This time the spotlight is on 1996 Tour de France winner Bjarne Riis, who admitted using steroids and other drugs during the 90s. Champion cyclist Erik Zabel subsequently admitted doping before the 1996 Tour.
Given the colossal rigor of the race, is this really a surprise?
As a powerlifter who competes in a drug-tested federation, steroids aren’t my thing. My health and hairline matter to me, so I pass on the needle.
But here’s the thing that many people don’t seem to grasp:
Athletes use steroids because they work.
If steroids cause organ damage, physical deformities, and behavioral problems, they also cause marked increases in recovery ability, training intensity, and strength. This translates into improved athletic performance.
If steroids didn’t work, athletes wouldn’t use them. It’s that simple.
Some top powerlifters have been admirably candid about steroid use:
- “When I reached 40 years of age, it seemed like I just was not retaining enough protein to rebuild my muscles. I wanted to stay on the top, so I chose steroids…I work hard for my power. Steroids gave me the chance to work harder.” (Ernie Frantz)
- “There's no possible way I can train the way I do without taking anabolics.” (Louie Simmons)
- “…I'm not going to be hypocritical and say that I haven't done things.” (Ed Coan)
Powerlifting has drug-tested federations like the International Powerlifting Federation and non-tested federations like the World Powerlifting Organization. There are also federations with tested and non-tested divisions like the American Powerlifting Association.
That’s how it should work; private organizations arise to accommodate certain athletic preferences. Instead of coercive homogeneity, there is a spectrum of choice.
And those private organizations also have the right to establish certain policies. To cite a policy that to my knowledge has caused no controversy, my federation requires a t-shirt beneath the required singlet during the squat and bench press and prohibits t-shirts with “pockets, buttons, zippers, collar, or vee neck.”
These are the rules of performance. If you show up for squats with a Polo shirt and no singlet, don't expect to participate in a meet.
To extend this to the more controversial issue of steroids, the problem with Riis and Zabel isn’t that they used steroids—it’s that they used for an event they knew prohibited steroids, violating the rules of performance and honorable competition.
The principle of self-ownership means that athletes should have the right to pursue their fullest potential with Deca, HGH, EPO, or whatever. That doesn’t create entitlement to compete wherever they want.
But steroid-using athletes are entitled to form organizations where use won’t be an issue. The evolution of powerlifting shows how this can be done.