March 26, 2006

Strange Balco Twist

American sprinter Chryste Gaines is currently serving a two-year suspension by the Court of Arbitration for Sport for taking THG, a designer steroid created and distributed by BALCO. She never tested positive, but was put away by the testimony of fellow US sprinter Kelli White. White was also a BALCO client, and tested positive for a banned substance at the 2003 World Championships. A third US sprinter, Marion Jones, has also been implicated in the BALCO scandal. Like Gaines, Jones has never tested positive. BALCO founder Victor Conte claimed during an interview on 20/20 that he provided performance-enhancing drugs to Jones, and watched her inject them.

At the 2002 US Championships, Jones, Gaines, and White finished first, second, and third in the women's 100m.

Last week, an old friend who sometimes goes by the name WM-K1-91 sent me this story from the New York Times. The story is about how the new book Game of Shadows implicates two New York Yankees in the steroid scandal that has now completely engulfed Barry Bonds.

Either you know a lot about Game of Shadows already, or you don't care much about baseball anyway. But my friend pointed out this fascinating snippet from near the end of the NY Times article:

The sprinter Chryste Gaines, who preceded Marion Jones as a client of Balco's, gave permission to Conte to work with Jones as long as Gaines got a cut of what Jones paid. Conte eventually paid Gaines $7,350.

If this allegation is true, then it provides some pretty interesting insight into the mind of the cheater. If Gaines and BALCO had some kind of exclusivity agreement, why would Gaines agree to waive it in exchange for money? Three possibilities occur to me:

  • Her motivation for cheating was primarily financial. She was willing to give up a (relative) performance advantage as long as she was appropriately compensated.
  • She had the high-performance athlete's natural superiority complex and believed that she didn't need an artificial advantage — she could beat Jones as long as they were on an equal footing.
  • She believed or knew that Jones was doping anyway, or would be, so she might as well get her cut.

The first of these flies in the face of what I believe about the reasons that athletes cheat — and in fact seems to contradict what Game of Shadows reveals about Bonds' motivations, too — but it seems the most plausible explanation in this particular case.

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