Skip to comments.No exceptions to anti-doping rules, even in curling
Posted on 01/30/2005 6:25:15 AM PST by xp38
(AP) - Curling has officially hit the big time in Olympic sports.
The curlers don't have a fat TV contract yet, and Nike isn't trotting out ads featuring them and their brooms. But seven years after making its debut as a medal sport at the Nagano Olympics, curling has what's become a rite of passage these days: its first doping violation. Now put the stones and brooms down, it's not quite what it sounds.
Mitchell Marks, a promising young curler, was suspended for two years because he refused to take an out-of-competition drug test in October, an automatic violation.
But his suspension has caused quite the stir because it's believed to be the first in the sport's history and he's, well, a curler.
"I really can't believe it's gotten this much attention," Marks said. "Knowing all the stuff going on now, I probably would take it if they knocked on my door because of all the negative publicity on my name."
Curling may be mocked as shuffleboard on ice or the X Games' answer to housecleaning, with athletes who look more like the next-door neighbour than a finely-honed physical specimen. But it takes cunning and skill.
Teams start by sliding a 19-kilogram stone down a sheet of ice toward a circular target about 28 metres away. Two members of the four-person team escort the stone, vigorously brushing the ice to melt the top layer and reduce friction so the stone travels straighter and further.
The rest of the game is spent trying to smack the opponent's stones out of the target area while trying to prevent their own from suffering a similar, disastrous fate.
"I was in eighth grade when I started. I went to a junior open house, got to throw a few stones, and loved it ever since," said Marks, now 22. "It's just fun, just the psychology of the game."
Which is what made his suspension so stunning.
"Curling's not a big-time professional sport where drugs are an issue, and they're not an issue with Mitchell," said Craig Brown, a top U.S. curler and one of Marks' teammates last season.
Brown and Marks' team advanced to the semifinals of the U.S. championships last season, putting them in the pool of athletes eligible for testing by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. On Oct. 30, Marks was selected for an out-of-competition test.
The automatic penalty for refusing to take such a test is a two-year suspension, and Marks was well aware of it.
"The rules are very clear," said Travis Tygart, USADA's general counsel. "When you're in the out-of-competition testing pool, you have obligation to update us with your information. If you're not competing at that level, you have to send in formal written notice of retirement."
Marks didn't compete this season because he was finishing his sociology degree at the University of Wisconsin. He knew he wouldn't be competing next year, either, because USA Curling is picking the team for the Turin Olympics next month.
The only problem was he'd never notified USADA, so the agency said he had to take the test.
After weighing his options, Marks decided he wasn't going to bother. He refused the test, and was suspended.
"I didn't really like the whole process," he said. "I guess if you want to play their game, you have to play by their rules. But I'm not playing their game."
Doping violations by any athlete are big news these days - as Marks soon discovered. Friends read about him in papers across the country. One heard someone on the radio talking about it. It was a topic for discussion in a curling chat room.
Marks insists he had no reason other than principle to refuse the test. He's not taking any kind of drugs, he said, pointing to his recent application to the Madison Police Department.
"Obviously I wouldn't be doing (drugs) if I'm applying for that job," he said. "I really can't change some people's minds. People are going to think what they want to think, regardless of what you tell them."
But rules are rules. The Olympic movement can't make exceptions in its pursuit of drug cheats, no matter how frivolous the offence might seem.
"The lesson learned from it all?" Marks said. "I guess take the test when they come knock on my door."
One variation I would propose is full-contact curling. As it is now, the two teams are on the ice separately. I say we should have one team playing defense while the other rolls the stone. There will be some heavy action with the brooms when the defense attempts to block the other team's brooms.
Nude curling is another idea.