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Tuesday, September 19, 2000

The man needs to take responsibility

  SYDNEY -- There is a difference between cheaters and idiots. Eric Lamaze is an idiot.

 The guy has a problem, an insidious, mean, vicious little monkey on his back. And for that he should be given a slap upside the head and then some counselling. That doesn't mean he should be thrown to the sharks and tossed out of sport.

 Cocaine is classified by the International Olympic Committee as a stimulant and therefore is on the banned-substance list. The stuff has stimulant qualities, but drug experts and coaches in the know say athletes generally don't use it anymore for that reason. It would be pretty stupid to snort coke and then climb aboard a huge horse to jump fences and other obstacles.

 "Cocaine is too expensive and it doesn't work very well," a veteran coach who wished to remain anonymous said. "The stimulant effect doesn't last. There are superior stimulants out there."

 Lamaze, 32, obviously used cocaine for reasons other than to get a jump on the opposition. Reports indicate he is a "former" addict. He is an addict. Once an addict, always an addict. What he has to become, for himself, his family, his teammates and his sport, is a clean addict.

 He has to seek help -- again. He has to achieve a position where he doesn't fall back to his destructive lifestyle every time fate deals him a bad hand. And then he has to take that message to public.

 "What I'd like to see from Eric is a greater sense of maturity and a realization that this is not just a personal choice," Torchy Millar, the equestrian team chef de equipe, told The Toronto Sun yesterday. "Being in the public eye, his lifestyle matters to other people. What he does effects a lot of people."

 Lamaze has to realize his actions prior to these Games and the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, when tested positive for cocaine as well, embarrass his show-jumping teammates and his federation. The last thing athletes need heading into the biggest competition of their lives is this kind of distraction.

 Lamaze must take it upon himself when he arrives in Sydney to apologize to his teammates, as I am sure he will. He then has to prepare himself in the best way possible for this competition. He owes that to the team.

 Ottawa adjudicator Edward Ratushny cited exceptional circumstances for reinstating Lamaze, who claimed he used cocaine at a party last month after being advised that he had tested positive for banned drugs and would be banned for life. Apparently, the initial positive test was the result of a dietary supplement Lamaze was using. The manufacturer has since apologized for not marking the ingredients on the label clearly and the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport later agreed that the infraction was unintentional.

 If Lamaze had tested positive for anabolic steroids or excessive testosterone levels or something like that, I would say ban him for life and throw away the key. This infraction is a lifestyle issue, not a cheating one -- although he is cheating himself and many people around him.

 There are those within the Olympic sport community who believe cocaine should remain on the IOC banned list, but that the penalties for using the drug should be modified -- anyone caught would be temporarily banned until it's proven the individual has taken steps to deal with the addiction. A lifetime ban is excessive.

 SEEK HELP

 The IOC is hardly qualified to act as morality police. It has enough trouble with its primary job: weeding out cheaters and levelling the playing field.

 Kudos to the drug testers for exposing Lamaze's cocaine problem. It is now his responsibility to seek help and deliver the message that drug use is wrong and destructive. Hanging him from the nearest pole and letting him twist in the wind is not the way to send a message to the youth of Canada.

 Lamaze is not an evil person. He is an idiot with an addiction. Most of his teammates understand that and all they want now is to get on with the Olympics. With the media frenzy whirling around, though, that's going to be tough.

 "But this team will pull together," Millar said. "We are here to represent Canada and that is what everyone is concentrating on. They're all seasoned riders and I feel they're very capable of putting this issue in perspective and getting on with the task at hand."