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Drug Testing Comes to Supercross


In today's motocross world, the economic and intangible rewards for extraordinary athletic achievements and winning performances are substantial. Therefore, there is a significant incentive for athletes to maximize their on-track performance, which is the paramount objective of sports competition. Virtually all athletes use various artificial means to enhance their body's natural performance while playing their respective sports. Some substances and training techniques are not characterized as "unfair" competitive advantages, even if they are not universally available to all athletes because of their differing economic resources. It generally is permissible for athletes to ingest nonmuscle building dietary supplements that facilitate athletic performance such as carbohydrates, electrolyte drinks, energy bars, vitamins, and minerals--and they often are encouraged to do so.

However, athletes' usage of federally controlled substances such as anabolic androgenic steroids, which include "designer steroids" such as THC (i.e., tetrahydrogestrinone), and steroid precursors is characterized as doping by sports governing bodies and, if detected, punishable by sanctions. Anabolic androgenic steroids are synthetic variations of the male hormone testosterone that mimic its effects by having muscle-building (anabolic) and masculinizing (androgenic) characteristics with potentially harmful health consequences.

I Ask....they Answer

If you are a regular follower of the Virtual Trainer website, in particular the trainer talk interviews, you are aware that I am a strong proponent for random drug testing in motocross. No matter whom I interview the last topic for discussion is always about Performance-enhancing drug (PEDs) use in motocross. I come right out and ask each and every person whether they think riders are using PEDs, if the AMA should be testing for PEDs, and what the consequences should be if a rider fails. I urge you to check out the Interview Archives and read what some of our sports most regarded personalities think about the topic. People like David Bailey , Rick Johnson , Aldon Baker , Davi Millsaps , David Pingree , and even James Stewart have all answered these questions. Their answers may surprise you and some even go so far as swearing that they know of riders doping!

Until recently, the AMA has only tested for recreational drugs. The level of fitness that the riders are achieving demands oversight from the AMA not only to deter guys from risking their lives with performance-enhancing drugs but also to keep our sport clean. Sports like cycling and professional baseball have been stigmatized forever do to the poor choices of their athletes. Professional motocross is a rising sport and the last thing we need is for people to doubt the true athleticism and integrity of our riders. It is always easier to keep a sport clean than to have the monumental task of cleaning up a dirty sport: ask anyone close to cycling.

The Demise of Other Sports

If you question the importance of this issue just look at some of the athletes who have had their careers and sometimes their lives ruined from using PEDs and what it has done to their sport.

Canadian sprinter, Ben Johnson was subsequently stripped of his gold medal and world record and banned from competition for two years after testing positive for the anabolic steroid stanozolol in the 1988 Olympic Games. The disgrace of the event was a black eye on Canadian amateur sport and pushed the drugs-in-sport issue to the forefront like never before.

Enthusiasts say the Tour de France is the biggest, hardest, most grueling race there is, a prize so precious that cyclists will do anything to win. And they have. In most people's eyes cycling is the dirtiest sport around with allegations of drug use in every single rider including 7-time winner Lance Armstrong. Cycling has imposed drug testing since the 1960s, when the English rider Tom Simpson got so hopped-up on speed (and cognac) that he keeled over and died during a Tour stage. Over the years, the sport has accumulated a rich database of cheats, who range from the lowly and anonymous to some of the best in the sport.

In baseball, between Mark McGwire's andro usage and Ken Caminiti's revelation in Sports Illustrated about steroids in baseball, the sport has been in image crisis mode for the past 15 years. In May of 2002, Jose Canseco announced his retirement from baseball, and as a parting shot he said 85 per cent of all baseball players used steroids. Later, Canseco admitted to taking steroids himself. Later that month, Sports Illustrated published an investigative report describing professional baseball as "a pharmacological trade show." In the article, former National League MVP Ken Caminiti told the magazine "at least half the guys are using steroids." Another prominent scar on the sport is the connection between San Francisco Giants left fielder Barry Bonds and the nutritional supplements company BALCO, the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, which is reportedly the source of the designer steroid, THG. Several major league players appeared before a federal grand jury investigating BALCO, including Bonds, who shattered the single-season home run record in 2001, and New York Yankees first baseman Jason Giambi .

Remember Marion Jones? Who could forget after she won five medals at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia? She has since agreed to forfeit all medals and prizes dating back to September 2000 after admitting that she took performance-enhancing drugs. The United States Anti-Doping Agency stated that the sanction "also requires disqualification of all her competitive results obtained after September 1, 2000, and forfeiture of all medals, results, points and prizes". On October 5, 2007, Jones formally pled guilty to lying to federal agents in the BALCO steroid investigation in the U.S. District Court. On January 11, 2008, Jones was sentenced to 6 months in jail. She began her sentence on March 7, 2008 and was released on September 5, 2008. In a press conference on the steps of the courthouse following her October 5 guilty plea, the disgraced athlete tearfully apologized, saying "...with a great amount of shame...I stand before you and tell you that I have betrayed your trust...and you have the right to be angry with me... I have let my country down and I have let myself down."

