SWIMNEWS ONLINE: January 1996 Magazine Articles

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Backwash features short clips, gossip, letters and opinions. Contributions are welcome. Now for the rumours behind the news.

LOOKS BAD Just when the swimming world was looking to the United States for strong leadership in the fight against doping, the proverbial brown mess hit the fan.

Scandal erupted in early November when it was announced that Jessica Foschi of Long Island, N.Y. had tested positive for anabolic steroids at the 1995 U.S. Summer Nationals in Pasadena in August. The 14-year-old distance swimmer had qualified for the Pan Pacific Championships in Atlanta but was withdrawn from the team after the positive test.

But things got worse when a U.S. Swimming three-member review panel voted 2-1 to give Foschi a two-year probation period instead of the usual two-year suspension in keeping with FINA rules. Review board members Jill Sterkel, women's coach at the University of Texas, and Bill Stapleton, a lawyer, voted for probation based on Foschi's age and the fact that the steroid "was either given to Jessica without her knowledge or that she was a victim of sabotage."

The decision put U.S. Swimming president Carol Zaleski in an embarrassing position. Barely a month away from the Extraordinary Congress on Doping scheduled in Rio de Janeiro, U.S. officials had hoped to come on strong by demanding tighter doping controls and unannounced testing of all potential Olympians before the Atlanta Olympics. Zaleski immediately appealed the penalty, but the appeals board was unable to meet and settle the issue before the Rio Congress.

After relentlessly targetting China's positive drug tests to the point of excluding the country from the Pan Pac meet last August, the U.S. appeared to be setting a dangerous double standard. The Chinese women who tested positive were also minors and claimed they had no idea how the banned substances entered their bodies. No one gave them any breaks, since FINA rules demand a two-year suspension "regardless of the athlete's intent or knowledge."

So why does Foschi get the benefit of the doubt? Because she is American? While everything was up in the air she went on to compete at the US Open in Auburn in early December. What kind of message does that send out to other clean (and possibly not-so-clean) swimmers?

Unfortunately such ludicrous undermining of U.S. Swimming's anti-doping stance calls into question the credibility of the organization's commitment to the cause. Sabotage is a used-up excuse - we've seen it hold no water in the Anne Chagnaud case - and the present climate in our sport leaves no room for emotional botch jobs.

FOSTER MAY BE POSITIVE Yet another case of salbutamol has come up, but this time with a little twist...of cannabis!

British sprinter Mark Foster, who swims for Cannes in France, tested positive for both drugs last July at the French Nationals in Canet.

While both salbutamol (a drug found in asthma medications, authorized with the proper prescription) and cannabis are banned drugs in France, only salbutamol raises a problem with FINA. Naturally Foster did not alert the medical staff in Canet of an asthma prescription, which means that the case, along with so many others, is "being examined" by a French commission before being passed on to FINA.

In the meantime Foster competed in the ASA Short Course Championships in Sheffield in December as if nothing were amiss. He won the 50 m freestyle (21.71) and was third in the 100 m (49.95).

Even if he was suspended in France (for a double infraction), the British Federation doesn't seem worried enough to curb his competitive activities, making the whole issue seem utterly hokey. Why are some slammed with the punishment, and some go merrily along in limbo? Why have rules and banned drugs if each time our own swimmer is concerned, we suddenly make exceptions?

NEW ATHLETES' AGREEMENT The Canadian Olympic Association has come up with a new 24-page document that athletes must sign in order to take part in the 1996 Olympics. After two years of negotiations, a new agreement with rules on team selection, sponsors, drugs and discipline will replace the previous paperwork, considered highly condescending by members of the Canadian Athletes Association.

The old agreement, written without any athlete input, had rules of conduct that applied only to athletes and not to team coaches and support staff. It also contained a gag order that restricted an athlete's comments to the media. Mike Chambers, a COA vice-president and chairman of its legal affairs committee, met with a group of eight athletes in 1994 and together they ironed out the more offensive clauses, making the agreement more acceptable and respectful of an athlete's rights.

There was no change to the rules on sponsorship and marketing. The IOC and the COA continue to have a tight hold on all profits made around the Olympic image. While the CAA is pushing for a share of COA revenues to go into an athletes' fund, the idea has barely reached the discussion phase.

Also of note is the continued absence of cash bonuses for Olympic medalists. The COA apparently used Australia's athletes' agreement as a model, but the Aussie practice (like Russia and the U.S., for example) of rewarding medalists in dollars was not adopted.

DRUG BAN UPDATE The 1995 Track & Field Annual reported that surprise out - of - competition testing has produced a higher number of positive tests, such that the number doubled in 1994 as compared to 1993, with a concentration on top athletes.

