The Smell of Smoke

Katinka Hosszu is the best all-around swimmer on earth right now... What everyone is talking about, but no one wants to say...  There is no proof. There never is, not when it matters, not when it's needed most. So, this is what happens: the coaches grumble; the experts roll their eyes; the athletes offer lukewarm congrats at the end of each eye-popping race. Everyone talks, but no one speaks up. Because only amateurs fail drug tests, and without that proof positive test it's all just jealous hearsay.

Except the chatter is often true, and the visual evidence - on the body and the scoreboard - generally doesn't lie.

Our latest Exhibit A: Hungary's "Iron Lady" Katinka Hosszu. FINA's reigning World Swimmer of the Year; three-time world champion; holder of five short course meter world records; and the woman who, last fall, became the first swimmer ever to surpass $1 million earned solely in prize money in the pool. She did this, of course, by globe-trotting the World Cup circuit and swimming a superhuman number of races at almost every stop.

This has resulted in a considerable amount of fawning press from the world's swimming media. "Iron Lady" has a certain brand-name ring to it, and Hosszu keeps the headlines pumping. No one competes, consistently, at a higher level than she does. Repeat - no one, ever. Not Michael Phelps or Katie Ledecky and certainly not Ryan Lochte, who's always tended to look like a beaten slow sack of chiseled flesh when he races while immersed in heavy training. But not Hosszu. Her consistency, her ability to recover, and her never-flagging form continues without breakdown, regardless of when or where the race is going down.

Consider last weekend at the Charlotte Arena Pro Swim Series. Hosszu raced in seven individual events. She won six: the 200 free and the 400 IM on day one; the 200 fly and 100 back on day two (along with a why-not 9th in the 400 free); and the 200 IM and 200 back on day three. It was that last double on the third day that caught many eyes. Within a sixteen minute span, Hosszu posted the top time in the world this year in the 200 IM (2:08.66) and returned after a gasp of a warm-down later with a 200 back in 2:07.79, the third fastest time on earth this year. Not bad for an in-season meet that witnessed most of the superstars in attendance plodding through some very tired, in-training swims.

Since London, this has been a pretty standard meet's showing for Hosszu. She's always entered in a bounty of events and she always tends to deliver incredible performances every time she touches water. I understand the whole Ultra-Short Race-Pace Training (USRPT) philosophy now in vogue, being popularized and questioned through the exploits of young Michael Andrew, yet Hosszu's travel-the-world-collect-the-cash training program stretches the limits of even that dubious science.

No one wants to come out and point fingers. I hope I'm wrong, and to be clear - to any litigious minded folks out there - I realize I'm trafficking in currently unprovable conjecture. But I'm not alone, and past signposts point down some dark roads.

For the last year or so, I've been immersed in writing a documentary called "The Last Gold." It's a film about the tragedy of the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, when the last of the innocent days of Olympic sport were lost. A doped East German team of women appeared on the Olympic landscape and they forever corrupted the sport. Lives were altered and shattered, on both sides, and we've never viewed athletic performance in quite the same way again.

One driving narrative of our film is the failure of the press to speak up in the face of such obvious corruption. In retrospect, and even in the present tense, it was beyond obvious what was going on. We were witnessing female bodies be distorted to unnatural strength and power, and they were delivering performances that could not be explained by any rational observer. Those in the know knew what was going on, but there was no proof. So no one said much of anything. Instead, the press labeled the few brave souls who spoke out, like Shirley Babashoff, sore losers. When in fact, these were the truth tellers, the ones outraged by the ugly facts hiding in plain sight.

Nothing has changed. Forty years later, it continues to happen, in every sport, every time there's a champion who stretches plausible achievement in ways that don't quite pass the bullshit test for anyone paying attention. For years I reveled as the blasphemous bastard who loved to incense my Lance-loving friends (especially those who liked to ride bikes) by calling Lance Armstrong a liar and a cheat and the worst kind of athlete scum ever to compete in any sport. That's what he was, and is, and sometimes it's a damn shame to be right.

Secretly, every cynic hopes to be wrong.

I hope I'm wrong now. It's just that there's a distinct smokey aroma around Katinka Hosszu's performances these last two years. And where there's smoke... Hell, finish the cliché yourself. Instead, I'll share this indelicate comment made by a close friend when I first told him I was thinking of addressing this. Said he: "Being surprised that Hosszu might be doping is like going to a strip club and being surprised that the strippers have fake tits!" Apologies if that offends anyone's delicate sensibilities. Sometimes the best similes are the crude ones.

For all of Hosszu's incredible achievements there is one rather glaring omission from her resumé. She has never won an Olympic medal. Not gold, which is the prerequisite for American greatness in swimming, I mean any color medal. Curious for an athlete so utterly dominant in her sport for years on end. It also may go a long way in explaining her current status as not only the best, but the most speculated about swimmer in the world.

Last month, NBC published a story about how Hosszu emerged from depression after the 2012 London Olympics, when she placed 4th in her signature event, the 400 IM. She expected gold. In her own words, she "gave up" with two laps to go and despite having more events on her program, she admitted that "my Olympics was pretty much done. I wanted to go home."

Her spirit, she says, was shattered by the swimmer who won that 400 IM in London. 16-year-old Ye Shiwen of China, who blistered through the final 100 meters in a split so fast (58.68) that it seemed impossible for a woman - that is, without the help of performance enhancement. There was outraged talk that Ye had to be doped, some of it bordering on the xenophobic. True or not, most believed it. Did Hosszu? That's only for her to say.

Yet, here's one thing that we've learned in producing a documentary that centers around doping and the dark clouds that circle it. There is one prerequisite for athletes who dope: They must convince themselves that their competition is doing it. That is the only thing that can validate crossing this line.

In 2012, Katinka Hosszu's spirit was crushed by a performance achieved through dubious means. Ever since, she has been the one standing atop every podium.

The Russians Are Dirty

And they're not alone... Doping is rife these days. Is swimming becoming "the new track & field"?  How many positive tests does it take to convince you of a country's guilt? According to the official stance from FINA, it's not many. The letter of its law states that it's four strikes and the country is out. If four athletes are caught cheating, then the whole damn federation faces a two-year ban. Except that's not really true. See, they have to be FINA-sanctioned tests. If you're caught with a positive test by your own federation, then that doesn't count.

