Tour de France winner Floyd Landis and Olympic and world 100-meter champion Justin Gatlin got pulled over recently for racing under the influence of performance-enhancers.

The news may be even worse than it sounds.

Because instead of boasting about how well the system works, the authorities are too busy casting a nervous eye on the horizon. They have no idea how many more “speeders” are about to crest the hill, only that the number is likely to be more than they are prepared to handle.

The head of the international cycling federation acknowledged Sunday that he was considering calling in real cops to help police the doping in his sport.

“Of course it is sad it has come to this,” UCI president Pat McQuaid said, “but it is the way it has to be.”

The head of the U.S. Olympic Committee wondered aloud whether the army would be manpower enough.

“The cold reality is this: We are not yet winning the battle, and if we are ultimately to succeed, we must become smarter, more efficient and more effective in our efforts,” USOC chairman Peter Ueberroth said. “The status quo will not work.”

If those gloomy assessments reflect the current state of doping in cycling and track and field, just imagine what’s going on in the games that pay top dollar.

Not only do bike racers and runners take home a fraction of what big league sluggers or big-time running backs make, but both sports test athletes more often for more substances than just about any other – in and out of competition. And, the samples are analyzed in state-of-the-art labs by the best scientists money can buy.

Yet nobody in charge can say with certainty whether the vial is half empty or half full.

The fact that two of the highest-profile performers in their respective rackets got busted proves that nobody is above the law. There is no arguing with that. But since Landis and Gatlin also happen to be among the most respected and least suspected members of their professions, it begs the question: How many others are on the juice?

The credibility of every sport depends on the answer, but almost nobody accepts the notion that the number caught reflects an accurate count. Especially when names like Landis and Gatlin turn up on the blotter. Because the thinking goes that if athletes with that much ability and drive, not to mention an unassailable work ethic, can be lured into risking everything to put themselves over the top, then more than a few of the guys just trying to cash checks from week to week are doing the same.

In baseball, for example, we’ve seen pitchers, hard-throwers and soft-tossers alike, infielders, outfielders, Latinos, blacks, Caucasians and nobodies test positive for steroids alongside used-to-be-first-ballot Hall of Fame sluggers.

Someone wrote poignantly that the moment of truth for too many marginal ballplayers comes with the onset of age or the realization that they’ve maximized their talent; then it’s cheat or go home. That doesn’t make their sins easier to forgive, but because they’re role players, they are easier to forget.

When stars like Landis and Gatlin get caught, it diminishes the games, too, but in a much more insidious way. Increasingly, the performances we once regarded as magical – the way Landis rebounded from crushing defeat only a day earlier, or the way Gatlin roared past a half-dozen other sprinters and hit the tape in world-record time – are proving to be byproducts of science, based on testing to date. Ruin the biggest moments in the biggest games that way and there’s no longer any way to separate surprise from suspicion. It makes spectating an effort.

We keep talking about a return to some unspecified “good old days” as though there actually were days when big-time athletes weren’t juiced.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Competitors looking for an edge, fair or otherwise, have been around since the beginning of sport. More are being caught than ever before, but it has never felt less satisfying. All it seems to prove is that a little knowledge is too often a dangerous thing.


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