David Preece: Would I have been able to resist a wonder pill?

Usain Bolt celebrates victory over Justin Gatlin
Usain Bolt celebrates victory over Justin Gatlin
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Rather than pour praise on the champion, maybe it says much about me as a person that I shouted “GET IT RIGHT UP YOU, GATLIN!” to the American sprinter as Usain Bolt puffed his chest out in front of his rival and over the finishing line at the athletics World Championships.

I followed up this classic piece of commentary with the equally eloquent “GET IT RIGHT UP YOU, EVEN FURTHER THAN BEFORE!”.

It was a running joke that I used to rattle as I ran out to training.

My joy at his defeat wasn’t particularly due to his chequered record with regards to banned substances, more to do with the fact that getting caught twice isn’t enough for him to see the error of his ways

Gatlin is of course, part of the notorious game of catch played at the elite level of sport.

Doctors, scientists and athletes all trying to stay that one step ahead of WADA and their own sports testing procedures.

No matter how far removed from the likes of Gatlin we aim to distance ourselves, as sportsmen and women, I think there’s an element to his mentality that we can all relate to.

Some will never stray over the border into the land of illegality, but the desire to be improve and search for the one magic pill, exercise routine or piece of equipment that will take us to the level we dream of performing at is in us all.

It’s the reason some sportsmen will risk it all for a chance of glory.

As a footballer, I always believed that there was some new technique that would totally change the way I played, some mythical exercise that the German’s and Dutch had been keeping secret from us and was the reason why we seemed to be left light years behind.

The truth was, there wasn’t. I traveled to watch the likes of Barcelona, Schalke, Hamburg and AZ Alkmaar and quickly realized the training was generally the same.

My garage if full of resistance bands, running parachutes and fitness DVD’s, all used until I’m taken in by the next gimmick.

So then you look to your diet. Can it really make a difference? Am I eating the right things? Is there anything I should eat to help me improve?

That’s when supplements come to mind.

As a young player at Sunderland, the only drugs that were around us were the ibuprofen we were given when we were injured and the sleeping pills that were offered after a polite knock on your hotel room door from the physio to help you sleep before away games.

But as the years went by, I began to take a greater interest what I could find in health shops and to be honest I got hooked on searching for the one thing that would miraculously turn me into Superman overnight.

I became obsessed. Protein shakes and creatine serum to help me train longer, CLA and green tea pills to keep my body fat down, BCAA’s, caffeine tablets, cayenne pepper pills, and every ounce of snake oil I could find over the internet.

At one point, even though I’d never been a smoker, I even began to wear nicotine patches during training because I read it would help with my focus and concentration.

You pick up and play with a lot injuries as the season’s wenty by and I learnt to self medicate, too, especially for my chronic back pain.

I’d try and test every painkiller and anti-inflammatory I could get my hands on and found Volterol was the best acting one for me.

Ten years ago, you couldn’t buy it over the counter so I’d bulk buy the super strength 100mg tablets whenever I was in Spain or Greece as you could buy them cheaply and freely in their pharmacies.

After I’d taken one of those you could have cut my arm clean off without me feeling a thing.

It was a running joke that I used to rattle as I ran out to training.

My toilet bag was like a chemist, stocked with about every legal stimulant and supplement available.

The truth is though, most of them might well have been as much use as a tube of smarties but as long as I thought they did me good, that’s all that mattered.

Even a extra one per cent improvement was worth the money spent.

Through all that though, there was only one time I used something I thought might not be within the boundary.

I was 32 and had ruptured my bicep in training. A common injury amongst weightlifters and removal men, apparently.

It was a bad one, a career threatening four month job that required surgery, surgery that was filmed for a fly-on-the-wall documentary for Danish TV.

If the injury wasn’t bad enough, laying unconscious in an operating theatre with my tongue hanging out like a sick labrador on Animal Hospital wasn’t making it any better.

Anyhow, after poring over internet forums on how to recover from such an injury, I found an American website which not only offered the solution of speedy recover from tendon damage in pill form but also promised to strengthen it further post rehab.

At this point, I didn’t care if it was banned or not.

Ignoring the facts, I was desperate, ordered it anyway and took it for months until after I was fully fit again.

Any anxiety I had was heightened when I found out it was banned but only in certain doses and luckily enough, mine didn’t exceed the legal limits.

Then again though, even if I knew if it was banned before I began taking it, I can’t honestly say I wouldn’t have just taken it anyway.

My point is, whilst I never got to the point of taking performance enhancing drugs in the same league as Justin Gatlin, if somebody had offered me a banned wonder pill that guaranteed me a greater chance of success, it would have been a huge test of my resolve to refuse.

I’m glad I never crossed that line but there’s an understanding there as to why someone would take that chance.

After all, I know there’s such a thing as wanting something too much and perhaps the only moral difference between Gatlin and myself is that I never came face to face with the choice he made.