Are there differences between drugs cheats?

Cathal Lombard celebrated his 39th year in this mortal world today and he must wonder what are the differences between drugs cheats.

On the 11/07/04 Lombard completed a drugs test and tested positive for EPO which resulted in a ban from 10/08/2004 to 9/08/2006. The Leevale athlete returned to win the Irish National Inter clubs Cross Country title in 2008 but soon left the sport.

He was scorned for being a cheat and essentially vilified for duping the athletics public. He made a huge transformation from a club athlete to international class runner in 2003 when he ran 13:19.22 – a time which still stands. That summer I witnessed his first two breakthroughs over that distance. In ALSAA, the Dublin airport sports grounds, he went a little under 14 minutes for the first time and shortly afterwards he went under 13:40 in Eton at a British Milers Club meet. Then in Heusden, Belgium he became international class with his 13:19.22.

It was a whirlwind summer and a great story. It all unravelled in 2004 but one has to question his treatment in hindsight. At an Irish Runner talk a number of years ago I remember Catherina McKiernan saying “hindsight is the wisdom of a gobshite.”

In hindsight it was clear that Cathal Lombard was doing more than plyometrics and undertaking a new training regimen. But was his treatment justified by the running public? When he was eventually caught he offered no excuses. To paraphrase he said he took drugs to level the playing field. His reasoning was cast aside and after a brief comeback he vanished to the proverbial hills.

On the 10/12/11 Martin Fagan was tested and was found positive for a recombinant of EPO and served two years of ineligibility starting on the 10/12/2011 to 9/12/2013. His reasoning was different in that he cited depression but ultimately money and staying in the game was also a factor. He also has gone on record to say he took EPO only once.

Yet they were both treated differently. Fagan was treated largely with compassion not hostility. He is still running and racing and although he does receive the cold shoulder and some bad press, he has been accepted by the majority. Lombard was booed and hissed at the Queen’s University Sports Grounds while Fagan was clapped in a hall at a road race upon his return.

It is striking the difference in the treatment. To take the depression out of it and look at the facts, he cheated. Just like Lombard.

Anthony Famiglietti, who represented the US in the steeplechase at the 2004 Olympics, once wrote a blog about drug cheats. Essentially he stated that all these people that were caught were nice people and that he never met a drug cheat that was not a nice person. This highlights the need to remove the personal aspect out of it. Of course we are all swayed in our judgement by personalities. It’s clear that Lombard and Fagan were treated differently due to their personalities.

People will argue that Fagan was always a better athlete but his 60:57 for the half marathon that he set in 2009, and still stands, is outstanding in hindsight.

Paul Kimmage remarked on Fagan’s drug use: ‘He cheated. He was caught. We’re all in a better place now.’ I wonder does Cathal Lombard think we are all in a better place now.

Image via PhotoRun
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Feidhlim Kelly

Feidhlim Kelly

Con Houlihan once told me that tomorrow is now. In taking on this venture I’ve started to try and put his words into action.

I worked for Con from 2007 till his passing in 2012 taking down his copy and a whole lot more. I have a Con Houlihan section which will go in to more depth on that.

I’m a long-time contributor to the Irish Runner magazine and am also working for the Irish Examiner.

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