Which is how Russian swimmers are still allowed at international competitions, despite overwhelming evidence of doping on a widespread scale. Over the last four years, sixteen Russian swimmers have tested positive. Five tested positive last year at domestic meets in Russia, and are currently serving suspensions. This year, three more are serving drug bans for positive tests - including world record-holder and reigning world champion in the 200 breaststroke, Yuliya Efimova. And last week, the latest positive was revealed: open water stud Vladimir Dyatchin, a multiple world champion and the Open Water Swimmer of the Year back in 2007.

This wave of dirty results has placed Russia "at the brink" of being suspended from international swimming competition. Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko recently told Russian media that "one or two more breaches" and all of Russian Swimming could face an unprecedented suspension. This would be particularly humiliating for them, as they're set to host next year's World Championships in Kazan.

But FINA's Grand Poobah, Cornel Marculescu, isn't worried. He expressed full confidence in his comrades to host Worlds, saying that "the facilities are amazing and FINA is receiving a great support from the authorities of the Russian Federation." I'm sure Cornel would also have been impressed by the state-of-the-art facilities in Leipzig and Berlin in the former East Germany a few decades back. But that's not really the point. The Russians are dirty, and it's starting to look a lot like back to the future.

Craig Lord, over at Swim Vortex, has always been on top of these doping matters, and speaking of the former DDR, he's reported on something particularly troubling with this fresh batch of Russian positive tests. It appears that we're not always talking about the proverbial tainted supplement, or some new juice that's one step ahead of the testers. Last summer, one of those Russian positives was a swimmer named Nikita Maksimov. Her drug of choice? The old classic: Oral Turniabol, the go-to dope of the former East Germany, in the darkest early days of international doping.

This notorious little blue pill produced astonishing results for East German women throughout the 70s and 80s. Since then, it's led to gruesome side effects and severe health problems; some of these women went on to give birth to children with birth defects as a result of their teenaged drug regime.

Athletes get older and drift away in the stream of forgotten results, but doctors and coaches, they tend to stick around a lot longer. There's a dark undercurrent that flows throughout international sport, swimming included. It's a black market of performance enhancement for sale, and it knows no borders. At the moment it appears to have infiltrated Russian swimming more than other federations, but that does not mean Russia is a rogue state of isolated cheaters.

Indeed, it's most high profile case, world record holder Yuliva Efimova, was not training inside some locked forbidden pool in Siberia. She was a member of the Trojan Swim Club, part of Dave Salo's high profile gang of breaststroke superstars out at USC. She tested positive for DHEA, and said it came from a supplement she bought at a GNC in Los Angeles. Efimova got 16-months, leaving her enough time to get legal in time for the World Champs on her native soil. Her tried and (possibly) true defense was one of ignorance. She admitted buying the supplement, said the salesperson told her it was fine, and said she'd never even heard of DHEA. Maybe that's what happened, but if you're a world record holder, a defending world champ, the face of a swimming federation under increased scrutiny for its doping violations, would you take the word of a random GNC salesperson before you ingested something that could destroy your reputation?

Of course, this is the same defense that her USC breaststroking counterpart used some years back. Jessica Hardy said the same thing - and lost a lot more for her doping offense, an Olympic berth back in 2008.

I'd like to believe that the Trojans are doing everything above board under coach Salo, however, there's sure been some smoke around certain SC swimmers in recent years. At very least, swimmers like Hardy and Efimova appear to have been woefully naive and under prepared for the responsibilities they face as elite, heavily tested athletes. At worst, well... There's no evidence of anything more than cluelessness out there, though that has to be a sin in another category.

Curiously, you don't hear many swimmers speaking up about doping these days. It's somehow become verboten. Into the grey matter of alleged doping and positive tests, a stiff upper lip of silence prevails. Swimmers are reluctant to point fingers, and fair enough; no one wants to be seen as the poor loser. But as they say about evil, all it takes is for good men to do nothing. Back in 1996, swimmers were literally pointing and laughing at Ireland's Michelle Smith, so shameless was her cheating. In 2000, there was a loud chorus surrounding Holland's Igne de Bruijn, and a collective eye roll surrounding the Italian team in Sydney, dismissively referred to as "Team EPO" after some credibility-defying swims. Now, neither de Bruijn nor the Italians ever failed any tests, and the only test Smith failed was for spiking her sample with lethal amounts of whiskey. 

It all seems like an obvious joke in retrospect. But in the present tense, sport is being cheated and gold is being stolen. Here's one swimmer who's been unafraid of speaking up: Scotland's Michael Jamieson, the Olympic silver medalist in the 200 breast back in London. These days he's taken to Twitter and spoken the dirty truth about the Russians and the increase in doping that is clouding our sport. It's Jamieson who called swimming "the new track and field" and he's vowed "not to stop shouting for the rest of my career." 

Cheers to that. Maybe a few Americans or Canadians or Aussies will pick up that righteous chorus sometime soon.

Because it's not only the Russians.

Under Water, Going Mad

Sydney Morning Herald calls swimming: "the worst job in the sporting world"... Here's why...  I was somewhere around my 400th consecutive lap of the morning, nearing the end of a 12,000 for time, and I was all the way around the bend. As a Brit might say, I was quite mad. Which isn't to say angry, though I was that too. But mostly, I was insane. Madness had swallowed me up on that long ago Friday morning. There wasn't a sane, rational thought left in my chlorine-soaked mind. As soon as I touched the wall, I started ranting, throwing my mesh bag, shouting at lane-mates who had surely skipped laps.

Not my finest hour.

Does that sound familiar to anyone?

Chances are, if you spent your years between age 10 and 20 as a Swimmer (the "S" must be capitalized), you can relate to these madman emotions. Chances are, you've swum out to your tether of sanity. It's a point of pride. For all of us.

Yet, this is also why the Sydney Morning Herald recently ran a less-than-inspiring column entitled: Swimming: the worst job in the sporting world. Ouch. Really? And this a missive from Down Under, where swimming is damn near a religion? How dare they. Haven't they heard about USA Swimming's "Funnest Sport" campaign? As someone who has spent the better part of his career celebrating - ok, selling - the virtues of swimming at all levels, I took immediate offense. Then I clicked on the story.

Ok, the guy has a point. When viewed in a certain dark light, a case can be made that swimming is a breeding ground for mental illness. I don't mean learning to swim, or splashing around in the summer, or even swimming a few K a couple times a week as a grown-up. I mean, really swimming, like swimmers do. Swimming twice a day, most every day, for a decade or more. I mean, spending over a quarter of your waking life with your face underwater throughout your most impressionable years. To quote this Aussie columnist, Sam de Brito, "if there is a sport tailor-made for producing sociopaths and depressives, it has got to be swimming."

