For those who read my blogs for years, they know that I don’t give much credit to Greeks. But every few years they surprise me. They appear more organized than the usual disorganization you get in Greece, and more capable of pulling a clever trick to get the job done.
It is my personal opinion, that the doping Greek problem was and STILL is government-sponsored. In fact, Greeks come close to the inhumane doping policy that East Germany had. GDR was putting athlete’s health in danger to prove to the West that communism works. It was a political game. With Greece was also a political game, again to prove something: that Greeks are as good as the ancient Greeks and that the Olympics “belong” to them.
The story starts at the end of the 1980s. Before that, the Greek track and field was in the middle ages. The Greek records were not better than the youth world records, meaning that a good 16 year old American or Russian athlete could run rounds around a mature Greek track and field athlete of the time. But around 1988, the city for the 1996 Olympics was about to be decided. The Greeks wanted these “Golden” Olympics like crazy (100 years of Olympics). While Greece eventually was given the 2004 Olympics, the sour taste of Coca-Cola winning the bidding for Atlanta was never cleared off their mouths. One of the (good) points Atlanta made against the Athens bidding was pretty much this: “your sport performance sucks, Olympics in Athens would be a disaster if you don’t have good Greek athletes to get more spectators and interest”.
And so the Greek machine started working on it. Suddenly, Patoulidou won the 100m hurdles in Barcelona’s Olympics in 1992 –the first track and field gold after almost a century for Greece — an athlete who’s never ran nearly that fast before, not even after that win. Think of the not-so-good 12.96 and 12.88 performances set in the qualifying rounds that week were much better than her previous record in that sport. In essence, Patoulidou ran 1 whole second faster in the final than she ever ran before (that’s equivalent of her running about 7 meters ahead of her pre-Barcelona self). This is just hard to swallow. No one can get that much better in a month’s time. After Patoulidou, a whole new crop of athletes started appearing with world-winning performances. And not only on track and field, but also in weightlifting. Suddenly Greece was one of the big powers in weightlifting — out of nowhere. They all said that “Patoulidou was the example set and inspiration to get good performances”, but inspiration alone doesn’t make you faster.
The programme seemed to continue after Atlanta, and until Athens 2004. Fani Halkia wins the 400m hurdles, a hurdler who again, never ran nearly that fast, and neither did after that win (Update Aug 17th 2008: Today Halkia found doped with the exact same substance like everyone else in Greece: M3). When the Thanou and Kenteris case pretty much blew up the whole doping thing in Greece, the Greek sports took a back stage again. Except Deventzi in triple jump, there are no major Greek athletes today that can compete successfully in the international scene. There are a few who do some good times sometimes, good enough for world recognition, but who weirdly, perform very badly in international meetings. It almost doesn’t make sense. And I hate it when the Greek sportscasters talk about “lack of international experience” to cover the lack of pills and injections on these games — because of fear of getting caught.
And of course, in the beginning of this year, pretty much the whole weightlifting team was caught using a banned substance, and just yesterday, another athlete was caught too, using the exact same substance (this article was the reason I decided to write this blog post today). It is my opinion, that ALL the athletes who are part of the “pro” Greek team, are all doped. Consider this:
* GDR had something to prove, and so had Greece. Politics.
* Some athletes who won medals seemingly disappear afterward for one reason or another. This is not consistent with “big athlete” careers. It can happen once, or twice, but when it happens for 10-15 athletes something is smelly.
* Greece, like GDR did, trains their pro track & field athletes, together, in the same place, usually with government-sponsored coaches and programmes. Same goes for the Greek weightlifting. This is unheard of in other countries where an athlete has his/her own independent coach and usually trains in their hometown.
Is any of this proof? No, it’s not. But it is my personal opinion and analysis, and I am entitled to one: The government itself, or a branch of the government, sponsored doping so they can prove that Greeks still “got it”, and to prepare for the Athens’ Olympics. While some athletes still use banned substances, the programme is not as rigid and fool-proof as it had to be in the past. I believe that 1992-2004 was the “golden age” of track & field and weightlifting for Greece.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that all these other athletes out there, from US or China, are clean. I don’t believe that any pro sports are clean. Heck, possibly not even chess is. Wherever money is involved, there’s one more reason to beat your opponent by any means necessary.
I also would like to say that I am not against doping per se. I am just against drugs that actually do harm. If someone was to create a drug that makes you “better in any way” without any side-effects whatsoever, I would get some myself.
Update: And a funny note for Greeks who are good in history. View the Florence Griffith-Joyner video here at around 3:40 mark. Her voice is exactly the same as Sakorafa’s (a Greek athlete who broke the world record in javelin in 1982 and who also disappeared after that performance). Their voices are exactly the same, they both have this metallic male voice. Listening to Flo-Jo was like listening to Sakorafa. Makes you wonder what both they were on.