Between 1997 and 2001, Marion Jones was arguably the best female track and field athlete in the world. Her unbeaten record lasted four years, during which she won gold in over 32 different events. However, that success wasn’t spared by controversy about her use of performance-enhancing substances (steroids). Accusations came flying from as early as her high school years (1991-1992) and would continue into her professional career. In October 2007, Jones finally confessed having used steroids and subsequently announced her retirement from all competition in 2007.
Before her confession, Jones had for many years denied vehemently her involvement with steroids. That confession would later lead to her disqualification from previous victories and stripped off medals she had won while on steroids.
Can Sanctions Deter Use?
Unfortunately, like other doping stories, the disgrace Jones suffered appears to set no precedence to deter other athletes from using steroids. After her fall, there have been hundreds of more athletes sanctioned for using banned substances in competition. In the recent 2016 Summer Olympics alone, more than 50 athletes were banned or warned by the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF). Even more worrying is that the doping trend shows no signs of abating as can be projected from the USADA list of sanctioned athletes.
Why do Athletes Dope?
You would expect that a two-year ban or any other disciplinary action against doping athletes would be cause enough to deter other athletes. Or perhaps increasing awareness about the moral and social anguish (disgrace) due to cheating using steroids would make athletes more thoughtful about their actions. But amid the controversies and sanctions, more are getting into steroids.
The foremost reason for doping is to boost performance and come on top of the competition. For an average athlete with a strong desire to win, doping offers the quickest solution when competing with other naturally talented athletes. For this athlete, winning is more important than risking getting caught.
Another common reason that cuts across most sports is the environment. This means the company people keep, their training group, or family. It is easy for a person to dope when they belong to a social group that does. Like Jones, others find themselves using steroids recommended and supplied by their coaches, or because their spouses also use.
To help avoid detection, labs offering steroids to athletes are getting more sophisticated about their products. As anti-doping policies are becoming more stringent and including more substances in their list of banned substances, these labs are keeping up with the pace by developing drugs that can be used off the radar. By guaranteeing use without detection, labs are appealing to athletes who dread getting caught but cannot resist nonetheless.
It isn’t all doom and gloom
While the use of steroids is generally discouraged in competitive sports, other sports accept them, for instance, bodybuilding. In such a sport, steroids are used to bulk up, which complements the objective of the sport. Other than this, steroids can be used for medical purposes – in such a case, to build muscle when the user suffers from a degenerative muscle condition. One example of a substance used to build muscle but not banned for use in competitive sports is chromium picolinate.
As a professional athlete, using steroids will get you sanctioned. Probably. You must be caught first. But even if not caught, abusing performance-enhancing substances exposes you to several health problems. For women, steroids increase the level of testosterone in the body, which then leads to the development of secondary male characteristics like the growth of body hair, facial hair, and smaller waist among others. Other than changes in sexual characteristics, steroids can cause high blood pressure, anxiety and depression, aggressiveness, increased insulin resistance, enlarged heart, and sudden death.
Health, fitness, and performance can be achieved without using a boost from steroids. Sometimes, even rehab from anabolic steroids themselves is needed. While steroids offer a quick and more effortless way to achieve the perfect body size and muscle tone, bodybuilding without steroids will give you a more meaningful result. The same outcomes go for competitive sports. The zeal to come on top and peer pressure remain the major impediment to achieving sobriety from steroids in sports. Along with increasing ingenuity when developing steroids that can go undetected, these challenges are likely to continue. Nonetheless, understanding the health risks involved and dreading disrepute should be reasons to choose a steroid-free fitness and performance approach.
Charles Watson | @charleswatson00