Monday, 10 October 2011

Books - a Change of Plan (Part 1)

Apologies in advance to anyone who feels that tonight's Rabbit is even worse than usual. A 'businessman' on the subcontinent has apparently placed a bet that at some time during October this bunny will write something that goes beyond bad and could be classed as literary torture. If I hadn't already earned my retainer several times over this month then perhaps what follows will seal the deal?

I've mentioned on previous occasions a book called 'a Failure's Guide to Winning the Rat Race' on which I had commenced work. Individuals close to (and respected by) this bunny pointed out that although it was a valid and potentially useful piece of literature, producing it at a time when I was still reliant on the aforementioned race and its filthy proceeds to get by may have, shall we say, unintended and adverse consequences. Five years ago I could not have been shaken on the subject, but then maturity either makes you wiser or renders you little more than a coward - I'll let you make your own mind which applies in this case.

Taking the sound advice of good people who I trust, I'll leave it to a later date and get cracking on Plan B - 'Second is Nowhere'. Sports cheats have always fascinated this bunny, since watching elite competition always gave the impression from a distance that the top sportsmen were those capable of regarding wealth, fame and acclaim as no more than pleasant by-products of something greater - namely that sense of achievement, the mark on mortality left by winning a trophy or medal through hard work, meticulous preparation and no little skill. In that sense, one can probably understand why fringe world level athletes like Ben Johnson or Michelle Smith dabbled with drugs to achieve otherwise unthinkable results - without the aid of needles and pills the medals would simply not have been won, and if you happen to go undetected then the history books cannot take it away from you, even if your conscience can.

But then there are truly elite level operators who still felt the need to break the rules - men and women to whom the essence of sport should surely have meant more. Boris Onishchenko was an outstanding fencer as it was without the aid of his 'magic button'  When British captain Jim Fox drew attention to the fact that Onishchenko was contriving to score points after hitting fresh air, the officials replaced the modified sword and asked for the bout to continue - Boris still ran out a convincing winner, illustrating that his cheating was not merely dishonest, but stupid and utterly pointless. As it was, instead of making up some much-needed ground on their opponents (ultimately successful in their absence) in the race for gold, the Russian team was disqualified from that 1976 modern pentathlon, with Onishchenko labelled 'Disonishchenko' and becoming something of a black sheep in his homeland.

This in itself is interesting, because although one would seek to avoid resorting to crude generalisations about an Eastern European desire to win at all costs, this bunny can't help but think that Boris brought shame on his country only by being caught. The former Soviet bloc produced a generation of athletes who may have been astonished to discover the presence of blood in their steroid stream, and nowhere was this more apparent than East Germany. When a nation of their size and relatively small population begins to dominate power events and swimming on a massive scale, the logical next step is to ask "what's their secret?". In the case of the GDR, it was drugs, growth hormones and a whole host of banned 'supplements', often given to teenage athletes as part of their 'training' for some future Olympiad.

When governments claim sport as a means by which to illustrate their superiority (Hitler of course attempted this with the Berlin Olympics of 1936, only to see the aryan challenge obliterated by Jesse Owens), forays into rule-breaking appear to become more likely. There is of course some cruel humour in poking fun at a female weightlifter or shot putter possessing more facial hair than this bunny (who is sporting a beard these days), but the price of Communist glory became all too apparent after the collapse of the wall in 1989. Former athletes began to explain how the State had doped their young bodies to the point where they no longer recognised themselves. Some returned their medals, while others became long-suffering victims of the dreadful side effects brought about by prolonged steroid and hormone abuse - cases of clinical depression, gender confusion (see Heidi/Andreas Krieger) and at least one suicide attempt can all be attributed to the East German medal-winning programme.

Sport would of course be nothing without its supporters, and there are essentially two aspects to the deal between game and fan that act as conditions for ongoing confidence. The first is that all paricipants are giving of their best at all times in a genuine attempt to beat their opponents (apologies to anyone who expected a piece on spot-fixing yesterday - this is a key part of something I will write on the subject in the week). Secondly, it has to be believed that the rules regarding prohibited substances mean what they say, with no competitor being allowed to gain an outside advantage. One of the great challenges for athletics and cycling in particular is of convincing the viewer that the perceived free for all on supplements is something of an urban myth - lifetime bans for those caught cheating is the only way to truly instil faith in supporters that the game is clean.

This bunny is aware that he's not even scratched the surface here, so has nominally referred to this as Part 1 should the need arise to return to the topic in the future. Many thanks to ManNotNumber amongst others for their sound advice - the rat race can wait for now. Take care and I'll catch you soon.

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