Yesterday, American sprinter Torri Edwards was banned from competition for two years for taking the stimulant nikethamide. Nikethamide! Perhaps Edwards thought taking a drug that sounded like a shoe was so cute and poetic that she couldn't possibly be punished for it. Or maybe, since she inherited the world 100-meter title when Kelli White was banned for taking a narcolepsy drug (among other stimulants), Edwards might have simply been caught up in a competition to see who could pop the funniest pills.
Either way, Edwards' ouster is yet another gut punch for a U.S. track and field team that's been menaced by drug allegations all summer. And in the days before the opening ceremonies, the doping troubles are spreading across the world: A Kenyan boxer, a Swiss cyclist, and a member of the Spanish canoe team have already blown their chances for gauzy NBC profiles with positive drug tests.
Drug bans do achieve a kind of crude justice—you cheat, you're out—but who do they really help? Fans want to see the biggest stars compete on the world's biggest stage. And Olympians shouldn't be punished for their world-class competitive spirit—these athletes would eat dung beetles and drink sloth urine if they thought it would make them run faster.
There has to be a better way.
How about this? From now on, no one gets banned from the Olympics for any reason. Take as few or as many drugs as you want. Some of them can even sound like shoes if you'd like. How would that be fair, you ask? It's simple, really. Just make athletes lash weights to their bodies based on the amount of drugs in their system.
Each participant would be tested immediately before competing. An austere man in a white lab coat with the Olympic rings on the right breast pocket will then appear with a manila envelope. (Keep in mind that this will all be shown on a large screen in the Olympic Stadium.) He then pulls out an intimidating, multipage printout that lists Mrs. Drug User's infractions. For simplicity's sake, let's say Mrs. Drug User has ingested 5 mg of nikethamide. According to our handy conversion chart—don't worry, there's one in your official program—that'll be … 5-pound weights around each ankle for Mrs. Drug User. What if, like Kelli White, you get caught using EPO, steroids, and narcolepsy drugs? That earns you a suit of medieval armor and a giant cannonball lashed to your left leg with five links of rusty chain.
A public drug test parade would add a new layer of strategy to the games. If you're a sprinter, is it in your best interest to bloat yourself on designer steroids at the risk of being forced to run 100 meters in chain mail? Or should you just stay clean, knowing your opponents will have muscles coming out of their eyebrows but your sneakers won't be loaded down with mini barbells.
This plan has a few kinks, of course. How can you compare, in terms of weight handicapping, a modern-day designer steroid like THG to a classic, Ben Johnson-style 'roid? And what if an athlete somehow discovers how to graft extra bone onto his tibia and fibula, making his lower leg just strong enough to neutralize the effect of ankle weights? Well, that dilemma could be solved quite easily. If a competitor's ankles are found to have an illegal density, just strap an extra 10 pounds on his back.