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Archive for Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Commentary: Some athletes can’t avoid temptations

August 30, 2006

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Drug users become addicts because of a quest. They experience the ethereal sensations of that first high, then squander worthwhile time trying to recapture it.

Imagine, for a moment, an addict with the ability to achieve that first sensation after every subsequent hit.

Actually, forget imagining.

Picture these faces instead. It's a lot easier.

Justin Gatlin. Bill Romanowski. Floyd Landis. Barry Bonds. Regina Jacobs. Ken Caminiti. Tim Montgomery. Kelli White.

Need another addicted superstar?

Wait a week.

Adulation is their obsession. The gifts they receive after spectacular performances are intoxicating. The crowd's roar, the yells, the cheers, the love - they're the drugs. Wave a bottle of Jack in front of an alcoholic. Blow smoke in the face of a smoker. Those situations are no different from adrenaline born of a crowd's fervor.

"There's just very few things in life that give you that feeling," said David Diaz-Infante, who won two Super Bowls as a Broncos offensive lineman. "There's nothing like it, hair standing up on the back of your neck when you walk in front of them, 85,000 people. There's just not many things that make your adrenaline rush like that, the hair stand up on your neck, it just doesn't happen every day."

Elite athletes are wired differently than we mortals. The nature of what they do requires them to be on another mental plane. They push their bodies well beyond what we would consider attempting - and that's just in practice. They have a desire to be the best that supersedes any physical aspiration we have.

Proof of their yearning is manifested in the hours, days, months and years they spend training to make the watch stop a fraction of a second sooner.

"How long can you train? How deep can you get? How far can you push your body?" Diaz-Infante said. "You're pushing those outer limits anyway. The leap is not as far as people think it is once you're at that point."

In a tangible sense, the leap is often the length of a syringe needle or the time it takes to saturate the inside of the elbows with the cream. Mentally, we're predisposed to certain actions. The trigger is all that's needed.

Romanowski got bested by younger players. Younger players stole the love from teammates, coaches and fans. Romanowski got a pick-me-up.

Bonds saw America overwhelm Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa with hero worship. Big Mac and Smilin' Sammy saved baseball, not Bonds. Reportedly, Bonds' ego couldn't take getting dissed like that. Bonds, unknowingly as he maintains, got a pick-me-up.

Few things are as intoxicating as glory from a nation of fans.

Athletes such as Floyd Landis hurt us the most. Landis was the feel-good story for which we were suckers.

Lance Armstrong was gone. With him, so, we thought, was American dominance of the Tour de France. Then Landis comes along. He was an unassuming character from a meager background.

We ate up his whole humble story, degenerative hip and all, and we wanted more.

What was lost or what we missed was Landis' need for the same reverence the world gave Armstrong.

Landis' only problem, like too many of our elite athletes, is that he became enticed by the euphoria and cheated to get it.

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