BY BREE SCHAAF
There is no knock like it. This loud, hurried, authoritative, assault-on-your-privacy knock. It’s the distinct sound that Olympic athletes know all too well, signifying that your life is on pause until you can provide a viable urine sample to a registered USADA Doping Control Officer. You want to compete in the Olympics? This is the life you sign up for.
USADA, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, has garnered significant media attention in recent years because of certain famed cases of athletes using performance enhancing drugs, but it’s important for everyone to realize how crucial USADA is in keeping all of our sports fair and ensuring every athlete is competing clean. I thought it might be informative to detail what it’s like to be an athlete competing with the protection of USADA.
In a world where we idolize our heroes and want them to be the gold standard of winning against all odds, there are some logistical nightmares to ensuring that dream. It is a double-edged sword to achieve the level of competition where USADA wants to know your every move. A landmark in every athlete’s career, yet it quickly becomes apparent how entirely invasive protecting that level of achievement is.
USADA has the honorable, but unenviable, task of keeping the sports we hold so near and dear to our hearts clean. It is a daunting undertaking when you consider the fact that the technology of cheating is always one step ahead in sophistication and detectability. Until the technology where athletes wear a biofeedback microchip tracking what’s going in their systems at all times, the best method for policing is time-consuming and labor-intensive.
You catch a crook in the act. That is essentially what USADA is trying to do by registering athletes for random drug testing using urinalysis, blood sample or both. All performance-enhancing drugs have a window of time where they can be detected in the body. So the key is testing athletes randomly so they don’t have time to adjust. To do so, we have to fill out quarterly forms to let USADA know where we will be every hour of every day, 365 days a year. If we aren’t where we say we’ll be when selected for a test, we get a ‘missed test,’ after which three in a year will equal a positive drug test and subsequent ban from competition. If we fail to file these whereabouts, we are also subject to a ban.
And yes, the Doping Control Officer has to maintain contact with you every moment once they find you, including watching you provide the sample.
Anyone with an ounce of empathy recognizes the awkwardness in this situation. And no matter how casual and comfortable I try to make it with this stranger, chatting at a faster and higher pitched rate than normal, I can never quite chat through the whole process. Something with how the brain is wired seems to require that moment of concentration to get things going, the silence bringing both of you back to the reality of how extremely awkward the scenario is. And yet I have so much respect for the USADA Doping Control Officers. It’s not a fun job, but they are the ones protecting the integrity of our sport and competition.
You have dreamed your whole life of going to the Olympics, every day investing in metaphoric tickets to “the show.” But with the price of admission comes a bit of shame, all of us paying the price of a little indecency to aid in the faith that those we compete against aren’t at an unfair advantage. As if we made a deal with the Rumpelsportskin, protector of sport, to gift our first-born urine at a moment’s notice. But we all want that level playing field, and USADA does their damnedest to protect it.
This blog was meant to be both informative and complementary towards your efforts. I hope my name doesn’t pop up more frequently for testing because of it.