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A Dangerous Edge

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For almost as long as athletes have been taking drugs, they have been trying to hide or mask their use from officials. Masking techniques have advanced as quickly as testing techniques, and it is unclear at best just how accurate current testing procedures are. Several well-known athletes have sued sports federations for wrongly accusing them of drug use, and many expert observers have intimated that the use of performance enhancers is far more widespread than the public realizes.

Even with education surrounding the risks of using drugs to enhance performance, new scandals and expulsions surface constantly. FINA, swimming's international governing body, recently banned Irish swimmer Michelle Smith, winner of three gold medals at the 1996 Olympics, from competition for four years for tampering with the urine sample she provided to testers. Also, the 1998 Tour de France was under intense scrutiny after several racing teams were expelled when officials found what they determined were banned substances and masking agents in the teams' possession.

If one wonders why competitors continue to jeopardize their health — even their lives — for a small edge, one need only look at the way the world's top athletes are treated. They are adored, richly compensated, and put up as role models for the world's youth. As long as the rewards of athletic glory are so high, some will be willing to risk everything to gain them.



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