Don’t be so quick to judge a blood doper
Gaining a competitive edge is critical, particularly when your livelihood is at stake.That’s why the words of seven-time Tour de France competitor Ron Kiefel – in town last Wednesday for Ride the Rockies – so loudly resonated. Though the cycling seminar Kiefel hosted at St. Stephen’s Church was primarily reserved for reminiscing about his glory days, the Denver-area resident did touch on the topic of doping. And his intriguing, put-yourself-in-the-shoes-of-another take opened my eyes.Picture, if you will, you’re a professional cyclist in doping’s heyday. Seemingly everyone around you is jamming their fingers into the doping cookie jar, seeking that little boost to push them past the competition. You know it’s wrong, but it’s your job to win. Your well-being and the well-being of your family is on the line. Say you came from nothing. You have no money, nothing to fall back on. You don’t have an Ivy League education – or even a high school education – to carry you through life after cycling.”I’m glad that they started the testing,” he said. “With EPO and growth hormones, it would have been tough not to enter that world. A lot of those riders didn’t go to high school. They didn’t have options. Mentally, as a European rider, imagine you don’t take it, get dropped and then kicked off the team.”And so many have fallen prey to temptation. Admissions and allegations are mounting, blow after blow only further bruising cycling’s black eye.A late May admission to doping by 1996 Tour de France winner Bjarne Riis is the latest sucker punch, and 2006 Tour champ Floyd Landis’ ongoing fight against doping charges have captivated the cycling world.Those are just recent examples.Again, immersed in a world where so many have sought that performance-enhanced edge, would you be so quick to dismiss taking undetectable performance-enhancing drugs as a tool to further your career?”I know what it takes to win,” Kiefel said after his seminar. “If I was in a position and there was a product out there that couldn’t be detected, I don’t know what I would do. That would be a very difficult choice of ethics. It’s unfair to sit on your high horse and say you wouldn’t do that.”Circumstance so often serves as the predominant variable dictating important life choices, and until you face what others face, how can you really judge?
I’ll always remember the handlebar mustache, the long hair that spilled out of his baseball cap and the way his arm rocked – much like a Grandfather clock – before winding up. Oh, and don’t forget that menacing stare he flashed on the pitcher’s mound.Thing is, his antics on the diamond completely belied Rod Beck’s big-hearted nature. He may have battled personal demons – drugs and alcohol ruled the later stages of his life – but baseball lost a true character when the goofy relief pitcher died on Sunday.As far as the baseball world goes, you’d be severely hard-pressed to find a negative comment about Beck, who starred for the San Francisco Giants, Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox and San Diego Padres in 13 major-league seasons.While fighting his way back from Tommy John surgery through the Cubs’ farm system in 2003, Beck parked a Winnebago outside the center-field fence of the Iowa Cubs’ park in Des Moines. He was known to chat and drink beer with fans after games.That’s about as refreshing a story you’ll hear in the world of sports, brimming with prima donnas who’d never sink so low as to fraternize with the common folk.A healthy chunk of my childhood was spent at Candlestick Park watching Beck and the San Francisco Giants. I was that kid pressed up against the railing framing the field before games, begging desperately for autographs and the chance to meet my diamond idols. I’d also pester my dad to stay after games and wait outside the players’ parking lots, with the same aim in mind.While other players turned a deaf ear, Beck would oblige. From our seats in the center-field bleachers, I remember a particular encounter – sometime in the mid-1990s and seemingly inconsequential – when Beck paid a visit to our domain. I offered up a black-inked pen in red casing – I had swapped ink chambers with a black pen – for him to sign a baseball. The big, fearsome reliever seemed completely mystified that this red pen spewed black ink. So much so that a two- or three-minute explanation of how we switched ink with a different pen followed. Beyond that, he also made general conversation.I’ll always remember that moment. It wasn’t exciting for any other reason than that Beck wasn’t afraid to show his human side, not even to a couple of kids in their early teens. You just don’t see guys like that often in sports these days.Contact Jeff Caspersen at 384-9123 or email@example.com.
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