Well, that's a little harsh, isn't it? I'm neither a sociopath nor depressed, and I spent as many hours as anyone at that masochistic craft for a very long time. Most of us made it out sane, didn't we? At least we'd like to believe we did.

Yet many don't. The maladjusted champion swimmer is a bit of a hot topic down in Oz these days. Ian Thorpe and Grant Hackett in rehab after hitting the bottle and the pills too hard; Geoff Huegill getting caught doing coke at the horse races; Scottie Miller doing hard time for dealing... The list goes on. Safe to say the Aussies might want to take a closer look at their Career Transitions outreach for departing members of the National Team.

Let's not pretend it's limited to this unfortunate rash of Aussie champs. The column calls out the "emotional maturity of a Teletubbie" with regards to many 20-something swimmers. We all hate to admit the mean accuracy of that statement, but be honest, there's more than a grain of truth there. There's also an inconvenient truth to this cold passage:

"the inherent, egocentric-sole-competitor nature of swimming coaching goes to work, cementing in the swimmer what will become the defining disorder of their competitive life – that they are central to the universe, their story is the only story that matters, yet they are also separate from the universe – there is only them and all those other people. These "built-in confusions" tend to get belted out of normal people pretty early in life, but swimmers often don't see evidence to the contrary until they are ready to retire." 

If that hurts to read, it's probably because it hits rather close to your pool.

Aussies Adrift

Ian Thorpe and Grant Hackett both in rehab...  They're the two greatest freestylers of their generation, possibly the two greatest in history. They own sixteen Olympic medals between them, eight of them gold. They did it all as athletes, and they always came across as two of the nicest, smartest guys in the sport.

Now, in retirement, it appears the wheels have come off.

Earlier this month, Ian Thorpe was found drunk and disoriented on the streets of Sydney early one Monday morning. He was admitted to rehab soon after. While his managers have denied that Thorpe is suffering from alcoholism and depression, he has admitted to both demons in the past.

Earlier this week, Grant Hackett was also spotted in the wee hours one morning without his wits about him. After losing his four-year-old son Jagger in the Crown Casino hotel in Melbourne, Hackett was seen wandering the hotel lobby almost naked, shoeless, wearing only a singlet. Fortunately, his boy was subsequently found on the 20th floor of the hotel, 14 levels above the apartment where Hackett and his children were staying. Days later, Hackett was bound for Los Angeles, where he too checked into rehab. His managers also played down a problem, but reports are that a dependence to the sleeping pill Stilnox (aka Ambien) is to blame.

What's going on with these guys? When did their glory-filled lives begin to crack? Why can't these icons keep it together?

Let's take a look at Thorpe first. Always the most eloquent of champions, Thorpe published an autobiography last year that laid bare his struggles with depression, and the "artificial ways" he sought to manage his reeling feelings. He hung up his goggles young, in 2006, when he was 24. But he actually stepped away sooner than that, when he was just 21, after the 2004 Athens Olympics. By that point he was already his country's most decorated Olympian, and he'd been the best freestyler on earth since he was 15 years old. A comeback in the lead-up to London didn't take.

He grew up fast, and he grew up tortured. His sexuality was questioned since his earliest interviews. When he affirmed his heterosexuality, on camera and in writing, many refused to believe him. Not that it was anyone's business either way. Perhaps he was struggling to figure it out himself, as many teenagers do. Only he had to face these inner questions while his country's media analyzed his every move, questioning every fashion choice.

Faced with these circumstances, coupled with the yawning abyss of retirement, perhaps it's not so surprising that Thorpe sought solace in bottles and pills.

What happened with Hackett? Well, a bad marriage for one. In May 2012, Hackett faced the public indignity of an imploding marriage splashed across the tabloids. There was a fight with his then wife Candace Alley at their home. It was a bad one, featuring punched in walls, smashed pictures, and an overturned grand piano. A grim scene; alcohol played its usual role.

Then there were the sleeping pills. We know it as Ambien stateside; in Australia it's called Stilnox. It knocks you right out, wakes you up hangover free. The perfect drug for the sleepless stress of international competitions. Reports from Australia confirm that use of Stilnox is rampant among athletes. After an Olympic final, a podium, a drug-test, with more events to come early the next morning, these sleeping aids can be invaluable. A current member of the US National Team confirmed that they're just as prevalent among swimmers on Team USA. While the American team doctor can no longer supply them to athletes, it's well known that many swimmers come packing prescriptions of their own.

Though a good night's rest surely enhances performance (just take a look at those Holiday Inn Express commercials!), these drugs are perfectly legal, and make total sense during a high stress competition.

They can also be abused. Ambien can make sure you get a good night's rest, no question, but it can also give you quite a fine high if you can keep your eyes open. Swimmers aren't the most teetotaling lot. There's a certain inherent attraction to the extremes among many in our tribe. Is it so surprising that substance abuse sometimes springs up and fills the gap left by retirement?

Struggles with identity, marital wreckage, the slippery slope of pill popping, these are standard ailments in rehab. They're three of the top ranked issues that land you there. This is why rehab centers exist, not just to get you 'clean', but to help you discover what led to the abuse in the first place.

As athletes, Ian Thorpe and Grant Hackett were abnormal in every way. In the pool, they were supermen, specimens that shattered our sense of the possible. On land, in retirement, they're all too human. Fighting the good fight against the ugly madness of life...

Breaking Badly, a Story of Meth and Medals

The drug-fueled descent of Scottie Miller, Aussie butterfly great...  He was once the most talented flyer on earth. His long flowing stroke won him Olympic silver in the 100 fly at the 1996 Olympics. He added a bronze on the Aussie's 4 x 100 medley relay at those same Games. His butterfly leg was the one that put them on the podium. Scottie Miller was one of those guys who had the world by the balls when he was 21. His talent in the water was matched by matinee idol good looks. The ladies loved him. He married a stunning blonde TV personality.

And then he began to snort and pop and smoke it all away. The downfall of this one-time champion reads like an E! True Hollywood Story. He was a swimmer's version of a child star who couldn't cope with life out of the spotlight, who found solace in very hard partying, and then drifted further into the abyss and started selling the drugs he was doing.

