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Stories of sudden success, such as the one carved out by Irish
swimmer Michelle Smith in Atlanta, occasion long and anguished
colloquies among the men and women credentialed to tell them. At
what point is it fair to "put in play" questions of drugs? How
much innuendo can be written into a news report about how
Smith's physique grew and her times shrank precisely when she
moved to the Netherlands, the seedbed of performance-enhancing
substances like erythropoetin and human-growth hormone, for
which chemical sleuths have no tests? Is it possible to ignore
the fact that Smith's husband and coach, Erik de Bruin, a former
Dutch discus thrower, is banned from competition by his sport's
governing body, the IAAF, because of a positive test for
performance-enhancing drugs?

These questions resonated last week for Irish journalist Paul
Kimmage, who, during a four-year career as a professional
cyclist in the late 1980s, witnessed and, on occasion, partook
of the secret pharmacological culture of sports. The expose he
wrote after retiring, A Rough Ride, earned him the contempt of
the cycling community, which literally turned its back on him
when he began covering sports as a writer for Dublin's Sunday
Independent. Kimmage agonized over what to express in print last
weekend but finally penned a story conveying his doubts that
Smith did not use drugs, urging his fellow citizens to "take
your heads out of the sand."

"I listen to people who are on the inside," says Kimmage, "and
when people on the inside say this improvement is incredible for
a 26-year-old woman, I'm suspicious. These people jumping up and
down in the streets back home were the first to point the finger
at the Chinese when they beat [Irish distance runner] Sonia
O'Sullivan at the worlds three years ago. But when it's one of
our own, they don't want to believe she'd do it. 'An Irish girl?
Taking drugs?'"

Before he sat down to write his story, Kimmage called his wife,
Ann, and voiced his questions about Ireland's Olympic hero.
"You're not going to write all that, are you?" she said, knowing
that if he did, she and Paul and their children, Evelyn, 6, and
Eoin, 4, would be in for another turn in pariahdom, another
rough ride. But write it he did.

When Kimmage gets back to the Auld Sod, that photo will still be
hanging in his office, the one of him riding in his last Tour de
France, in 1989, scaling a peak in the Pyrenees. In the
background is Johannes Draaijer, one of a spate of young Dutch
cyclists who died of heart failure from 1987 to '90. No one in
the sport doubts that some frightening, newfangled drug was

Kimmage could not bear to watch Smith win her third gold medal.
He was in the press room, transcribing an interview, when the
distant strains of the Irish national anthem told him she had
won again. "I've never been so driven to write, but never been
so afraid and sad," he said before sitting down to compose his
Sunday sermon. "I don't know what the solution is." He found
something to say, but it didn't make him or anyone else very

--Alexander Wolff

COLOR PHOTO: RICHARD MACKSON [Michelle Smith holding Olympic medal]