How is a £1.8 million holding camp any different to the Russian Doping Scandal….

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Ok, so my blog title may sound a little confusing, let me explain…

The build up to the Rio Olympic Games has been dominated by the Russian Doping Scandal.  It all began in December 2014 when German TV aired a documentary called ‘Top-secret doping: How Russia makes its winners’, closely followed by the World Anti-Doping Agency announcing they were going to carry out an independent commission to investigate the German TV claims.

To cut a very long story short (and i am sure you all know it by now!), the next 18 months went on to be pretty tough for Russian sports.  In November 2015, the report published its findings stating that Russian athletics was guilty of “a state sponsored systemic doping practices” which resulted in all of Russia’s Track & Field Team being banned from Rio.  Further investigations and commissions also revealed that Russia had in fact operated a “state-sponsored doping programme for four years across the “vast majority” of summer and winter Olympic sports.”

I’m sure we all know the results athletes get from doping.  Whether it be taking testosterone for power and speed athletes, to EPO for endurance athletes, drugs enhance an athletes God given abilities and in most cases make them more supreme and is often the last push in achieving that PB, Gold Medal or Olympic final place.

 

HOLDING CAMP

 

Now, let me explain the second area within my blog;  the brand new, state of the art holding camp that Team GB are using in the lead up to the Olympic Games in Rio.

The holding camp currently occupied by Team GB in the run up to the start of the Olympic Games is supported by UK Sport (the governing body) and the National Lottery (who help to fund sport in the UK).  The camp “ensures that Team GB get a World Class preparation” (BOA quote).  According to the media in the UK,  “it’s the biggest and most extensive training camp of any of the other nations competing in Rio.”  

 

it’s the biggest and most extensive training camp of any of the other nations competing in Rio.”  

 

To give you an idea of its facilities and benefits to the athletes;

  • it has the only 50m Olympic length swimming pool in Brazil outside of Rio
  • the running track is exactly the same material as the one at the Olympic stadium
  • the table tennis players practice on the exact tables they will be competing on
  • access to the same canoe slalom start gates
  • full sized Olympic boxing rings
  • bus services that replicate those at the athletes village
  • they have over 140 volunteers from Brazil helping them at the camp

On a recent BBC podcast which discusses the GB holding camp, the Head of the Team GB Preparation Camp Dr Paul Ford explains the aim of the holding camp;  “The preparation camp is about not only getting the athletes in the best shape and frame of mind to go to Rio but the support staff as well.  We are trying to prepare the whole team.”

 

Let me take you back to London 2012….I met with a 400m runner from a country which shall remain nameless, but I will say they are a very small country with very little funding for its athletes.   In fact such little funding that it only sent 3 athletes who had to fund themselves and told to buy their own kit and get the logo printed on it themselves.  (None of this Stella McCartney designed nonesense!)

 

My 400m runners PB was not bad at all, in fact, her PB at the time would have qualified her as the fastest loser into the final.  I spoke with her after she was eliminated in the first round and asked her why she thinks she had under performed.  She was very honest and simply said ‘I was shocked and very nervous’.  Of course, no one can really prepare an athlete to walk out to a stadium of 100,000 people at the Olympic Games, but that part of it was almost irrelevant.  She said she had never run on a track as ‘fast’ as that one, she was in awe of the other athletes in her race she was warming up against (one of them being the eventual Gold Medallist Sanya Richards from the USA), she felt very under prepared with the format of the day, the call up rooms, the transportation to the event, the novelty of being in an athletes village, she had only been in the country a matter of days …. etc etc etc…

 

If she had had the chance to spend the 2-3 weeks in the lead up to the Games in a £1.8 million facility, which allowed her to experience the surface of the track, be treated like an elite, eaten the correct food, got used to the set up and the transportation etc, I dare say she would have been better prepared and potentially gone on to at least reach the next round, rather than be eliminated first time around.

 

You might say that many of the other athletes who did perform well had an advantage over her…some who were doping (which a couple have been caught) and some who were at million pound preparation facilities in the lead up, as preparation camps aim to increase an athletes God given abilities and in most cases make them more supreme and is often the last push in achieving that PB, Gold Medal or Olympic final place.

 

So my argument is this, if the World is looking down on Russia because they have doped and gained an advantage over other athletes, why are we not looking down on Team GB right now with the same argument.  Granted, Team GB are not cheating and they are simply maximising their resources, but if you compare the two programmes (state sponsored doping with state sponsored prep camps), are they really that different:

  • both are state funded
  • both have been planned and implemented since 2011
  • both aim to make their athletes supreme
  • both aim to maximise their athletes potential
  • both aimed at putting their countries at the top of the medal table
  • both are unfair to other countries and athletes
  • athletes from both countries have benefited from their retrospective programmes

Sport is unfair, it always has been and always will be.  Whether it be athletes having an advantage with their god given genetics or being fully paid professional athletes, sport is unfair.  So why do we pick areas such as doping (or even hyperandrogenism) to get on our high horses and preach about sport being unfair when in fact, sport is unfair right across the board, we just refuse to acknowledge some of it.

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1 COMMENT

  1. Strongly disagree, though I see and appreciate the point you are trying to make. When I was at worlds for the USA in 2011 and had a teammate on the Kenyan team, I watched as they sent their distance runners to South Korea mere days before, piled them into apartments and provided very little of what you describe of Team GB. They basically dominated their events. And plenty of Brits will underperform even with all of that which you describe. The USA team was always very well supported and it didn’t stop me from getting overwhelmed and racing terribly the first two times. The advantages team GB is attempting to create can help, but you don’t need them. You can succeed with far less. When athletes aren’t provided at least the minimum to perform at their best, that is of course problematic. But a team culture of excellence does not rely on over-the-top spoiling of athletes. Sometimes it can even lead you to developing an external locus of control, which is counterproductive to top performance. Drugs, hyperandroidism, completely different ball game. Not a fair comparison at all in my opinion.

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