Kate Schmidt, 32, the former world-record holder in the women's javelin, won Olympic bronze medals in that event in 1972 and '76. She is on the board of directors of The Athletics Congress, the national governing body for track and field. She retired from competition in 1984.
The people who control American track and field have made an unfortunate—if understandable—mistake. On Dec. 4, 1985, the delegates to the annual convention of The Athletics Congress voted to allow mandatory drug testing for anabolic steroids. Item 124, approved almost unanimously, states: "There may be testing for all substances banned by the IAAF [the international sanctioning authority] of any foreign or domestic athletes who compete in any TAC-sanctioned competition. Selection for such testing of individuals as well as whole events shall be on a random basis.... An athlete refusing to participate in the testing authorized herein shall be subject to the penalties which would apply if a positive test result were obtained." Those penalties include notification of the IAAF, and banishment for 18 months—possibly for life, if a movement to stiffen Item 124 succeeds—from the national indoor and outdoor championships, the U.S. Olympic trials, the Pan Am Games, and the world championships.
I was one of the few delegates who voted against the proposal. I am not, however, an advocate of the nonmedical use of anabolic steroids. But what has been gained by ramming through this repressive and, quite possibly, unconstitutional law?
"We must police ourselves," say the proponents. Granted. But the policing should be done in an atmosphere of trust and under the same restraints that protect society at large.
On another level, perhaps a more emotional one, I'm upset about what Item 124 says about my fellow TAC delegates. In their antidrug hysteria, have the proponents lost sight of the true rewards of being an athlete? In a dubious attempt at "fairness," have they debased the spirit of what we do? Winning isn't everything, but by instituting these draconian measures, aren't the powers-that-be insisting that it is?
The saddest part is that it is all so unnecessary. During my 17-year career as an athlete, I never once took steroids. Many of my competitors did. Did this give them an edge over me? I don't think so. Human performance on a given day is a product of many factors: raw talent, dedication, conditioning, coaching, motivation, luck. Any one of these probably far outweighs the little understood effects of a forbidden drug.
Weren't these people damaging their health? Maybe. As a woman, I'm particularly concerned about the long-term effects of steroids on the reproductive system. But unless athletes were forced to take drugs by their parents or coach—in which case it's another matter entirely—this was a choice they freely made. Can we take away their right to gamble and leave intact that of an Indy Car driver or a space-shuttle passenger? And when we say steroids are "unhealthy," who are we kidding?
None of the world-class athletes that I know competes to improve his health. Indeed, training at that level almost invariably causes damage to the body's joints and muscles—not to mention the mental and monetary strain. But again, that's a choice that is freely made. In my case, a rewarding, exciting athletic career has left me with the right shoulder of a 65-year-old woman. I've had foot and shoulder surgery. For many years I practiced and competed through considerable pain. No TAC official, though, tried to keep me out of the Olympics "for my own good."
In the unlikely event that I had been matched against a steroid-using competitor with the exact same skills, motivation, etc., that I possessed, wouldn't I have resented that person's advantage?
No. Because I competed for myself, and myself alone. My rewards were an improvement in strength or technique, a perfect throw or two a year, even if only in practice. Those, not medals or the trouncing of an opponent, were what mattered.
Item 124 is a step backward. Wouldn't it be better to harness this antidrug zeal and use it to change the system? Eliminate the pressure to use drugs to enhance performance. Then perhaps we can return to the true joys of sport.