Thirty-five men and twenty-three women failed drug tests in 1994; of the women, five were Chinese, and well over 50% were from former East Bloc countries.

More of the same: the International Weightlifting Federation announced in November that, thanks to more sophisticated testing techniques, they had had 64 (!) positive tests since the beginning of the year. According to L'Equipe magazine, of 1,031 tests conducted, 400 were surprise out-of-competition tests. The 64 positives came from 31 different countries, with Kazakhstan (10), Armenia (5), Russia (5), and Bulgaria (7) in the lead over the Ukraine, Turkmenistan, Georgia, Moldova, Azerbaijan, and Belarus. Having three or more positives each, the four countries were faced with a 12-month suspension or a $50,000 fine (to be put toward further testing). Needless to say the Federations in question chose to pay up (a questionable option...), but the athletes themselves are suspended for life.

MASSAGE TABLE MASKING Brent Rushall, Ph.D., a sport psychologist at San Diego State University thinks that massage may play a part in masking drug use.

We've all heard of testosterone to epitestosterone ratios by now, and we know that a normal ratio is 1:1, although in certain cases it can be as high as 6:1, which is the legal cut-off mark.

Rushall writes, "Since anabolic steroids elevate the level of testosterone in the blood and urine, their introduction will change the natural ratio. However, if epitestosterone was also introduced, the testosterone would remain high but the ratio would be reduced possibly to an acceptable level. Epitestosterone is metabolized in the body much faster than testosterone so a small amount administered could be used to mask the existence of unnatural testosterone levels.

"This is now being done. Epitestosterone is administered via a cream, usually through massage in the upper body region, and its effects appear within an hour. This is the scenario. An athlete is administered an anabolic steroid as part of the training regimen. When the potential for drug testing is high, the athlete commences a drug clearance procedure, which with dehydrotestosterone can be less than a day to be effective. As an insurance package, as soon as testing looks possible, epitestosterone is massaged in, and in later testing acceptable ratios are recorded. The cheating has been successful."

According to Rushall the hit and miss factor will make for some slip-ups (as we've already seen), but it won't be long before this technique is perfected. Current surprise testing is done without an athlete's prior knowledge and within 12-18 hours of their notification, but it is clear that anything over an hour is quite possibly a waste of time, as the athlete must have absolutely no time to react if the test is to be effective.

Sad but true; it is well known that athletes in the US have been notified 24-48 hours prior to out - of - competition testing...hardly a "surprise."

As usual, a lot of tightening up of procedures is necessary before testing will be satisfactory. It is never-ending.

EDITOR: I enjoy your magazine wery much - it keeps me up - to - date on what's happening in the swimming community.

Raising three children is quite time-consuming - I love it! They all learned how to swim this summer, self-taught, as they don't need their Mom to teach them. Pretty neat!

I had the honour of being inducted into the Quebec Sports Hall of Fame last fall right before the referendum. My acceptance speech was mostly in french. I got a bit emotional when talking about Quebec, Canada and my family. Apparently I made 400 or so people tearful. (Maybe it was my french accent though). I'll try to get to a swim meet in the new year and hopefully catch up with you. Best wishes for continued success.

Anne Jardin Alexander

(Anne Jardin swam on the bronze medal 4x100 free relay at 1976 Montreal Olympics, and the gold medal 4x100 free relay at the 1974 Christchurch Commonwealth Games. Editor)

EDITOR: I wanted to let you know how much I enjoy reading SWIM Canada Magazine, 15 years after retiring. My 11-year-old daughter is now swimming and it certainly brings back many wonderful memories. When it first comes in the mail, we sometimes fight over who gets to read it first. It is great to find out what a few of my old swimming buddies, who are still involved through coaching, and my own former coaches are up to.

I certainly enjoyed the articles in the past year dealing with the drug scandals in China and the former Eastern Block. We always knew that the East German women were using steroids, but it was just taken for granted, and we swam our best against them. I remember the physique on some of their women and even though we trained extremely hard, especially in Thunder Bay under Don Talbot, no one on the Canadian team came anywhere near the muscle development of their athletes. It is sad to think that people like Nancy Garapick and Cheryl Gibson should have had Olympic gold medals around their necks, instead of the bronze and silver.

I don't know if you have done this in the past, but have you ever considered doing best-ever TAG listings? I found the issue dated September 1975 (with Cheryl Gibson being interviewed by the CBC's Ted Reynolds on the cover) and thought that many of the long course times listed in TAG would be competitive with today's times.

