Golf's junkies are small beer beside Tour's cycle of abuse
I wouldn't want to be the one to ask Colin Montgomerie to point percy at a test tube
Brian Viner swapped London for the Herefordshire countryside, and his column ‘Country Life’ documents his attempts to chase the rural idyll. Chiefly a sports writer, he pens a weekly sports column and interview for the paper. He is the author of 'Ali, Pele, Lillee and Me: A Personal Odyssey Through the Sporting Seventies'.
Monday 19 July 2004
Golf, so it is said - or so it is said by the chief executive and secretary of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, anyway - does not lend itself to drug abuse.
Golf, so it is said - or so it is said by the chief executive and secretary of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, anyway - does not lend itself to drug abuse. As Peter Dawson, the aforementioned chief executive and secretary rolled into one, pointed out to me a week before The Open, golf requires explosive bursts of power mixed with the utmost mental and physical composure, and it has not yet been demonstrated that there is any artificial stimulant which will help in both these departments at the same time.
Which is not to say that addictive personalities are not attracted to golf.
The former Open champion John Daly has been hooked, at various times of his fast and furious life, on alcohol, cigarettes, cheeseburgers, chocolate and Diet Coke. To say nothing of bad haircuts and dodgy blondes.
There are doubtless other professional golfers who have formed a relationship with a less wholesome form of coke. Or with substances which would be illegal in most other sports, anyway. Yet no competitor at Royal Troon was invited to give a urine sample, which might be just as well. I wouldn't want to have been the one asking Colin Montgomerie, despite his mostly benign demeanour during the 133rd Open, to point percy at a test tube.
The exact opposite of golf, in the sense of being the sport in which performances are most demonstrably improved by drug-taking, is cycling. All locomotive sports are vulnerable to drug abuse, but none more than cycling.
And no cycling event is more vulnerable than the Tour de France, so in this regard alone, it has been interesting, these last four days, to watch the Tour going on at the same time as The Open. The blue riband competitions in the cleanest sport in the world, as golf likes to think of itself, and in the most tarnished, as cycling grudgingly concedes itself to be.
Not so long ago, scarcely a month seemed to go by without a professional cyclist dying of a heart attack in his sleep. They had been taking the notorious drug EPO, which increases the number of red blood corpuscles, and therefore the amount of oxygen the body can carry, building aerobic capacity by between eight and 15 per cent. But because EPO thickened the blood, the heart, at times of repose, was unable to pump it round the body. Only later was it realised that EPO should be taken, if it had to be taken at all, with a blood-thinning agent.
It is only six years, moreover, since a car driven by Willy Voet, so-called seigneur to the Festina team, was stopped on the France-Belgium border. It was so loaded with illicit drugs that, had they been absorbed into the petrol tank, the car would still be razzing round Europe at 100kph, having not been filled up since. The drugs, Voet admitted, were essential to his team's chances of putting on a decent competitive show.
Lastly, Britain's own David Millar suffered the indignity only a few weeks ago of having his home in south-west France raided by police, who claim to have discovered evidence of illicit substances on the premises. He was booted out of the Tour, and the investigation continues. This is an extraordinarily sorry cycle of events, if you'll pardon the pun. At least I haven't written about anyone pedalling drugs, although in some instances that rather sums up professional cycling.
Cheating is nothing new in cycling. Nor, it has to be said, in golf. But I'm not aware that Old Tom Morris was ever spotted kicking his feathery ball into a better lie. A similarly venerable figure in cycling, on the other hand, was found to have completed a couple of legs of the Tour de France - get this - by train. It is 101 years today since Frenchman Maurice Garin won the inaugural Tour de France. The following year he was disqualified when it turned out that his idea of competing in a locomotive sport was to jump aboard one. And the next three finishers in 1904 were disqualified as well, two of them for being towed uphill by motor cars. So this year represents a distinctly dubious centenary.
Don't get me wrong. It's not that I dislike cycling; in fact, I can't think of anyone I admire more than Lance Armstrong, assuming his five Tour victories have not been drug-fuelled. I have a friend who competed in the 1984 Olympics, in the 4,000m pursuit event. He makes the interesting point that a Tour de France cyclist arguably has to be fitter than any other kind of athlete, and that if you also pump him full of the very best drugs that money can buy, then what you have is the human engine performing to the absolute limit of its capacity. Which is more than could be said of dear old Monty gallumphing round Troon.
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