Basso Spills the Beans

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This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.

Cycling's second biggest event, after the Tour de France, is the Giro d'Italia, another multi-stage race of endurance. The Giro begins this Saturday but the defending champion won't be at the starting line. The talented Ivan Basso will instead be coughing up the whole truth about his involvement in a Spanish performance drug ring, called Operación Puerto. Basso was forced out of the Tour de France last summer under allegations of participating in the Spanish ring, as was star Jan Ullrich and seven other riders. All of them have, per usual, vehemently denied any wrong-doing. But now Basso, somewhat shockingly, has early this week agreed to spill the beans about his connection to Operación Puerto. When I first read about Basso's decision to come forth, I thought "Eureka!" This is it. More than millions more dollars into the tests to detect Human Growth Hormone and the other performance drugs on today's athletic menu, more than the creation of outside agencies to police athletes' drug use, this is what it will take to finally get to the bottom of the ever-looming drug epidemic in sports. It will take a full confession by a top athlete in a sport where drugs are more the norm than the aberration. If we could know how early in an elite athlete's career he learns about the drug choices, if we could hear how coaches plant the myth-that you take drugs or you're left behind, if we could learn how doctors and trainers supply and administer the drugs, how the athlete learns to mask the drugs in their blood and urine samples, and perhaps more than anything, how certain, even paranoid an athlete becomes that he will not reach the gold medal, the maillot jaune, the batting title without boosting his blood chemistry---these would be the revelations to catapult us toward a breakdown of the epidemic.

As stunning as Olympic sprinter Ben Johnson's positive drug test at the Seoul Games back in 1988 was, the world didn't learn what we could have from his being caught. Yes, we found his steroid to be Winstrol, administered by a Canadian physician, but Johnson wasn't at all forthcoming as to the widespread peer pressure in track and field. It's not that an elite athlete needs to rat on his fellow sportsmen. Basso has stated emphatically that he will not comment on other cyclists. He's gone so far as to say that he has no knowledge whatsoever of other cyclists' performance drug habits and we know that's a mighty long stretch. We laymen think of cycling as an individual sport but the Tour de France riders are tightly bound teams. They escort each other up mountains, eat, sleep, build bikes and get massages together, 24-7. There is no way a lifelong competitor such as Basso would have no clue as to other riders' drug use. But that's OK. He's not a rat and we can honor that about him. What counts is that he spells out every minute detail of his own journey. The Spanish drug investigators have evidence against some 100 Tour de France caliber riders. Even if Basso doesn't name names, his truth will bring the investigation to a new plateau of revelation as to just how deep drugs run in professional cycling.

Well, that's what I was thinking early this week, when Basso first spoke out. Now he's whistling a bit of a different tune, though. Now he says he had intentions of doping and contacted the Spanish doctor at the head of Operacion Peurto, even gave the doctor a blood sample in order to get the right stuff in the right amounts. But Basso claims, in the end, he never did take the stuff. Never. That's the word all the elite accused athletes use. Never. Well, I guess we'll learn plenty from his admissions of psychological pressure and just how the doctor contacts went down.

But real progress would come if Basso would really tell the truth. The whole truth.

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.



Diana Nyad