When Winning Means Everything

With Martina Hingis the latest in a long line of sporting greats to be under suspicion for drugs misuse, I took time out of a busy theologian’s schedule to try and work out what makes being at the top of the world and at the heart of the spotlight so hard.

Only a few weeks ago, Marion Jones was stripped of her gold medals upon the realisation that she was yet another top class athlete who needed to be just that little bit faster, so took performance-enhancing drugs for that extra yard.

When you think of drugs in sport, I’m sure many names and faces come to mind: Rio Ferdinand, Diego Maradona, Dwayne Chambers, Alexandre Vinokourov to name but a few. But why does it happen? Why does being the best really become all that matters?

OK, so not all of the above-mentioned athletes have necessarily tried to enhance their performance through drugs, perhaps instead using drugs as merely a form of escapism from the gross pressure of stardom.

Yet for Kazakh cyclist, Alexandre Vinokourov, and sprinters Dwayne Chambers and Marion Jones, that extra yard is all that matters, being the best is all that counts. It’s perhaps easy for us to sit at home lamenting over yet another star who has thrown away everything that they had – that we would do anything to have ourselves – in search of just that little bit more.

But the pressures of being a professional famous athlete and striving to be the very best of your field, is unlike any other pressure that we can have faced. It’s easy for us to sit high up on a pedestal and look down upon these cheats – who have thrown away our very own dreams – and scoff. Yet for an athlete, whose whole life is about winning, coming second is not an option.
It seems that the common denominator in drugs in sport is the lingering hope that you might be able to get away with this one little bit of cheating. The what-ifs haunt your aspirations: “What if I were just that little be faster? Surely then I’d be satisfied!” But until you’re the best, and sometimes even when you reach that pinnacle, it isn’t enough.

One only has to look at such sporting heroes as Diego Maradona and Paul Gascoigne to know that even once you have achieved your dreams, your hunger remains insatiable. Tony Adams, Paul Merson, Robie Fowler and George Best all achieved so much, but the pressures of being a celebrity, hounded at your every step, is just too much.

The Wayne Rooney prostitution saga shows yet another way that sporting celebrities find a way out. Drugs/ alcohol/ sex might be the very ways in which many of us will have found our own escape in the past; is it really so hard for us to show a little empathy? That momentary relief seems to be all that they need, just that extra yard, that second faster and satisfaction will reign! I guess that the only difference between them and us is that with just one slip, they can lose everything.

By Steve Dew-Jones


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