Suzanne Kwasny
Thunder Bay

(Suzanne Kwasny, one of the best backstrokers in the 1978-80 period, missing the Olympics due to Canada's government-imposed boycott of the Moscow Games in 1980. All-time TAG rankings are published yearly in the Canadian Annuals (available for both short and long course). The 1994-95 Canadian Annual is available for $20 and includes the FINA World Short Course Annual. Editor)

EDITOR: After reading Greg Streppel's letter in the October 1995 SWIM Canada Magazine I can appreciate his feelings. However, Mr. Streppel should be grateful and thankful that the magazine recognizes the achievements of Canadian Open Water swimmers. In the United States, Open Water Swimmers continue to go unrecognized and unappreciated.

In the October 1995 issues of Swimming World titled Championship Issue and in Splash (published by U.S. Swimming) titled Pan Pacifics and Summer Meet Wrap-ups, each failed to recognize the achievements of United States and Canadian Open Water swimmers at the Pan Pacs and, consistent to form each failed to publish the results of the Pan Pacs 25K or the results of the four U.S. National Open Water Championships: 5K, 10K, 15K and 25K.

It was refreshing to read your article on the Pan Pacs 25K where you gave credit to Bambi Bowman and Samantha Chabotar of the U.S., who placed 1st and 3rd respectively.

Your magazine is a credit to the Canadian swimming community and is far superior to any swimming publication in the United States. You continue to put quality ahead of quantity in each issue. Anyone who chooses to criticize should read the above magazines to realize how lucky they are. One further thought, your monthly covers of swimmers in action are fantastic. Please publish a book of these photographs for us to enjoy.

Keep up the great work.
David Segal,
New York, U.S.A.

EDITOR: Wake up and smell the roses, or is it the chlorine?

The rumoured proposal to change our entire age group system to one that is based on age as of January 1, instead of age as of the first day of the meet, is typical of the malaise that is affecting swimming in Canada. It's the easy way out and is done without any in-depth analysis of the facts. Supposedly to make it easier to rank kids. Period.

The point is we are living in the 90s and in case nobody realizes it, we have computers that can do this. Wakey wakey! Nick Thierry produces such a list regularly. Coordination with provincial registration personnel will yield this information very easily. This is the easy solution. It baffles me that nobody saw this.

Yet it has been proposed, and basically accepted by the CSCA (Canadian Swimming Coaches Association) that we change the entire basis of our very successful age group system for no real reason? Incredible!

Let's examine why we have used age as of the first day of the meet. One need only ask a primary school teacher whether age is a factor in learning (as I have asked). Without prior knowledge of birthdates, the students born early in the year are invariably the more advanced ones. Sure there are exceptions, but we are talking generalizations here.

I witnessed this first hand whith my children in kindergarten - the September child was an average participant/learner; the March child was much more accelerated.

We had a speaker at our CSCA conference a few years ago (how soon people forget!) that did a study on age related to hockey players in the top levels. He was disturbed that his child (born in November) quit at age 14 right when he was improving and playing well. In hockey, leagues are formed based on a players age as of January 1. The study found that of the players in Junior A hockey (the league of teenagers that the pros pick from), 75% were born in January, February or March.

This is a staggering finding.

Those born later in the year were obviously weaned out of the league by systematic personal failures as they were growing up. Failures that must, in large part, be due to being unfortunately born at the wrong time!

I am sure that if Wayne Gretzky was born December 31st it would not have mattered. But it's the majority, not the extremely gifted, that we must be considering. The gifted will succeed no matter what we do to screw them up.

In light of the above, my second child was planned for early in the year, and was born in March. I wanted him to have the advantage in case the stupid powerbrokers made "easy" - but devastating - decisions in our sport just like hockey.

Our age group system regularly produces some of the top age groupers in the world. The trouble is not with the age group system. It is with the top end.

This short-sighted proposal to alter our age group system will only intensify that problem because my guess is that we will end up with less swimmers when the water settles—because we will invariably drive many more kids out of swimming due to their inability to ever experience a winning/competitive season. Why did we "invent" the Youth Nationals?

Simply to give those kids a chance to win. To succeed.

So now we are going to turn right around and take the opportunity away from 25 - 50% of all the kids, not just the Youth kids?

Seems pretty stupid to me!

Ask your swimmers/children to compare their experience when they were top of their age group to when they had just changed age in the next meet. Would they like to spend their life competing like that? Speaking of that, has anyone thought to ask the swimmers? I doubt it. Yet they are the ones that can give your the real evidence on this matter.

I certainly hope that the bureaucrats - SNC and CSCA - that want the easy way realize the harm they are doing to my child...and to my sport...with their supposed solution to a non-problem.

Byron MacDonald
University of Toronto

Remember... It's not true until it has been officially denied.

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