And if that list isn't enough evidence that the AMA is doing the right thing by testing, check out this long list of bad things that PED's can do to your body

Common Thread in Sport

Cycling, baseball, motocross, and other sports have more in common than you might think. All three sports put their athletes through absurdly grueling seasons, 162 games for major-leaguers, more than 100 days of racing over eight months for most pro cyclists, and between supercross, the outdoor nationals, and off-season testing, the motocross season is nearly 12 months long. While both cycling and baseball are team sports, both also prize individual performances and records just like motocross. Finally, all three sports are phenomenally difficult, with physical demands like timing, strength, and coordination in baseball, sheer speed and endurance in cycling, and all of the above for motocross. In other words, cyclists, ballplayers, and riders have much to gain from taking steroids and other performance-boosting substances. And in motocross it's not just about being more fit to race; PEDs aid enormously in the recovery process from general fatigue and injury allowing a rider more time on the bike week in and week out.

Testing in Supercross

In NASCAR, the top cars are inspected and it has long been the rule in motocross that the top three finishing bikes get tested. This year at both the San Francisco and New Orleans Supercross', we saw the AMA take a huge step forward in erasing doubt and insuring our sports legitimacy by conducting random drug test in accordance with the FIM Anti-Doping Code . We first heard of the possibility of drug testing during the '09 season at the Motocross of Nations, and following the San Fran main event, James Stewart, Ryan Villopoto, and Andrew Short were met by chaperones from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). The USADA is recognized as the official anti-doping agency in the U.S., and they handle anti-doping watchdog duties for U.S. athletes competing in the Olympic, Pan-Am, and Paralympic sports. At New Orleans, Chad Reed, Broc Hepler, and Kevin Windham were tested. For the record, neither prohibited substances nor markers of the use of prohibited methods were found in any of the tested samples.

The Process

The chaperones notify the riders of the impending test, have them sign the appropriate forms, and then accompany them throughout the process. The riders have 60 minutes from notification for post-race cool down, podium appearances, and for interview time with the media. Riders can be selected based on results as they were in San Francisco, or as random selections.

A and B urine samples are collected, and sent to a World Anti-Doping Association ( WADA )-accredited laboratory. Now that the AMA has adopted the FIM Anti-Doping Code, riders are screened for both recreational and performance-enhancing drugs. The list of banned substances takes a PhD to understand and can be found in Appendix 3 of the 2009 Anti-Doping Code . If you take the time to read through the list, you might be surprised to find out that riders are tested for obvious drugs like anabolic steroids and HGH but many prescription inhalants and nasal drops can be illegal if above a certain urine concentration or without an approved Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE). And yes, recreational drugs like pot, cocaine, and alcohol are listed as banned substances and tested for along with the list of PEDs.

Once the samples are taken, they are shipped to a WADA accredited laboratory for testing. Samples are marked with a security code that protects the identity of the athlete. Once the tests are complete in a timely manner, results are sent to the AMA and FIM.

Other Points of Interest

Interestingly enough, I talked to James Stewart's trainer, Aldon Baker and he indicated that so far neither he nor James has ever been given anything by the AMA to educate the riders as to the testing and possible consequences. As a matter of fact, to his knowledge, they have never officially been notified of James' results from San Francisco. Aldon is operating on what he knows from his experience on the international circuit with his MotoGP rider, Nicky Hayden where drug testing is routine.

A few other interesting facts are that testing may happen at any time, including away from competition venues. So that means that they can come to your front door on a Tuesday afternoon and request a sample! Testing at venues is random, though facilities need to be set aside at each series venue for testing, even if no tests are to be performed. No riders or teams are notified in advance of the test nor are the riders told which substance is actually being tested. To date, all test samples have been urine tests (not blood) and only the Supercross class falls under the FIM jurisdiction. The Lites class is governed by the AMA Substance Abuse Policy and is not currently being tested for PEDs.

I have had several long discussions with Aldon regarding this topic and his answer is always the same; he believes that testing should be conducted, the consequences of failing should be harsh, and the top three riders from each race should be tested. "I think it's good. We've all spoken about it, and we think that this sport is at a high enough level that it needs to be checked. But I think the top three should be checked every weekend, and at random, and they need to keep on it. It's something that needs to be addressed, so that no one is cutting corners."

There is no doubt that the AMA was long over due in stepping up to the plate and doing what is right for the sport. I applaud their efforts and sincerely hope that the good character and legitimacy of motocross is validated by clean test results. There's no doubt that drug testing is a costly endeavor, but not nearly as costly as having motocross viewed as a doped-up sport where the participants can only achieve greatness through enhanced means.

That's it for now. Until next time, good luck with your training and remember, Virtual Trainer is your complete one-stop information zone for motocross fitness.

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