Wednesday, May 6, 2009

More on Jessica Hardy

Phillip Hersh at the Chicago Tribune doesn't seem too happy about Jessica Hardy getting back in the water, especially if it means she will be eligible to swim in the 2012 Olympics. He recently made two separate posts and is comparing her situation to that of other athletes who were busted for Clenbuterol use.

The fact is that tainted supplements are an issue, and Kicker Vencill and Jessica Hardy are not the only two athletes who thought they were clean but were not. In 2008, eleven Greek weightlifters tested positive with supplements from a Chinese company who incriminated themselves with an email apologizing for their "tragic mistake." Those supplements were given to the athletes by national team coaches!

Swimming World ran a story on Hardy, and one of the comments posted by someone calling himself "rcoach" really struck me. I think that whoever posted it is spot on about the issue:

"Last year I was pretty vocal about this topic and about the use of supplements.
This issue has raised an interesting point in my mind, regardless of which side of this issue you sit. In the United States should you take a supplement blindly or with a "promise" that they are clean (as Advocare obviously gave Jessica)? NO! Do pretty much most of the elite athletes in our sport use some sort of supplementation with some having to use products that are probably sketchy at best and could lead to a positive test because they need some form of training aid that regular diet is not giving them? YES! Here is my issue. No one at the USOC, USA Swimming or any other body, if you sit in their meetings will give you any "specific" information on this topic. All you get is "supplements....bad.....take at your own risk". Why? Because they are afraid if they start naming names of supplement companies either way (good or bad) they will get sued by the other side. The supplement industry is a very strong and wealthy one in this country right now. But that doesn't help our athletes. Not when we all know that elite athletes in Europe have had a system in place for years where they can buy guaranteed clean supplement products made from an endorsed medical lab and then their own federations make testing labs available for these athletes to be able to send tests of their supplements to ensure their purity. We KNOW this goes on. We KNOW they do this in Europe. Countries and Federations protecting their athletes but at the same time ensuring that they have the best training advantages they can have. I know this may sound like I am endorsing systematic state sponsored doping of a sort (and this definitely could be abused), but that's not my intent. My intent is to point out two things: 1) Most elite swimmers are using a supplement of some sort in this day and age and are doing so with no safety net in the U.S. 2) Why isn't our NGB or the USOC stepping up to the plate and offering the same type programs to PROTECT our athletes from using something from a company that may be less than reputable? Doping is one thing, but a positive test from a supplement doesn't have to happen."

Many people make a big deal about products being on the NCAA list. Most people don't realize that the NCAA has a "banned" list and they also have a "coaches can't hand this out list." According to an NCAA notice, this means "
in accordance with NCAA Bylaw 16.5.2.g, only non-muscle-building nutritional supplements may be given to student-athletes for the purpose of providing additional calories and electrolytes, as long as the supplements do not contain NCAA-banned substances." That means that even sports drinks that contain protein, and several multi-vitamins you would buy at Walgreens would be excluded. Amino acids above a very minimal level are not allowed in anything handed out by an NCAA athletic program.

In many cases, the difference between food and supplement is something as simple as protein. Gatorade is not considered a supplement, but Accelerade and Pure Sport are, simply because they have added protein. Phelps, Peirsol and Hansen represent Pure Sport, as do Eddie Reese, Randy Reese and Bob Bowman, and because it contains added protein, it is a product that coaches are restricted from providing to NCAA athletes. Athletes can buy it, but they can not receive it from a coach.

It has been shown that adding protein to a sports drink helps with training and recovery in endurance athletes. How many athletes out there consider the danger in something as simple as that? How many athletes out there are claiming they take no supplements, when in actuality, by definition, they really are simply because they consume something as common as a sports drink or a multi-vitamin?

American sports have a supplement problem that we really can't just plug our ears about. It is certainly not going away.
The problem is not that athletes are taking supplements; it is that we are allowing them to play Russian roulette when they do. We need to get organized and set up a real system to test products and hold companies accountable or there will be a lot more people going through the same turmoil as Hardy, Vencill and even Tara Kirk.

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