NEEDLES AND PILLS (CONT.)
I generally agree with Bil Gilbert (Problems in a Turned-on World, June 23 et seq.), except for two small points. First of all, Mr. Gilbert says that athletes are "trying to get something from the drug which hey do not naturally have." He also says that drugs are used to "alter the body of the user." I believe that drugs are not used to give an athlete what he does not have, but to bring out what he does have.
As a high school runner, I have learned that there is one thing that separates me from what I am doing and what I could be doing—pain. I have done a 4:28 mile, but physically I probably could do around a 4:20 or possibly better. What a drug does is to mask pain so that an athlete can come closer to what he physically can do and make it so he is not limited to what he mentally can do. The object of a race is to push oneself to the point of exhaustion, but, except in a few cases, this is not possible because of mental hang-ups. When the pain becomes too great the mind tells the body to stop, when actually the body is capable of much more. This mental pain barrier is pushed back through the use of drugs, thus bringing an athlete closer to his physical peak.
I do not personally use drugs, for I feel that the long-range effects are bad and they are too much of a risk to offset any temporary advantage, but if a drug is developed in which the adverse effects are negligible, I can see its justification.
San Marino, Calif.
Carelessly read, this article certainly could give a young athlete the impression that using drugs is the thing to do. For mature readers with a set of values, this practice stands out as foolhardy. For the budding high school athlete, eager to make the grade, it is something else again. Mr. Gilbert has done an excellent reporting job. Too bad more stress could not have been placed on the dangers of this practice.
Mrs. ROBERT W. OLLAYOS
I enjoyed Bil Gilbert's article and found it informative and honest, presenting both sides of the argument. However, his discussion of professional bicycle racing amazes and disgusts me with its incompetence and one-sidedness.
The Tommy Simpson case really enraged me. First, let me say that I'm familiar with his death through other readings, conversations with racing cyclists and Simpson's biography. The way you relate the incident your huge readership would assume his death was 100% due to drugs he took illegally! This is absurd. Let me remind you that this was the rare case of an athlete who was in superb physical condition, under fierce heat and high altitudes (for which he had not trained properly, or, I should say, sufficiently) and with a fanatical will to win. He probably had not enough salt in his body. All of these things, plus the drug that Simpson took, enabled him to reach his physiological limit, and he died. Normally, he would have blacked out. Instead, with all of the contributing factors, one of which was the drug, he killed himself.
Now many readers may assume, as you make out, that all, or a great majority of, bike racers are little better than drug addicts. This at a time when our sport is struggling in the U.S. for professional status amidst a bungling of Olympic cycling coverage on the part of ABC-TV.
WILLIAM M. HARLAN
Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich.
ROW, BOW, ROW (CONT.)
I found Mr. Kunen's critique of Columbia and its crew to be both charming and, in several instances, truthful (Merrily, Merrily, June 16). It is unfortunate, however, that ex-oarsman Kunen is unable to divorce himself from the bitterness of the apostate who, once having given up a commitment, feels obliged to denigrate it. Although I don't know if Kunen will be able to understand the simplicity of the following statement, I row because I enjoy it. Like the heroic light-weight crew of Kunen's article, I row for myself, win for myself and lose for myself, not for Columbia University. It is ludicrous to consider a commitment to crew to be an implicit acceptance of racism, reaction or police brutality.
I might conclude by reminding Mr. Kunen that in a very real sense we're all just playing games, whether we be crew jocks or campus revolutionaries.
1969 Heavyweight Crew
We certainly appreciate SPORTS ILLUSTRATED's fine excerpt from William Service's Owl (June 30). However, I hope your readers won't be confused by the inference in the issue's LETTER FROM THE PUBLISHER that the book has already been published by Alfred A. Knopf. It won't be in the bookstores until October.
Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
New York City