After watching Katie Ledecky win her fourth gold medal at this year’s Olympics, beating her second-place opponent by 11 seconds in the 800 meter free-style race I immediately thought “I wonder what she’s on.” It’s sad. I have no reason whatever to believe that this young women took anything to enhance her performance, but in this day and age when anyone wins big one immediately wonders what that person was on.
For so many years we could simply enjoy the thrills and spills that are sports, getting satisfaction from the remarkable feats of strength and grace. “The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.” Now that’s all done and gone. I suppose Lance Armstrong was the one who spoiled it for me. Or was it Barry Bonds? Or Roger Clemens? Anyway, there seem to have been so many “great” athletes who, it was discovered, cheated and had a leg up in their goal to achieve great things in sports. They have spoiled it for me.
I watch an athlete like Katie Ledecky win her race by such a large margin and I cannot get it out of my head that if she’s that much better than her opponent she, too, much have had a letup. The same is true of Serena Williams who is big and much stronger than so many of her opponents. I don’t want to believe it, but the seed has been planted and it has grown into a thorny bush that pricks and stings and makes every great moment in sports a moment of suspicion and doubt. How sad.
Sports are one of the few places left in our world where people are rewarded for their wins and punished for their losses, where there is success and failure — and many athletes at all levels of play learn important lessons from both winning and losing. But when winning is tainted by the suspicion (well-founded or not) that there was cheating involved it makes the entire enterprise dark and shadowy. That is not as it should be by any means. But that is what Performance Enhancing Drugs have brought to sports. All successful athletes play under a cloud of doubt and the only thing we can do — and we do it — is to think “well, everyone else does it, so what’s the difference?” We try not to think of it.
As I say, that’s not the way it should be. It’s not fair. We should rejoice with Katy Ledecky and admire the determination and skill of this remarkable athlete and the wonders she performs in the pool. But, because of that thorny bush, I find it difficult to do any more. How sad.