When Athletes Cheat


The 1980 Boston Marathon champion, Rosie Ruiz, finished in two hours, thirty-one minutes and fifty-six seconds – although she later admitted to riding the subway around the race course until the last half mile or so where she joined the other runners and sprinted to the finish.

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Rita Jeptoo; npr.com
Rita Jeptoo; npr.com

On her way to a third Boston title, Rita Jeptoo covered the final 3.2 miles in 15 minutes, 56 seconds, including a 4:48 split for Mile 24. (Men’s champion, Meb Keflezighi, covered the same stretch on the same day in 15:49.)

To run a 4:48 mile at the end of a marathon is insane… unbeatable. Jeptoo is now banned from competition for two years after testing positive for the blood-boosting drug EPO.

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Sylvester “Sly” Carmouche

Amid a sparse crowd at the Delta Downs track in Vinton, La, Landing Officer, a 5-year old bay, burst out of a soupy bayou haze to finish 24 lengths ahead of the pack in a near track-record time for the mile run. With 23-1 odds, his jockey, Sylvester “Sly” Carmouche, was pleasantly surprised by his steed’s fleetness.

Race video revealed there were only eight of the nine starters on most of the course. A post-race inspection showed Landing Officer wasn’t breathing hard and that its leggings – normally turf-spattered after a mile gallop – were suspiciously clean. “Sly” had reined in his mount and idled in the mist of the track while the other horses ran the oval. Carmouche was banned from racing in Louisiana for 10 years.

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Tom Simpson was one of Britain’s most successful professional cyclists, and the only British world road race champion for 46 years (until Mark Cavendish’s win in 2011). After a bronze medal in the 1956 Summer Olympics and a silver at the 1958 Commonwealth Games, Simpson went professional at the age of 21.

During the 13th stage of the 1967 Tour de France, Simpson collapsed and died. He was 29 years old. The post-mortem examination found he had mixed amphetamines and alcohol (speed and brandy); a combination that proved fatal. A memorial near where he died has become a place of pilgrimage for many cyclists. Although Simpson was known to take performance-enhancing drugs during his career, he is held in high esteem by many for his character and will to win.

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In 1967, Tom Simpson was determined to make an impact; he hoped for larger appearance fees in post-Tour audiences to help secure his financial future after retirement. As the race crossed the Alps, Simpson fell ill and was unable to eat. The evening before stage 13, his manager pressured him for good results while his team mates and Peugeot, his sponsor, urged him to quit.

Rita Jeptoo was selected into a team of four to train for the Kenyan Beijing Olympics team. She went through the complete program until three weeks before the games, when they told her “Sorry, Rita, it is not you who is going.”

Professional athletes adapt their bodies to a grueling regimen with physical and endurance demands that would cripple most. We might understand one athlete’s desire to do whatever it takes to stand out from the rest, but why do some athletes cross that line while others do not?

In 2013, when Major League Baseball was going through their own performance-enhancing drug scandal, Garret Kramer, Founder of Inner Sports and Author of Stillpower, took a pretty good stab at why athletes cheat with a perspective that might help us all.

Kramer writes that athletes who understand that their feelings come from their thinking, rather than circumstances, will rarely cheat. From time to time, everyone feels insecure, anxious, or egotistical. Some athletes, and some people, mistakenly contribute these feelings (self-doubting or arrogance) to their next contract, a title, fame, win or loss – or the next promotion, new car, a larger house or smaller dress size.

“Our feelings come from inside – nowhere else,” Kramer says. Believing that your feelings come from the outside gives the false security that changing the outside will make us who or what we want to become.

Fedex: "Don't Count That"
FedEx: “Don’t Count That”

Our world has become so competitive that we all believe we need “an edge” to be noticed… to get ahead. Cheating, not telling the truth, or not telling the whole truth has become acceptable if it creates the results we desire…. until they get caught. Then we throw up our hands and wonder how they could have done this.

Two years before his death, Simpson did not deny taking drugs in an interview with the BBC, however, he said that a rider who frequently took drugs might get to the top, but would not stay there. Good advice for athletes… and the rest of us.