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Saturday, July 16, 2005

Bigitte, post race 2004 ITU World Cup Salford


Brigitte McMahon


It was with deep regret that I learned that the Swiss Triathlete, Brigitte McMahon, the first ever winner of an Olympic gold medal for the Triathlon, has resigned from the Swiss national Olympic team and retired from the sport under a cloud this week following a positive doping test for EPO (a banned substance which increases the count of red blood cells.) The shock was made greater because I first heard of this, not in the newspapers or media but because she wrote to me personally and told me her bad news and explained the circumstances which deeply saddened me.


I first encountered Brigitte last year, as a photographer when she was down at Salford Quays, practicing in the docks with her Swiss team mates in preparation for the 2004 ITU World Cup held the following day.  This was my first major event and I was getting a feel for the location on that pre-race day. I printed of some shots off for the Swiss athletes that evening and handed them to their team manager the morning of the race by means of best wishes in the coming event and as a souvenir of the city. Subsequently I sent some of the elite athletes shots from my portfolio of the actual race as personal gifts and as a result, I had enjoyed a friendly personal correspondence with Brigitte, who on that day, last summer, did not have a very good race.


At thirty eight, bringing up three young children alone and still motivated to race at the highest level, 2005 started off badly but things began to pick up for her and she was on track for this year's World cup here despite financial worries, family problems and problems getting adequate sponsorship.  She had taken on part time work as a fitness coach for some big companies back home to support her family and continue training. She attended two team training camps, (one in Mallorca at Easter with her children and here she was able to combine training with some quality family time.) She felt refreshed and in good form, but, over the next few weeks her performance mysteriously dropped off.


She now regrets not seeking the help and advice of the team doctors when she discovered that her dwindling performances were down to a low red blood cell count, determined by a blood test she had commissioned. Doubtless she was concerned to show any weakness given her perception that she was already beginning to be perceived as what she called a "rusting old car still in traffic" , and then she made the fatal error of taking alternative advice. She has not made public where she got this advice and the small doses of EPO which were intended, she says, for a two weeks only quick fix to get her back in the form she knew she needed to compete at the highest level.  But she was to be found out by an out of race test at her home and she was naturally shocked and immediately knew the consequences for her both professionally and for her family life. 


There can of course be no excuse for taking banned substances even if there is no intention to benefit from performance enhancing drugs during any actual race and there cannot be, in reality, any therapeutic use of such a substance when you are a professional athlete. In matters of cheating in sport, there are no greys only black and white.  In Brigitte's case, there are what I think are tragically mitigating circumstances, dealing with unpleasant divorce proceedings and an increasingly insecure future in particular.


I do not think for one minute that this lapse of judgement at a difficult time in her life implies that all previous achievements are now invalid and even her Gold from Sydney should be called into question. I do not believe that Brigitte ever cheated before and back at Sydney she still had financial security and an apparently stable marriage and family life.  But, it is inevitable that she has completely fallen from grace, and will be regarded as a cheat and people will naturally suspect that dope has been a previous feature of her preparation for events even though I believe that is not the case.


I take the charitable view that Brigitte is an intelligent person, actually has a degree in biochemistry, and was more than aware of the possible consequences for her were she discovered.  This was very probably a calculated risk and an act of desperation, which, in hindsight would be difficult for her to adequately explain. It was inevitable that she would have to retire from the sport as she received, as expected, the punishment of a two-year ban.  


I am not sure whether, as a private individual, here defending a friend, whether sharing my thoughts in this way will achieve anything positive, and, thinking out loud has gotten me into trouble previously. I do not know how much responsibility national teams and associations take for the health and welfare of their elite athletes, and I may be foolish in thinking that this particular athlete's personal problems required some sort of professional input sourced from that national association. Too late now of course and very probably they will wish to completely disassociate themselves from her.


Events leading up to my own divorce unhinged me for what was the most difficult, crushing year emotionally, mentally and physically. I was unable to work for six months as I suffered a near breakdown and I needed medication and counselling before I could reassess my own life and start to build a new one. But, looking back it was a turning point in my own life and I no longer look back only forwards. I so hope that Brigitte takes the time she now has but didn't have before, to reassess and build a new and happier life with her young children and can put these recent events behind her.  


johncoxon 12:45 PM - [Link] - Comments ()

john/Male/51-55. Lives in United Kingdom/Engalnd/Salford, speaks English and French. Eye color is brown. I am what my mother calls unique. I am also creative. My interests are photgraphy/local history.
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