It was 1973 when Howard Taylor, a teammate and friend, and I were at the US World Cycling Trials in California. Our chance to make the team would come in an event on the Velodrome in San Jose. If we made the team our next official race would be in Munich, Germany.
Howard and I were fast. At any race we’d finish 1st or 2nd with each of us often fighting it out for the top position. While we were just about even Howard beat me more times than I beat him. Before heading to the west coast from our homes in Savannah, Georgia we figured we’d make the team. We knew whom we were up against and we knew how we’d do racing against them.
In California our dream didn’t end up as we’d imaged, at least for me. All the races were fast, everyone was fast. But, there was a group that seemed to have jumped ahead of the rest of us. The day of my chance to qualify, I was a bit under the weather, and didn’t even race.*
The bronchitis I was suffering was just an excuse. I knew there was no way I could match the times coming from a small group of cyclists. Prior to going to California I’d figured on a second to third place finish, at the worst and one spot behind Howard. The times I was watching would at best land me in sixth place – not on the team. I decided to save my legs for the regional and state champions. Howard raced and earned the only remaining spot on the team.
That was 46 years ago. I still remember the shock of seeing guys shave significant times off their prior finishes. It seemed impossible.
Decades later, I learned those advances in performance had been assisted by doping. Their coach and the riders all admitted they’d been doping. At the time, the blood doping they used and other performance enhancing drugs weren’t yet banned.
In those days I knew nothing about doping. Our coach never mentioned doping to us. Thirty years later while I was visiting my former coach we talked about those trials. He knew the other cyclists had doped. Doping for our coach was cheating and he never even explained it. It simply didn’t exist for any of his teams.
Yesterday, while at archery practice, a group of coaches was talking about a recent announcement by the ASA. The ASA announced they would start drug testing.
Their conversation revolved around other archers, winning tournaments that take beta-blockers for their high blood pressure. One archer, a top finisher at a recent major event, had explained he was upset by the ASA’s announcement. He’d stated that he’d just gotten his blood pressure regulated with the correct dosing of his new beta-blockers. He also commented that the ASA’s announcement hadn’t come in time for him to get a therapeutic use exemption (TUE) before the next Pro/Am event.
The ASA has had an anti-doping policy for years. They’ve just not been implementing it. The complaining top archer knew that his beta-blockers are banned in archery. Yet, until the ASA’s announcement, they are going to begin testing, he’d never bothered to submit a TUE.
A fellow I raced and trained with during the years I spent doing triathlons is a doper. He was a professional. He was really good at the sport of triathlon. He eventually got caught doping.
In his defense he claimed he had a prescription. He’d never submitted a TUE. To bad, said the USADA, you’re banned for two-years.
Would that triathlete have been as good without the banned substance – no he would not have. He’d been good, only not as good.
What about the archer that has been using a beta-blocker because he has a prescription and has not submitted a TUE? Would he be as good without the beta-blocker? Is it honest to compete using a banned substance, when you know it is banned, and not disclose your use of the drug?
“Beta-blockers are prohibited both Out of Competition and In-Competition. Beta-blockers are used by athletes who require a steady hand, increased focus and a relaxed state of mind to perform at the highest level. Beta-blockers are banned because they block the effect of adrenaline and help the heart work more efficiently thereby reducing blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tremors and even anxiety. Examples of beta blockers that are used illegally are Propanolol which is used to steady the hands and increase the ability to focus, metoprolol with its extended release formula and atenolol which helps athletes control symptoms of performance anxiety.”1
I don’t know about you, but during a tournament I get excited. My heart rate is up, my adrenaline is pumping, and I expect my blood pressure (BP) may be a bit elevated. My resting BP is 117/68. My resting heart rate (HR) is around 57 (taken sitting here typing while under the influence of Red Bull). I’ve never taken my BP before a tournament. While I’ve not checked my HR during archery competition, I know it is up. I can feel my heart pounding away. Sometimes I don’t calm down until 20 arrows have been shot. If I’m going to fire off a poor shot, it is going to happen near the onset of a competition.
I’ve never set a personal best during a tournament. Would a beta-blocker help with those performance related symptoms of heart rate and adrenaline? Yes, it would help.
If I had high blood pressure would I take a beta-blocker? Yes. Archery is fun, strokes are not fun. If I had high blood pressure and needed a prescription of a banned drug would I apply for a TUE? Yes. Otherwise, I’d be cheating.
More to the point, have I ever competed against archers using banned substances? Frankly, I’m not sure I’ve ever competed at a major event where other archers weren’t taking beta-blockers.
Do I think archers should be allowed to receive a TUE for the use of a beta-blocker to compete in archery? No, I do not. If I needed a beta-blocker I’d submit a TUE. I’d also expect it to be rejected.
When applying for a TUE the USADA has stated:
In these cases, despite undisputed medical indications for the therapeutic use of beta-blockers, the TUE applications were rejected because the athletes could not demonstrate the absence of an enhancing effect on their individual performance. 2
Archery is a sport. As an archer, you are an athlete. Athletes are fit. For most of us there are ways to reduce blood pressure without using drugs. 3. The Mayo Clinic’s first two methods listed to reduce BP: exercise and diet. 3
If your dream is the be an athlete and your waist is over 40 inches for a man and 35 for a women, you probably need to take some action to reduce your risk of high blood pressure. Then, work on being an athlete. You can’t be an athlete if you’re dead.
If you’re not going to put in the work and you are on beta-blockers, still shoot. Only, compete in the “Fun” category until you’ve either gotten healthy enough to compete clean or can show that the banned substance you take doesn’t improve your performance as an archer.
*Years later, I did earn a spot on a USA Team to represent the USA at the World Championship in the Long Course Duathlon. And, yes I have been tested for performance enhancing drugs.