Miller has been playing on the shady side of the street for some time now. Four years ago he was arrested on Ecstasy charges, when police found the drugs, a pill press machine and almost a quarter million in cash at a storage facility belonging to Miller in Sydney. After a guilty plea, he somehow he got off without jail time, presumably after serving up names of his connections. He served 100 hours community service and completed a two-year suspended sentence and promised to get his shit together. He didn't.

Last month he was arrested on suspicion of dealing meth, or as the Aussies like to call it, "ice." Then, nine days ago, on Saturday night, July 20th, he was arrested again for alleged supplying meth, this time by a cop on street patrol in the Sydney neighborhood of Potts Point.

Clearly, the guy's got some problems. And this time, it's probably going to mean jail time.

How did he fall so damn far? Reading about Miller feels personal. He was born five days after me, on February 21st, 1975. We swam the same stroke, were the exact same age, for fellow Commonwealth nations. We sat in multiple Ready Rooms together. At the '95 Pan Pacific Games (where Miller won gold in both the 100 and 200 fly) and again in Atlanta, where I swam the 200 fly in the heat before him. He was always a good bit faster, but we were contemporaries, and after the big meets end, the Canadians and the Aussies tend to stick together.

That's how it was in Atlanta. After the swimming concluded, the Aussies and the Canadians could generally be found out at the same bars, up to no good, beer to beer. Miller and I didn't really know each other, beyond the recognizing nod, but everyone knew that Miller was the one who knew where the party was. Even at 21, he had that rep. He liked to hit it hard after he stepped from those podiums, but that was okay. A lot of us did. But there's a world of difference between 'hitting it hard' the way, say Phelps or Lochte have been known to do, and hitting it to the point of dealing it.

I'm drawn to dark descents and falls from grace and demons when the music stops. You probably are too. Everyone slows down to gawk at the train wreck. But when it's a guy who once traveled in your same current, swimming the same stroke at the same time, you just want to look away.

How did it all go so recklessly wrong for Scottie Miller? Probably much like Hemingway wrote in The Sun Also Rises: "How did you go bankrupt? Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly."

It sounds like Miller is about to suddenly find himself behind bars. But ever since he stopped swimming butterfly, it sounds like he's been gradually headed that way all along.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Drugs

The difference between cheating and partying in sport...  There's no honesty here, not on this subject. It can't be touched by truth because the word itself is draped in unambiguous evil. I'm talking about drugs, of course. The scourge of sport, the athlete's deal with the devil, the definition of selling your soul...

And it is those things. There's nothing lower than a cheat. But do all drugs equal cheating? Are you kidding? So, why are athletes still being tested for recreational drugs, substances that hinder not enhance one's performance, like cocaine and marijuana?

Earlier this week I read about former Gator All-American Omar Pinzon. Seems the Colombian backstroke champion tested positive for cocaine at his country's national championships this month. (Yes, a Colombian on coke, resist the easy punch line...) Pinzon is one of the greatest swimmers from his continent. He's the South American record holder in the 200 back (1:56.40) and one of Colombia's all-time greats in the pool. His positive test will likely lead to a two-year ban from competition.

For a substance that is the exact opposite of performance-enhancing.

Consider that for a moment. This is fact - cocaine is guaranteed to reduce your performance. If I were training for a shot at an Olympic podium, I would want my competition to be staying out till dawn doing this drug. Advantage to the one not doing it!

Same goes for pot. These days it seems that a positive test for cannabis can get you a three-month ban. Second positive for smoking a bowl, you're looking at a year. For something that slows you down. Literally.

My outlook on drug testing is rather bipolar, but I'm happy to make a case for these extremes. At one end, I believe that if you knowingly take something illegal that will unfairly enhance your performance, you should be banned for life. Not a few years, not an Olympiad, life. By cheating, you forfeit your right to play. I'm all for second chances and rehabilitation when we're talking about the criminal justice system, but we're not. This is sport. And sport, by beautiful definition, is supposed to be a fantasy land of fairness. There are clear rules, players play by them, and we determine winners and losers. Unlike life, where we live in a murky world of subjective grey. If you cheat those rules of performance and take something illegal to get ahead, goodbye, you're no longer welcome.

On the other end of the spectrum, I'm of the opinion that, if you want to take recreational drugs in your spare time, drugs that do the opposite of enhance your performance, that is none of the drug tester's business. And it certainly does not warrant any bans. Anyone who chooses to do so is making a trade-off -- to take something that makes you feel good, but isn't good for you. They're also making a choice to use something that is illegal (or in the case of pot, in many states now, pseudo-legal...). These things can get you in trouble - with the law and with your own health. But they will not help you swim any faster.

So, why do the drug testers in sport continue to test for such things? Is drug testing about enforcing fair play? Or is it also about being a hall monitor for morality? Because if you're going to ban someone, for any length of time, for taking something that hinders their athletic performance, then I'd question how honest the drug testing organization is being about its mission.

Back in 1998, many of you will recall the case against Gary Hall, Jr. If not, here's a quick refresher story, written by Phil Whitten back then in Swimming World. For unknown and invalid reasons, back in 1997, FINA decided to start testing for marijuana. A year later, Gary was the most high profile athlete to test positive for this substance, one that had absolutely nothing to do with his success. This ridiculousness cost him quite a bit of money in lost sponsorships, and even more in tarnished reputation. He took the heat for scores of others; he was hardly the only Olympic swimmer known to inhale...

Yet, at the exact same time, there were flagrant cheaters out there, passing every last pee test, and making a mockery of the drug testing system so earnestly trying to protect the sport.

Over the last fifteen years, little has changed. A positive test for cocaine will get you a much longer ban than a positive for pot, for the simple reason that coke is a much harder, more dangerous Class A drug. It is also a drug that will much more drastically hurt your performance. I'm guessing Omar Pinzon already knows this. After all, his times at those Colombian Nationals where the positive test occurred were nowhere close to his lifetime bests.

How ironic is it that for his lack of commitment, using something that held him back, he may face a two-year ban from competition?

The Altered States of Swimming

As we enter the post-Phelps era, the sport finds itself reeling between robust health and on-going sickness... A new Olympiad has begun. Michael Phelps is gone. Ryan Lochte is becoming Derek Zoolander. Missy Franklin continues to resist millions so she can swim in college. That's the narrative of the big three, anyway. The three short hand stories of the sport that have spread into the mainstream. That's what your friends in the dry land world know about swimming. They might have also heard about some dark sex scandals, involving coaches and teenage swimmers, but we'll get to that in a bit...

Tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of this blog. It was started last September with a piece entitled The Phelps Effect. It detailed the ways that Michael Phelps's dominance may have killed off the depth and ambition in American swimming. There was evidence of that back at the World Championships in 2011. At the Games in London, the symptoms of this 'Phelps Effect' appear to have been killed off. Just ask Tyler Clary, Matt Grevers, and Nathan Adrian - three American guys not named Phelps or Lochte who raced to individual Olympic gold this summer.

Seventy-five stories later, this site has managed to piss off, provoke, and hopefully entertain and enlighten many in the swimming community. Just what I'd hoped for... And so it seems like a fine time to take a step back and examine the sport in its many altered states.

The contrasts are dizzying, like a too-heavy trip that throws your mind from transcendence to terror and back again. At the peak, an Olympics with grace and greatness on display at every turn. At the depths, scandal that threatens the foundation of the sport itself and delivers crushing blows to the reputation of coaches everywhere. So much to love, so much to hate.

First, the health... By damn near every standard, the sport of swimming has never been in better shape. Sure, Micheal the Meal Ticket has left the table, but he has left a feast of riches. The competition in London was as good as any Olympic swimming in history. Across the board. Thrilling upsets, epic relays, all-time moments every night. And despite the unfortunate tape delay by NBC, more viewers tuned in to watch swimmers than ever before.

At the age group level, there has never been more kids taking part in this sport. In the U.S., there are currently 362,700 registered competitive swimmers and almost 3,000 member clubs. That's a 17% increase from four years ago, and remember, four years ago was its own high water mark after Phelps's Beijing bonanza. Across the world, it's safe to say that the ranks of young swimmers in France and South Africa and Brazil are also swelling as we speak, thanks to overachieving performances in London and a Rio Games on the horizon. This is a sport on the rise, and not just within American borders.

The sport also appears to have finally turned a corner when it comes to diversity. Sure, it remains embarrassingly too-white at every meet. But that's changing - at the top, with the likes of Tony Ervin and Cullen Jones and Lia Neal - but also at the ground level, as grassroots programs like Make a Splash are reaching scores of young athletes who might never have been exposed to the pool.

Phelps did indeed change the sport, but he wasn't alone. The tide has been rising for a long time, well before he took the blocks as a teenager in Sydney, and it will continue to rise in the Olympiad ahead.

Now, the sickness... Swimming has an image problem. (And no, I don't mean Seth MacFarlane's mean-spirited mockery of Lochte on SNL last week.) Today, Rick Curl was banned for life from USA Swimming. Two decades too late, some might say. His namesake team, Curl-Burke, was renamed Nation's Capital Swim Club. Or NCAP for short. (One friend from the area quipped: "Does that stand for 'No Coitus After Practice'?")

On Monday, Mark Schubert was hauled into the ugliness, facing a lawsuit from a former assistant for unlawful firing. Basically, she accuses Schubert of Paterno'ing - that is, not doing anything after he was made aware of sexual abuse allegations against a close coaching colleague, Bill Jewell. Not doing anything except fire the whistle blower, that is. As wrote: "another embarrassing turn for a sport that has taken steps over the last two years to combat widespread claims of sexual misconduct."

Then the Schubert story gets crime novel crazy. The suit alleges that Schubert and Jewell were the less-than-masterminds behind Sean Hutchison's downfall at FAST. Word is that Schubert hired a private investigator to take pictures of Hutchison engaged in sexual activities with one of his swimmers. (An adult swimmer, it's worth noting...) Schubert then apparently took the pics from the P.I. and used them to blackmail USA Swimming to the tune of $625,000 to keep the compromising photos under wraps. If you believe all this, you're about as bright as the guy being sued. But the facts, whatever they are, are just part of the problem. Regardless of how this lawsuit ends, this is yet another blow to the image of our sport.

Think about it: Rick Curl and Mark Schubert. A pair of Hall of Famers. Their characters aside, these are two of the most successful and celebrated swim coaches in history. When parents looked for the very best programs for their children, when former swimmers chose to stay in the sport and become coaches, these two used to be the examples. The ones you turned to as pillars of the profession. Now they seem to exemplify an on-going sickness that still isn't cured.

Here's something else that remains deeply ill: the state of men's college swimming. How many Olympic medalists in London were the product of NCAA programs? 30, by my count, but feel free to fact check. Florida, Michigan, Cal, Northwestern, USC, and Georgia each produced individual Olympic champions in London. How many other international athletes were at the Games after developing their talents at U.S. universities?

Of course, that's all good and well, but Olympic medals don't pay for college athletic budgets and men's swimming remains at grave risk at dozens of schools. Gratefully, the women's programs appear to be well protected under Title IX provisions, but the growing ranks of young male swimmers are going to want some place to continue racing after they turn 18. Let's hope enough college teams can stick around to serve them.

It's easy to get wrapped up and warped in these extremes. Olympic triumphs, coaching sex scandals, college programs being cut... These are the Heavens and the Hells of a sport that continues to carry on day after day, lap after lap, in countless pools all over the world. Most of you will never experience any of this. The highs might inspire you and the lows might enrage you, but do they really change your own daily swimmer's reality? A reality that is drenched in chlorine and early mornings and worthy dreams.

When you're under water and on an interval, all this stuff ceases to matter. All that exists is that pure altered state of swimming.

The Scum Also Rises

The loathsome Lance Armstrong finally throws in the towel... Thereby acknowledging what the entire world already knew: that there is no one lower in all of sports...  It's late August, the Olympics are over, and unless you're off racing Prince Harry drunk in a Vegas hotel pool, you're probably enjoying some well earned time on dry land. So, let's set swimming aside for the moment and take a dip into some real pond scum.

On Thursday, Lance Armstrong officially ended his doomed fight against charges that he used performance-enhancing drugs. He refused to fight another day for his "innocence." So, he finally admitted it? Ha. Of course not. This is Lance you're talking about, the most arrogant sociopath ever to peddle a bicycle. While it's clear that his lawyers finally informed him that the game was up, he's still denying it to the end. Check out his self-righteous statement posted on his site. Actually, don't bother. You've heard those impotent raging denials enough.

Whether he likes it or not, here is the disgraced company that Lance Armstrong can now officially join: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Ben Johnson, Marion Jones, Michelle Smith, the 1990's Chinese swim teams, the 1970's & 80's East German swim teams... Ok, too exhausting to continue.

