He got caught for doping and tried to commit suicide only hours after he got the word. The 22 year old Belgian cyclist Jonathan Breyne didn’t die last week; they managed to bring him to the hospital just in time and emptied his stomach.
Oh dear, you might think right now, trying to kill yourself after finding out you tested positive, isn’t that all too dramatic? The world isn’t coming to an end, right? To be quite honest: no. It is not too dramatic. The world actually ís ending, for a guy like this. Testing positive means: your life a as a cyclist is over, as your life as a human being is. You will never get rid of the stigma ‘doper’ anymore.
Whereas it might very well be possible Breyne had no idea he had clenbuterol – the substance he’s caught for – in his body. Let alone if he took it on purpose, to enhance his performance. Even if his innocence will be proven and he will be cleared from all blame, he can forget about his brand new career and his future dreams.
Breyne raced a stage race in China last month, the Tour de Taihu Lake. That’s where he tested positive. For clenbuterol. A drug that masks doping, but more importantly: a drug that’s been used in China in cattle farming. Therefore, athletes have been told for years already not to eat meat in China. However Breyne did have meat, he says. That’s how the clenbuterol got into his body, he states.
Same story with the multiple world time trialing champion Michael Rogers, who heard he tested positive for clenbuterol on the same day as Breyne. He also claims it’s been the meat, that he doesn’t know how the clenbuterol would have come into his body otherwise. But Rogers has been suspected of doping for years and years already. Uhuh, you’ll be thinking. This “I don’t know anything, I’m innocent” is a familiar story. We don’t believe it anymore.
I don’t dare to put my hand in the fire for Breyne and surely not for Rogers. But it’s not as black and white, not as easy to judge as people nowadays tend to do the moment an athlete tests positive. There’s a large grey area. And that’s what the media and especially the audience tend to forget about. We, athletes, have to make sure we don’t get any banned substances in our bodies. But do you know how hard that is? Two years ago, in Germany, they tested a group of tourists returning from a holiday in China. 22 out of 28 tested positive for clenbuterol, coming from meat they ate during the holiday.
In almost every vitamin pill, in almost all medicine, there can be traces of substances that are forbidden for athletes – simply because banned and non-banned products are made in the same factory. You might have these traces in your body. A pretty high chance even, but you never get tested.
Of course the stupidest thing you can do in China as an athlete is eat meat. We all know the risk. In May I’ll be going to China myself to race, but I will not touch the meat there even with one finger. That doesn’t change my fear of testing positive for something I don’t have a clue of having in my body, though.
Because: banned substances can be in anything. No one guarantees us other food is ‘clean’. I’m training regularly with top male cyclists these days. We talk about the clenbuterol scandal a lot. I can assure you: every single one of them is terrified. Truly terrified. Image if you test positive. Just imagine. Career over, life over, stigmatized for eternity.
The international cycling union wants cycling to become a world wide sport. Races in exotic countries, such as China, get more and more important. But every time you put something in your mouth over there, you wonder: will this be okay, is this safe? How can you compete in your sport in a decent way if you have to live with that fear constantly?
Well, you might say, that’s the consequence of wanting to be a cyclist. You’ve got yourselves to blame, this is the result of the doping you did for years in a row. As if cyclists – or better: all professional athletes – don’t deserve a human life. It’s a good thing the sport is becoming global. But please, let the sports unions make sure we get doping free food. Because having to think over every bite, is inhuman.
Published in Dutch newspaper Trouw, monday December 30.
Photo: wikimedia commons