Snowboarders Bummed Over New Drug Test Rules

Ever since the Michael Phelps incident there has been a lot of debate over whether or not we actually should care if athletes smoke pot occasionally. After all, it’s not exactly a performance enhancing drug, and the evidence that occasional use actually hinders anyone’s ability to achieve at a high level is spotty at best. But Phelps has brought it into the spotlight, and there will probably be increasing attention paid to athletes who choose to fire one up every once in a while.

Shaun White

(You really think this guy isn’t stoned all the time?)

Nowhere is a perceived crackdown on this more noteworthy than in the world of snowboarding, where it’s often assumed that the competitors are just high all the time. With the Olympics coming up next February, drug testing has begun, and it’s not exactly something that fits into their laid-back culture. After all the first gold medalist in Olympic snowboarding tested positive for pot the next day. Although, with the rules involved in testing, I’m not sure it fits into any culture, but you can judge for yourself if the demands are worth it.

The L.A. TIMES says that new regulations about random testing are extremely stringent, which doesn’t play into the do-anything-when-I-want-to attitude that pervades extreme winter sports:

And many snowboarders say the most recent set of drug-testing regulations for aspiring Olympians — in which athletes must provide daily schedules for three-month periods at least 12 months before the start of the Olympics — are an extension of an organization that is simply exerting too much control over their lifestyles. Those schedules must provide precise whereabouts for 60 minutes each day.

To be sure, the drug-testing protocol applies to all potential Olympic athletes, not just snowboarders. But other athletes, like Alpine skiers, are accustomed to being tested regularly because they compete in sanctioned events such as the World Cup and world championships. They’ve also long adhered to rigid training schedules.

Most snowboarders keep loose schedules and compete primarily in endemic events and high-profile contests such as the Winter X Games and the Dew Winter Tour, which concludes this weekend near Lake Tahoe. There is no drug testing at those events. The adjustment, understandably, isn’t going smoothly.

The concern is less about being able to blaze up when they want to and more that they don’t know where they’re going to be at any given time over the next few months.  Telling the IOC where you’re going to be specifically for an hour on May 11th isn’t as easy as it sounds for anyone, let alone a snowboarder who might leave one mountain for another on a moment’s notice for better conditions.

And while marijuana is something that boarders can only get in trouble for if they’re caught using it during a sanctioned competition, the whole thing is still freaking some competitors out:

“When I leave Aspen on Monday and I go home, they know that,” Mason Aguirre says. “And that kind of sketches me out.”

Whoa. So what to make of all of this. Are we being denied the chance to watch better snowboarding if they weren’t all walking around in a haze all the time? The WASHINGTON TIMES is trying to figure that out:

Numerous medical studies have shown that marijuana can impact a person’s hand-eye coordination and the ability to concentrate and maintain attention. And a 2007 study from the Yale School of Medicine showed that long-term marijuana users can suffer the same debilitating lung problems as those who smoke cigarettes over a long period of time.

But it’s less clear what that means for a young athlete who smokes marijuana occasionally during breaks in training. While doctors and trainers contend the short-term effects can be problematic, they acknowledge that some marijuana users claim the drug helps them deal with anxiety, stress and depression.

While all of this makes sense, the side effects relating to concentration and coordination generally only apply to people who are heavy users (although, that could be the case with many extreme athletes). If anything, the TIMES notes, pot has become almost more popular than alcohol for athletes because of the shorter recovery time:

“From my experience, these people scrupulously abstain from alcohol and scrupulously abstain from tobacco because they know it will interfere with their weightlifting or overall athletic performance,” Pope said. “The impression I get was that they fell back on marijuana because it was an intoxicant that they could use without having as much of an effect on their performance as the two legal intoxicants, alcohol or tobacco.” 

So, does all of this really matter? One thing lost in all of the coverage of pot-smoking athletes is the fact that this sort of thing is probably more acceptable in youth culture today than perhaps any time in the past — the hippie era included. So why do we keep pretending to be outraged over something that millions of people are doing in this country on a daily basis?