Just look at the records set by that distinguished crew! He must be so proud. I mean, he insists that winning those seven Tours is enough. That's what people will always remember, right Lance? The performance will transcend the fraud, won't it? When I think of Barry and Mark and Sammy, all I remember is those towering homers. When I think of Ben and Marion, all I remember is super fast gold medal sprinting. And when I think of those ladies in the pool, all I recall is their world record shattering swims. And how hot they were. Who can forget that?

That's known as sarcasm, Lance. A humorless hateful fellow like yourself might have trouble with that concept. It takes a bit of self-awareness to get the joke, and we all know that's something you've always lacked.

Am I being too hard on the poor little yellow-shirted Texan? After all, he's inspired so many with his Live Strong foundation. A foundation that's said to have raised almost half a billion dollars in the fight against cancer. At what point does his essential soullessness cease to matter? After a billion dollars raised? After Live Strong funds the creation of a magic cancer-killing pill?

If you've been touched by the death rattle of cancer, and who hasn't, this is what makes Lance so impossible to reconcile. He is the Bernie Madoff of sports. He built it all on a lie. Yet, unlike Madoff's victims, those who bought into Lance's Live Strong rhetoric were often profoundly inspired and strengthened. The inspiration he offered was spun from a load of shit, but does that diminish the collective power of those yellow bracelets?

To be honest, I've been a card-carrying member of the Lance Hating Brigade for many years. It always seemed so obvious. He always seemed like such a fundamentally bad human. Just ask any members of the press who've ever worked a Tour de France. All doping aside, the guy has always been a dick. But whatever, so are plenty of other sporting icons, from Joe DiMaggio to Michael Jordan. An ugly personality does not diminish those achievements for one second.

But cheating to get there? Cheating and then lying and lying and lying and lying, and then lying some more. And then tearing apart the characters of all those sad sacks who once cheated with you, and then came forward to clear their consciences?

Loathsome Lance, you took this whole dirty business to a new level. Even Barry and Roger must step aside in their quiet moments and think - Dude, I'd sue my own son, but at least I'm not Lance... 

The Steroid-Dealing, Ecstasy-Smuggling, Dead-Body-Burning Swim Coach

I was told to tread carefully. I was told that the man in the headline above could be litigious, and that he had deep pockets. There's also the matter of him burning and burying a dead body on his own property... During the trial when this dark detail emerged, an attorney said of this coach: "If he has a conscience, it would be a very hard thing to find." Fair warning. Careful what you write. I'll just tread in the facts. Here are some greatest hits:

- In 1997, Canadian swim coach Cecil Russell was banned for life from the sport for his lead role in an international steroid trafficking ring. In exchange for a reduced sentence, he agreed to testify in the murder trial of one of his associates.

- At that murder trial, Cecil Russell admitted under oath that he helped burn and bury the butchered body of the victim in a corn silo alongside his home outside of Toronto. After the disposal of said body, Russell and the murderer raked the area and made sure they disposed of any lingering evidence - in the form of bones and the victim's jewelry. In exchange for his testimony, Russell served just 201 days for his steroid crimes. His body-burning accomplice was convicted of first-degree murder.

- A few years later, Russell, banned but now coaching in Spain, was arrested on the pool deck on charges of possession with intent to distribute ecstasy. At the time he was coaching eventual Olympic medalist, Nina Jivanevskaia, of Spain. He spent four years in a Spanish prison. This was no small time drug bust; Russell had been the main player in a plot to import 500,000 tabs of E from Amsterdam, thru Canada, into the United States.

- In 2005, Russell's ban was lifted after he claimed he had been exonerated in the ecstasy case. The ban was reinstated in 2007 after a front page story in the Toronto Star revealed that he had misrepresented and managed to suppress facts surrounding his past crimes during his reinstatement hearing. Weeks after his second lifetime ban came down, Russell was seen back on the pool deck still coaching.

Here's another fact: Cecil Russell is also a very good swim coach. And because of this last fact, moral ambiguity muddies the present of a hard core criminal past. Despite the bans, he's never really stopped coaching, and when you get your swimmers to swim fast, as Russell does, it seems parents are willing to overlook any manner of past misdeeds. Reading those greatest hits in the headline, it's staggering to consider, but the scariest part of this true crime tale is that many parents are still behind him. They still want him to coach their children. Because he's good at it, never mind the man behind the curtain.

Welcome to the strange saga of the Dolphins Swim Club... A Toronto team loaded with Canadian Olympic Trials qualifiers, an A-list club team with a Russell-led history of producing top talent on the national and international level. This talent is led by Russell's own children: Colin and Sinead Russell, two of Canada's finest swimmers. Son, Colin, was an Olympian in 2008, a world class middle-distance freestyler. Daughter, Sinead, is even better. At 18-years-old, she was a finalist in the 100 back at the 2010 World Championships. Her lifetime best of 59.6 puts her right in the mix as a medal contender in London. Both children have reportedly spent much of their training time at the nearby University of Toronto, however, according to sources on the Canadian team, they still call their dad their coach. They're the two shining examples of Cecil Russell's success as a world class swim coach. And two young swimmers who find themselves in an immensely difficult position, thanks to the sins of their father.

The Dolphins are a team with a lot at stake in this Olympic year, five months from deciding Team Canada's London Olympians. Now is not the time for disrupting their training. Now's not the time to bother with annoying distractions like the outsized criminal past of their coach. And so, while parents hear of plenty of past evil, if they don't see it, they don't seem to care.

I spoke with Toronto Star reporter Randy Starkman, who has been tracking this story for years. Indeed, it was his front page story that caused Russell's second lifetime ban. He has been on deck with the Dolphins, spoken with Russell in person in front of his team, and was floored by what he found.

"It is by far the strangest story I've been involved with," says Starkman, who has covered every Olympics since the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Games. "The weirdest interview I've ever done. Sitting at a picnic table, asking Russell about all this stuff, with parents and kids walking by. You get the impression that they all think he's a good coach, that things have been blown out of proportion. Their kids are swimming faster, they like swimming for him, end of story."

No, not end of story. And considering where this story begins, it would be difficult to blow any of Russell's past out of proportion.

Needless to say, the rest of Swimming Canada shakes with shame and embarrassment at the continued presence of the rogue coach in their midst. Yet, they've continued to prove almost powerless in their enforcement capabilities. Plenty of efforts have been made, but with limited resources there is only so much they can do to physically enforce any bans. Recently, the Dolphins' regional federation, Swim Ontario, has placed the team under suspension. This caused the team to lose its coveted pool time. And that led to a howling uproar among Dolphins parents.

