Friday, June 12, 2009

How He Dealt in Blood

Read anything by Ed Burke lately? To be clear, I mean this Edmund Burke:

Not the Edmund Burke who wrote A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful :


Ed Burke, the cycling coach, has written many books on sports performance, including Serious Cycling, Cycling Health and Physiology: Using Sports Science to Improve your Riding and Racing, The Complete Book of Long Distance Cycling: Build the Strength, Skills and Confidence to Ride as Far as You Want? High Tech Cycling, and Training Nutrition: The Diet and Nutrition Guide for Peak Performance?

As technical director of the U.S. Olympic cycling team in 1984, he also helped "boost" the blood of a number of American cyclists, an act which led to the resignation of Rob Lea as president of the U.S. Cycling Federation. (You may have ridden with his son, local CAT 4, Syd Lea, or Syd's brother, Olympian and OUCH rider, Bobby Lea). Granted, Burke's boosting program was legal at the time.

Bernard Kohl's recent comments about doping in the 2008 Tour in L'Equipe (although he now claims the French publication misquoted him) suggest that boosting has remained standard practice among top riders. "I am convinced," he allegedly stated, "that the top 10 [finishers in GC in the Tour] would be positive."

Unlike EPO, steroids, or amphetamines, blood transfusion requires more than merely a supplier. It's risky and dangerous; an athlete can't do it alone. Someone with medical training must draw the blood, spin it, freeze it, thaw it, and inject it. Thus it necessarily involves a conspiracy of sorts.

Kohl's manager, Stefan Matschiner, appears to be the man behind the Kohl conspiracy. Kohl described how Matschiner would help him boost: "He would fly from Austria and the blood would thaw out while down in the hold,” he said. “He (came) to our hotel and I would get the transfusion in 15-20 minutes. Nobody would notice a thing.”

Kohl's method of doping raises many questions. Where did Matschiner learn about blood doping? An even bigger question: how did he inspire trust in his clients, which included cyclists (e.g., Michael Rasmussen) and other distance athletes?

Matschiner is Austrian, but he ran track at the University of Memphis. He was decent at the 1500m and 800m, not enough to make one suspect him of doping, but enough to earn honors.

Stefan Matschiner

After arresting Matschiner this spring, authorities found a blood spinner and doping paraphernalia in a Budapest flat. Matschiner has also been linked with an Austrian biathletes who failed drug tests at the Turin Olympics, and other Olympic athletes.

So how does this story go?

America has become an exporter of bad habits, thanks to globalization (our chief export to South Africa when I was there was wrestling and Walker Texas Ranger's roundhouse kick). Because we export so much trash, we're often blamed for all bad things that happen in the world. Once it comes out that Matschiner went to school in the States, we'll probably be blamed for his machinations.

Did we corrupt Matschiner? Did the American insistence on progress at any cost effect Matschiner? Did our progressivism and our love of drugs infect him? Are we really the drug addled villains of Shaolin Soccer?

Hard to say. Austrians aren't exactly angels (see Hitler, Adolf). We may never know our role in the corruption of Matschiner. As seems to be the case so often in doping cases, secrets remain secrets.

Back to Edumund Burke, the philosopher this time. You may not have heard his name before, but you have likely heard his trammeled epigram: "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." Burke is one of the intellectual fathers of conservatism. He saw the world as a malevolent, threatening place. We must struggle against it to preserve the goodness in it.

This notion of protecting rights and standards remains a hallmark of contemporary conservative thought. Burke's quote about good men was a favorite of the Bush administration. They used Burke's call to action against evil to justify a flurry of activity, including torture.

The Bushies messed up, no doubt, but Burke and conservatism in general doesn't deserve the blame. Burke recognized not only the pitfalls of inaction, but the limits of action, especially action that involves blood. "A conscientious man," he said, "would be cautious how he dealt in blood." The rest of us, politicians or cyclists or both, should do the same.