Unfair competition

World-class Darts, unlike Curling, has never had any issues with banned substances. You could argue the relative athleticism of each — throw in snooker, while you’re at it — but it’s hard to see the advantage offered by any sort of drug in these kinds of sports. Save caffeine, perhaps, if not for the participants then at least for the television audience.

And the individually-competing Russian Olympians we learned last week are still taking drugs, as if to reinforce the fact that drugs have nothing to do with official national affiliation.

The Olympics though, with all its sports we didn’t know were sports (that we never otherwise watch), and drugs whose names we can’t pronounce (that we can’t even imagine a use for), does get you thinking.

Set aside for a moment the point of some of these sports, and why they might conceivably be the subject of Olympic competition,  and you’re left with the question of how drugs became an issue for them.

Drugs, they say, give athletes an unfair advantage; the implication being that any and all other advantages are fair enough. You can be as tall as you like, very strong, or with unusually big lungs. You might be able to run fast; you just can, and that’s it. Jump up in the air perhaps, appearing for a moment to defy gravity.

Or you might come from a country with plenty of mountains, thereby gaining an advantage in practicing Toboggan.

“You’re a Tobogganist from Switzerland? Bit of a coincidence there, isn’t it?” It would certainly be more impressive if someone from a hot, dry, flat country took up Tobogganing.

So we accept that some advantages that are natural, organic, geographical, climate, or elevation-related are also fair enough.

What about practice? If you practice enough, you get better at something. That’s why the joke about the person asked if they can play violin who answers, “I don’t know I never tried” is a joke and not mere rapportage.

Perhaps practice should be subject to rules, regulations, and spontaneous testing. That golfer is so good, you might say, that surely he’s been practicing. Not fair — let’s test him. See if the ball goes in the hole a little too frequently.

If we really want to find out who’s best at a particular activity we should clearly pick an individual at random to try him or her out. And we should not announce beforehand what that activity will be.

This re-design of the Olympics would achieve a number of goals. It would make drug taking irrelevant, since no-one would know which drugs they should take. It would take away the unfair advantage of endless dedication to practice, because participants wouldn’t know what they were practicing for. And any extreme or unusual physical characteristics would be moot, since the athlete may be asked to do anything — shoot a rifle, run a marathon, lift heavy weights or ski down a mountain. See how good Lance Armstrong is at figure skating. How about the Williams sisters at dressage?

“Congratulations, you took gold in Curling. How does it feel?”

“Still a bit smashed, to be honest. I drank seven pints of beer beforehand hoping I’d be in with a chance at the Darts. Who knew intoxication to the point of near oblivion would help with this ice thing.”