In an astonishing scene at a community hearing, this loss of pool time was labeled a "violation of their human rights." Said one parent at this council meeting: “Please keep in mind the impact your decisions may have on shaping their values and views." (Hello, pot, please meet mister kettle...)

While that derailed the team momentarily, recent reports confirm that they are now back in the water, training at one of Canada's finest facilities, the Etobicoke Olympium pool. It will take more than that to keep Russell away. Over the years, he's learned a few tricks of technicalities.

First, Cecil Russell is not technically listed as the head coach of Dolphins Swim Club. His wife, Erin, is. A distinction that leads to instant eye-rolling among swimmers and other coaches in Canada... Next, it's said that he now lists himself as a "personal coach" not a "club coach." Meaning, he's not a part of any team at all, merely a proven commodity as a coach who is happy to lend his services to those swimmers who approach him personally. Whether using a spousal front or an individual vs collective distinction, both of these strategies have been effective. What has also been effective is Russell's ability to doggedly wait out the bad press, the roving spotlight that continues to glare over the shocking facts of his history. A coach to the core, it's clear he refuses to be denied the pursuit of his greatest passion.

"Nothing stops the guy," says Starkman. "That's the real tragedy here -- every athlete has to follow the anti-doping code. As most make almost no money, they have to be cleaner than clean. And then we have this coach, a guy who has been convicted of major drug offenses, still leading them."

And so it falls to the parents. The tunnel vision of an ambitious mom and dad cannot be underestimated. Those my-kid-only blinders that refuse to acknowledge anything outside of the immediate perception of what is good for MY kid... There is nothing else. And when that perception happens to include an Olympic dream on the cusp of being fulfilled, who has time for things like morals and ethics?

Best of luck to Cecil Russell's swimmers and devoted parents as the Trials approach. And good luck living with yourself.

Comeback Junkies

He left the press conference for his more famous friend. The one who had more gold medals than any countryman before him. He had a few too, was also among Australia's all-time greats, but by comparison, his news didn't feel all that newsworthy. Another comeback. By another Olympic champion. Welcome aboard, Michael Klim. The comeback trail is crowded these days, packed with aquatic icons who can't quite stay away...

When Ian Thorpe announced his intentions, it was sponsored by Richard Branson, as the Virgin mega-mind used the Thorpedo's return as a fine opportunity to announce Virgin Blue's latest international route. (You didn't think Thorpe was actually going to train for London in Abu Dhabi, did you?) When Michael Klim announced his own comeback, he chose a bit less corporate pomp. His venue? A comedy radio show, with a handful of local TV news cameras crowded into the studio.

Eleven years ago at the Sydney Games, these two were elevated to god-like stature Down Under. I remember an office tower in downtown Sydney whose entire 50 stories on one side was covered in a long picture of a pool, with Thorpe and Klim, along with (the still retired) Susie O'Neill swimming up lanes stretching hundreds of feet into the air. (Just one example; probably plenty...) Now, three Games removed, their legend-status engraved for all-time, these Aussie gents are hooked again, and they're not alone.

Stateside, have a look at the list of confirmed comebackers back on the sauce: Janet Evans, Brendan Hansen, Anthony Ervin, Ed Moses. And those are just the Olympic champs back in the mix. Rumors have swirled about an Ian Crocker comeback. (Still no official paperwork filed, according to USA Swimming...) And at the risk of starting a rumor, word is that Aaron Peirsol has yet to file his retirement paperwork. Perhaps leaving a door to Trials slightly ajar...

Across the pond, France's drama-soaked freestyle queen, Laure Manaudou, is immersed in a comeback of her own. England's ageless sprint ace, Mark Foster, is said to be contemplating another crack at it on home soil. And who could blame him? He's the male Brit version of Dara Torres. Both obscenely ripped sprint specimens who should not be allowed to look so mockingly good into their 40's.

Maybe it's Torres who's to blame for all these second acts. Did she make it look too damn easy? Would anyone be surprised to see her on the blocks in London too? She'll be 45 next summer. Back in 2000, a 15-year-old Michael Phelps used to call her "mom." A dozen years later, Missy Franklin could refer to her as "grandma."

Should this spate of comebacks be christened 'Torres Syndrome'? Surely, the thought must have crossed Janet Evans' mind as she considered her return to competitive waters. Evans was twice the swimmer Torres was. No comparison. Back in 1988, when Janet was the greatest female swimmer on the planet, Torres was a relay swimmer, earning a single bronze as a member of the women's 4x100 free. There's no question that Torres has been a compelling example for all these folks. The question is - what kind of example has she set?

You read about these comebacks and the lines are all the same. It's for the love of the sport... The fire still burns... I have unfinished business... I wanted to be a part of the Olympics just once more... Or as Klim put it recently to Craig Lord of Swim News: "We're all doing it for the same reason: swimming was a big part of our lives and we still feel it."

But what is it that you feel? Because this culture of comebacks sounds an awful lot like a Narcotics Anonymous meeting, a crew of relapsed junkies who just happen to be hooked on a drug of pure Olympism. It's hard to imagine two more polar opposite clans. The heroin addict and the Olympic champion. At distant ends of the spectrum of society's respect. One group, pitied and reviled, the other, praised on the ultimate sporting pedestal. Yet at the extremes, we always find similarities...

Consider: For both groups, the junkie and the Olympian, the "it" is two-fold, and exactly the same. They miss the high, for one. And as good as a heroin high must surely feel, it can't compare to the high of standing on top of an Olympic podium. But that's only part of it. The bigger part, the essential part, is about the lifestyle. It's a common refrain among ex-addicts. They talk of the purity of purpose, of the single-mindedness that gets them through each day. Where the rest of the world has daily to-do lists, headaches to confront and check off each and every day, the addict has only one concern: how to continue the high.

As does the swimmer back on the Olympic trail. All those worldly concerns that invaded your life after retirement? Your job, your family, your bills. Back on the backburner! Because as each of these comebackers knows, as every swimmer who's ever appeared in any Olympics knows, getting to the Games demands total sacrificial commitment. To the point of setting aside the rest of your life and acknowledging it for what it is - distractions. Distractions that get in the way of the one thing you care about more than anything else... That high. That feeling of invincibility, of total bliss, when there is nothing but the now, nothing but the passion to get what you need, what you've had before, and what you must have again...

