contract negotiations. Speculation and scrutiny surrounds him as he starts back at square one, trying to prove to his teammates, employers and the fans that he can be counted on to produce. Toronto Blue Jays decided to take a gamble and signed Melky to a two-year contract for 16 million dollars. Melky Cabrera went from seeking a long contract with an average annual value of 14 million dollars to this short contract worth only 8 million a year.

Going back to figure skating, there really is no precedent for someone losing all their endorsements due to performance-enhancing drugs. Granted, Olympics-style drug testing and punishment (2 years for first offense) would probably scare people from taking performance-enhancing drugs before a competition. I’m not even sure about whether the public even cares about this subject and whether they’re willing to dismiss the issue altogether.

Role Model/Villain or Favorite Athletes No Matter What?

On one hand, you have elite athletes in rhinestone-studded dresses or something less shiny.

Dimitar Dilkoff-AFP/Getty Images

Dimitar Dilkoff-AFP/Getty Images

These elite athletes inspire future generations of young figure skaters as role models and ambassadors of the sport. Due to their stature and position within the sport, they are role models, whether the athletes want to carry such a responsibility or not. Kim Yu-Na’s appearance in a series of Hite beer commercials and has been criticized by the Korean Academy of Addiction Psychiatry and the managing editor of The Korea Times. They believe Kim should be more aware of her status as a national role model and influence on younger generations. In a similar vein, athletes who get suspended for taking PEDs will have let down their fans and parents of those fans. They are sending a message to their fans that they need an unfair advantage to get the results they need on the ice. For many, that hurts.

On the other hand, aside from hardcore skating fans, skaters and their parents, I don’t think anyone else cares. The interest in figure skating in general is cyclical and generally reaches its peak in the Olympics. As long as athletes stay clutch and land their level 4 change-foot flying spins, level 4 serpentine footwork and triple axels in competition, then fans will continue to pay to see these athletes. Fans will continue watching the athletes on TV in big competitions such as National Championships, World Championships and the Winter Olympics. It takes a lot of energy to keep up the questioning of whether these elite athletes are truly cheating. When the Winter Olympics come around every four years, maybe these casual fans want to conserve their energy for enjoying the beautiful sport that is figure skating.



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