Drugs and the Comrades Marathon

It’s devastating and disappointing.

News broke today that the winner of the grueling, 90-kilometres Comrades Marathon in South Africa was disqualified because of doping.

Ludwick Mamabolo was told to walk because of using Methylhexanamine, a stimulant that may be found as an ingredient of nasal decongestants.

This was Mamabolo’s third attempt. Previously, he’d run second in 2010 and seventh last year.

In an interview following his “victory,” IOL Sport offered several quotes from the former soccer player. Asked what irritated the South African about his country, he replied: “Crime and corruption.”

The defining moment of his life? “When I won the Comrades Marathon.”

And how would Mamabolo like to be remembered? “As a hero who won the Comrades Marathon after seven years of it being dominated by foreigners.”

Unfortunately, that may not end up being the case.

Still, things aren’t clear cut. The particular drug Mamabolo is alleged to have used has a history of abuse, including accidental .

A terrific post over at The Science of Sport (http://bit.ly/hc2Ghd) puts the drug into context and explains that while the drug may appear in some relatively innocuous over-the-counter medications, high-profile cases of its appearance have made coaches careful to ensure their athletes don’t use it – even mistakenly.

But, apparently, the drug has also made its way into supplements, not as a listed ingredient, but through loose quality control. However, as The Science of Sport points out: “…ignorance is not a defence in doping cases.”

Of course, this news occurs the same week that the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency served Lance Armstrong, Italian physician Michele Ferrari,  and former team manager Johan Bruyneel with papers advising that they were being charged in a massive doping conspiracy.

Such a high-profile story immediately throws any and all doping cases into the media.

Cycling, of course, has been  long rife with drugs, to the great detriment of the sport. It’s destroying the public’s confidence in their heroes, undermining the idea that they win because they train harder than anyone else and are able to suck up pain and push beyond.

And now we feel like running is infected with the same crap. Except it has been for some time, unfortunately.

Here in Canada, and around the world too, the name Ben Johnson resonates. The Canadian 100-metre sprinter conferred national shame when he was found guilty of doping and, as a result lost his Olympic gold medal from the 1988 games, and his 1987 World Championships In Athletics record.

Then there’s the U.S.’s Marion Jones, who lost all her medals dating back to 2000 after admitting in 2007 to doping.  The former included five medals at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia.

Those are just a couple of the high profile cases. In running, as in cycling, the list is extensive. In fact, one of the latest scandals is an investigation into whether some of Kenya’s elite runners are doping. The claims came from a German television station and Kenyan authorities have been quick to refute them.  More on that particular story can be seen here: http://bit.ly/Ljq7fl

What’s really upsetting about all this is that in their pursuit of the fastest times, the biggest sponsors and the largest pay-offs those who do dope drag the sport down. They crush the spirits of their fans who believe in them, grind the good name of running into the dirt and ruin more than a few peoples’ faith.

How idealistic of us to believe that running is pure, unsullied, about determination, hard work and guts. That running is about getting out there when the snow is whipping in your face, or the rain is pounding down or it’s hot and humid and an effort just to move your limbs.

Running a discipline and every dishonest cheat destroys our dreams.


About subthree

A multiple award-winning journalist, I'm currently a contributing editor with both Canadian Running and Canadian Cycling magazines. My articles have appeared in Explore, Canadian Geographic, enRoute, The National Post, The Globe and Mail, and many other magazines and newspapers. Formerly a competitive cross-country mountain biker, I switched to running in 2006. I've run seven marathons, qualifying for Boston five times (and which I've run once). Generally, I've placed or won in my age group in races, in distances ranging from five and 10 kms to half and full marathons. I've also taught spin classes at a number of leading Eastern Canadian gyms. Sub-three was a 2012 #Runchat finalist for Best Overall Blog.
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4 Responses to Drugs and the Comrades Marathon

  1. SeeAlliRun says:

    It’s a pretty sad world we live in. In the case of Armstrong, I like to think he’s innocent, a hero, but if he’s not, then my whole view of professional cycling is going to be destroyed.

    • subthree says:

      Personally, I have to believe Armstrong is innocent. They’ve tested him randomly 500 times. Five hundred! They’ve also hounded him for years. But, I agree: if he’s found guilty, it will pretty much finish off pro cycling.

      • Michael McBeth says:

        How many times did they test Marion Jones? Need I point out there was never a positive? The “500 test” argument is practically irrelevant it is so weak, and Balco proved it.

      • subthree says:

        Hey Michael, can you elaborate on the 500 test argument and Balco? Thanks for reading.

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