Junkies are reviled, and rightly so, because their need and their bliss is self-destructive and false. Olympians, at the other end, are praised because that same need is believed to come from a pure and true place. They are not destroying their bodies, but elevating them to ultimate levels of perfection. But the motivation, the drive, the personality is all too similar.

Years ago, when Aussie great Susie O'Neill (remember, the one on that Sydney building not making a comeback?) retired, a reporter asked her what she would miss most about swimming. Her answer was honest and heartbreaking. She said: "I'll miss never being the best in the world at anything else ever again."

That's a hard addiction to kick. As her fellow Olympic champions, now immersed in comebacks, know all too well...

Blood, Honor, and Shame

Stamping Your Blood Passport on the Olympic Journey One fine morning, maybe tomorrow, a stranger will show up at your door and put a needle in your arm. You will not resist. You have no choice. This stranger, who has arrived without warning, will open a bag with a syringe, a few vials, and an assortment of official documents which you will sign with great seriousness. You will roll up your sleeve as he sits across from you. He will lean forward and tell you that you'll feel a slight pinch. You will wince and look away as the needle breaks your skin. After the vials have been filled with a sufficient amount of your blood, the stranger will pack his bags and leave. You will probably never see him again.

If you're currently ranked in the top 25 in the world in any event, this is your reality. You've probably never given it a second thought. If it helps keep our sport clean, we must support it, right? Like criticizing military troops or raising taxes, this appears to be one of those subjects where dissent is not an option. If you have a problem with blood testing, you must have something to hide. Never mind the dark privacy-stealing invasiveness of the act itself. If you carry that Olympic dream, what's in your body is not your own. It is up for display and dissection, an open-book passport produced by needle-wielding strangers...

Last summer in Shanghai, the FINA Bureau approved a pilot program for the long-considered 'Biological Passport'. The World Anti-Doping Agency subsequently signed off on these passports, meaning that in the lead-up to London more athletes than ever before will be subjected to blood testing, both in and out of competition. In a statement, FINA called the Athletes Biological Passport "the most advanced tool in the fight against doping in Sport." The new legislation calls for a steep increase in blood testing, requiring that 10% of all samples taken from athletes are blood instead of urine.

Why is blood better than piss? For the simple reason that it can detect some of the favored forms of cheating that don't show up in urine, ie Human Growth Hormone, EPO, and blood doping... Not that we have any reason to suspect any recent Olympic medalists of abusing such things... So, this should be a good thing, right? More opportunity to catch the guilty, the more chance we have to witness clean, untainted achievement at next summer's Games. In theory it sounds like a long overdue upgrade in the ever-losing battle against doping. So then why does the reality of blood testing feel like we're entering a Stasi-esque sports state of freedomless submission for the world's greatest athletes?

Is this where Olympic sport has arrived? Not only is the answer a clear and obvious 'yes', the total lack of questioning from any athletes or coaches indicates that we're so far gone, so conditioned to a culture of sporting suspicion that we are literally willing do to anything to prove our innocence. Actually, innocence is the wrong word: we're willing to do anything to prove we belong at the Olympics. Standards of innocence are not only constantly changing, so too is the very definition of the word from country to country.

Regardless of where you come from, there's no worse fear for an athlete than testing positive. Especially when innocent. We know these tests are subject to interpretation - hence the lengthy battles that inevitably ensue when an apparent 'false positive' comes back. Will blood provide conclusive evidence of exactly what's going on in a body? Will it prevent situations like the tragic case of Jessica Hardy three years ago, when an athlete's Olympic dream was revoked thanks to a positive test that wasn't quite Positive? Or will a questionable change in blood levels on your new passport lead to further debate, further excuses to explain away dubious bodily impurities?

Perhaps it's time to take the mission for clean sport in an entirely new direction. Rather than a standard built on blood and piss, why not something even more personal -- like honor and shame.

When I was in 4th grade, I was introduced to something called the Honor Code. On every test or quiz, we were required to write the following pledge on the back: "On my honor, I pledge that I have neither given nor received aid on this paper." It was drilled into us as a sacred promise. Breaking it would be the highest, most horrible sin of all. Physical violence against a classmate at recess was more socially acceptable than glancing at his paper during a test. Ok, we all lose our temper sometimes, but to lose your honor? It was unthinkable. There was no greater shame than being a cheater.

Clearly, 4th Graders are slightly more impressionable than elite world class athletes. Or maybe they just have more honor.

Before you scoff at this notion of an 'Honor Code' being more powerful, more of a deterrent than a needle in an arm or urine in a cup, consider the standard of our courts of law. Does every witness submit to a lie detector test before taking the stand? No, instead they sit down, put their hand on the Bible, raise the other hand and recite that they 'promise to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God.'

It's this court-bound honor code that seals the fate of criminals - or acquits the falsely accused. The promise to tell the truth is enough to convict murderers. But in sport we apparently need much more. We need proof in the form of bodily fluids.

Of course, the procession of iconic athletes - from Barry Bonds to Roger Clemens to Lance Armstrong - who have brazenly lied under oath proves that raising a hand and taking a sacred vow of truth is not exactly taken seriously by all. The Pulitzer-prize winning journalist James B. Stewart even wrote a book on this erosion of truth-telling on the stand. His book Tangled Webs: How False Statements are Undermining America makes the case that we've become "a society where perjury is the norm." And he goes on to lay out the cases of some of our most high-profile promise breakers, from Bonds to Bernie Madoff to Martha Stewart.

Still, as someone who's taken big blind gulps of the Olympic Kool Aid, who believes that the Olympic standard is something that transcends sport, and someone who competed with no more than Advil and an asthma inhaler in his system, the idea of blood testing is troubling. Instead, moments before every Olympic final, before marching from the Ready Room, why not line up every athlete and force them to place a hand on a Bible and swear that: "On my honor, I pledge that I am a clean athlete who has never taken anything illegal that may enhance my performance."

Call it the Competitor's Code, and like the trials of Bonds, Clemens, Armstrong, et all, chase down those suspected of breaking this pledge, and publicly shame them as the criminals of sport that they are.

If you can dive in and compete with a clean conscience after making that promise, then may the best swimmer win. But we know such utopian notions of honor and pure competition won't be happening anytime soon. Instead, we need needle-wielding strangers to knock on your door tomorrow morning...