Congress is currently working on many important issues, including the replacement of Obamacare, tax reform, border security, and job creation. But, there are also opportunities to look at other worthy concerns, such as the challenges of the international anti-doping system.
This week, as the Vice Chairman of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, I heard from two Olympic athletes and other officials involved in anti-doping efforts. The Federal Government provides over $2 million a year to the World Anti-Doping Agency whose mission is to protect the integrity of the Olympic Games.
As a lifelong swimmer, I was thrilled that one of the guests was the legendary Michael Phelps.
Although I was very familiar with the success of Phelps and his incredible 28 Olympic medals, I was moved by his story and description of how much hard work he put into achieving his goals. He is passionate about fighting against doping because he knows success comes from hard work, without any shortcuts or freebies.
Doping can disillusion athletes and ruin sports for kids. I was shocked to hear Phelps state that he believes he has never swum in an international swimming event that was clean. Although Phelps was tested 13 times leading up to the Olympics, there were 1900 Olympians in high risk sports that were not even tested once.
Phelps, Adam Nelson (see below), and the other witnesses agreed when cheating is involved, it ruins the best part of sports- setting goals, putting in the work at practice, and celebrating your achievements. Kids learn lifelong lessons and values through sport.
Phelps described himself as a young kid, setting goals and then he would “work like crazy” until he accomplished them and said, “Dreams would just pop into my head whenever I got into the water.”
Phelps explained he didn’t have many friends as a child. He described training every single day for a five year period. His intense focus on swimming made him different and at times classmates made fun of him.
But he noted, “As my hard work and sacrifice began to pay off, my confidence grew and I began to feel that if I could dream it, and gave everything I had, anything was possible. The strength of that belief drove me to set goals that others might have thought unrealistic.”
Accomplishments begin with a dream, and to achieve your goals there are no substitutes for hard work. Phelps’s determination is an inspiration.
Imagine winning a Gold medal. That moment when the Stars and Stripes would rise up behind you, with our National Anthem playing, and in that moment of glory all your years of dedication, sacrifice, and hard work pays off.
For Adam Nelson, that moment was stolen.
In the 2004 Olympics, Nelson competed in the shot put. He led the field until the last putt of the day. The Ukrainian tied Nelson’s best, but the Ukrainian’s second longest was better, so Nelson was awarded the Silver.
Eight years later, the Ukrainian was found to have been using performance enhancing drugs during those Olympics. Nelson rightfully won the Gold. Nelson’s dream of a Gold medal moment was stolen by a doper.
Instead of on an Olympic podium, he received his medal at the Atlanta airport food court. Nelson said he had been dreaming of the Olympics since he was a child but, “the childhood dreams of a 9-year old winning an Olympic Gold on behalf of his country never included a side of fries and a free toy.”
I’m impressed he can retell his story with humor, but it’s truly a shame. You see, the shot put doesn’t receive the acclaim of other sports. Nelson lost his sponsor when he wrongfully lost the Gold. He didn’t get invited to events that just Gold medalist were invited to. He didn’t get advertising offers. And in the sports world, eight years later, even if you ultimately got your gold, you are yesterday’s news and the shine of the Gold is not quite as bright.
He continued to compete by working various jobs and went on to win the World Championship in 2005. While this is an impressive feat, it is no substitute for a Gold medal at the Olympic Games.
I hope the IOC works diligently to create and maintain a fair playing field for Olympians.
The American dream is all about the idea that everyone gets a fair shot at success. Like in sports, although we are all born with different strengths and weaknesses, in America with hard work and determination anyone can succeed.
If you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to contact my office. You can call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405 or my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671. To reach my office via email, please visit my website at www.morgangriffith.house.gov.