Late Sunday night I found out prolific road racer Christian Hesch admitted to using EPO. Let's not give Hesch too much credit for nobly turning himself in to doping officials. Teammates from the Nike Team Rub L.A. club first confronted him after finding an empty vial of EPO in his bag. Read Hesch's public letter here and a New York Times story on Hesch here.
Hesch's admission and soon-to-be ban by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency marks the first time someone I've personally met has been busted for drugs. Initially I was quite shocked that a person who seemed to share the same passion for the sport was willing to humilitate not only himself but the entire running community with such an irresponsible action.
But after further thought, it's not too surprising at all. Hesch, who gained notoriety in elite running circles for racing in baggy board shorts, frequently jetted around the country chasing races "with the largest purses and the least competitive fields." Just this August, Hesch earned prize money by finishing fourth in a road mile in Pittsburgh before winning the Rock ‘n’ Roll Providence Half Marathon just two days later. Money brings out the worst in people. In this case the need to race for cash to pay the bills spurred Hesch to dope. It's not an excuse for his actions, but money can get people to do some terrible, terrible things.
What was even more disturbing in the Times piece was the following line: "On first visit [to Tijuana], another runner recommended pharmacies [for EPO] that other Southern Californian runners preferred." We typically think of drug use as reserved for the very elite looking for every edge they can, but the quote suggests other runners, perhaps sub-elite cash-grabbers like Hesch, have similarly made quick trips to Mexico to obtain performance-enhancing drugs.
There was some discussion on Twitter last night on the news and there's a clear consensus - Hesch must name the individual(s) who referred the pharmacies in Mexico. Whether he does it publicly or as part of his USADA settlement, the sport must be cleaned up - one person at a time if necessary.
We as a track and field community must have an iron fist on drug use. We must show doping is not acceptable under any circumstances. Those caught will not only be prosecuted to the fullest extend of the law but also suffer the consequences from the community at-large.