The truth has set him free, and he won’t run from it
Ever cheat on your spouse? Ever hide big money from the IRS? Ever arrive at a test with a raft of answers on a piece of paper stuck in your left sock?
Many of us have never done these sorts of things. But, imperfect as we tend to be, some of us have: cheating, lying, obfuscating and, to make matters worse, when the truth comes out, hiding.
To this mix I give you sprinter Dwain Chambers. He’s an outlier in the sports world. Maybe, better said, in our world. Chambers, 31, was uncovered as a steroid cheat before the 2004 Olympics. Instead of falling for the temptation of further lies, instead of climbing behind the veil too often used by our fallen athletic stars -- “Uh, yeah, I took steroids, but it was only for part of a season, to help my torn tendon, and I got ‘em from my cousin” -- Chambers accepted the full weight of his disgrace.
He blamed himself and coughed up the unvarnished truth. He exposed himself to ridicule and embarrassment, speaking out, trying to educate, and then starting an against-the-odds effort to return to a world-class level in track, an effort that had him barnstorming through Los Angeles on Saturday.
“At this point I am content to race wherever I can, whenever I can,” Chambers said between heats at the 51st Mt. SAC Relays in Walnut. “So it’s just great to be here.”
Before being exposed, when he was one of the world’s best, he would sometimes compete in Europe before crowds edging toward 70,000. He worked Saturday before roughly 7,000. He helped an ad-hoc team place third in the 400-meter relay. He ran the 200 meters, and took second. The results didn’t seem to matter as much as just having the chance to run.
“Here I’m not vilified,” said Chambers, whip smart and a shade under 6 feet tall. He sat under a tree between races. I noticed that nobody walking by seemed to recognize him. He was a virtual nobody. I could have been talking to one of the high school long jumpers. “Back home, well, over there I am treated worse than a murderer.”
In Europe, Chambers is reviled in some corners with a heat similar to that aimed at Barry Bonds here. The parallel is no stretch. Chambers, who is British, was exposed as a steroid cheat through his links with Victor Conte, whose pharmaceuticals fueled Marion Jones and many others, including, allegedly, Bonds.
To hear Chambers tell it, his fall began when he succumbed to a trap that has felled countless others in sport, and out. After a fourth-place finish at the 2000 Olympics, he became convinced his biggest competitors were cheating. To reach their level, he cheated too.
When he was caught, he ended up confessing. He spelled out the details in a book, “Race Against Me.”
He told of complicated cocktails of drugs, detailed his doping schedules and how the testing system can be beaten.
So much for repentance and truth telling. International track banned him for two years and penalized him the rough equivalent of $250,000. Once building real wealth, today he earns a modest living as a London-based trainer and competes for free: Any money he makes during a track meet goes to pay that fine.
He’s a vagabond, running a sparse and cobbled-together schedule. Slimmed down from 217 pounds to 192 without the benefit of drugs, he recently won the 60 meters at the European Indoor Championships, but he was largely treated as a pariah there.
Many European meets apparently won’t have him. And the 2012 Olympics, to be held in his hometown, London? The international ban has been lifted. But as occurred in Beijing last year, British sporting authorities won’t let him on their team.
Despite his appeals, this close to 2012, they’d rather he go away.
“I’ve had to just come to terms with the fact I will not be going to the Olympics,” Chambers said. “It was my actions that have prevented me from participating there, so I have to come to terms with that.”
Why even keep going?
“Because that’s what I was born to do,” he said, his bright eyes widening. “And I think I have the opportunity to do a lot of good for the next generations by standing up and telling it the way it is.”
What an irony: Chambers, once a walking, talking, sprinting syringe, recast as a repentant antidrug crusader who isn’t ashamed to spell out everything he knows. He’s certain performance-boosting drugs are still common. No sport gets a pass.
“Lying all the time, that’s no way to live,” he cautioned. “That’s a message I’m trying to spread, no matter what I have to go through to spread it.”
Alex Rodriguez and the other cheats should take some lessons. But I digress. There were scores of brilliant performances at the Mt. SAC Relays, a marvelous event that doesn’t get its due because track is a sideline sport in America.
Among the best moments:
Former Cal State Dominguez Hills star Carmelita Jeter ran the 100 meters in 10.96, the fastest time in the world this year.
Geena Gall, a senior at Michigan and defending NCAA champion, won the 800 meters in 2:02:69, the best time by an American this year.
Former USC sprinter Lionel Larry won the 200 meters in 20:37, beating Chambers by a chest.
It was a day filled with greatness, stocked with much to be inspired by.
And from Dwain Chambers -- an imperfect and fallen star on an outspoken, redemptive path -- there was a cautionary tale that should be heeded, by all of us.