OLYMPICS/SPECIAL

Stealing the Spotlight

Susan McClelland October 2 2000
OLYMPICS/SPECIAL

Stealing the Spotlight

Susan McClelland October 2 2000

Stealing the Spotlight

OLYMPICS/SPECIAL

Susan McClelland

Eric Lamaze walks into his Toronto lawyer’s boardroom looking suntanned and refreshed. Amidst the onslaught of probing questions on his drug use and expulsion from the Canadian Olympic equestrian team, the 32-year-old rider speaks calmly—even as he rocks nervously in a chair. He never once admits he is at fault; he merely says “it’s time to move on.” He is trying. Two days later, he competed again, not on the world stage but in the relative obscurity of the Tournament of Champions in Cedar Valley, Ont., an event that raises funds for the Children’s Wish Foundation of Canada. “I cannot think of a better way to begin my new life than to raise money for children with dreams,”

Lamaze said, adding: “Only time and me proving myself will heal things.”

The pseudoephedrine came from an Advil cold and sinus remedy; taking it—inadvertendy—would only have resulted in a warning to Lamaze. The final % straw was the ephedrine, which the rider suspected had come from a diet suppleI ment he had been taking for five years. I When the manufacturers of Ultra Diet I Pep confirmed they had added ephedrine to the product without noting it on the label, the control board lifted its ban on Aug. 24. The board, however, also requested that Lamaze be tested again to ensure that he had not used any other banned substances. He had: on Aug. 29, Lamaze tested positive for cocaine, which he said had been passed to him at a party in the form of a cigarette. The board slapped him with another lifetime ban.

Lamaze has a long way to go to change the negative public perception of him: a two-time loser who, having been kicked off the team for cocaine use before the Atlanta Olympics, did it all again just before Sydney. But Lamaze’s case is more complicated than that, both in its disputed details and the ethical debate it set off. The final call fell to the Canadian Olympic Association, which excluded him from the Games even after an independent arbitrator had rescinded his lifetime ban from the sport. The key is Section 6.05 of the COA agreement that Lamaze, like all Olympians, had signed—promising not to use illegal chugs. “There clearly was a violation,” said COA president Bill Warren in Sydney.

The decision came as a relief to many members and officials of the Canadian team, which still labours under the cloud of the Ben Johnson steroid scandal a dozen years ago. Lamaze, said women’s swimming coach Dave Johnson, “obviously has some very big problems and he needs to stay home and get them sorted out.” Andrew Pipe, chairman of the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport, added: “The system worked exacdy as intended.”

That’s not the way Lamaze’s lawyer, Tim Danson, sees it. Danson charges that the real blame lies with Pipe’s centre for ethics, which administers the doping-control program. “Their refusal to accept any responsibility for their unforgivable

The Eric Lamaze sideshow sets off an ethical debate over banned drugs

mistakes is shameful,” said Danson. The case dates back to July 22, when Lamaze tested positive for ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, banned stimulants under the Canadian doping control regulations. Since it was the rider’s second violation—the first was for the cocaine use in 1996—the penalty was a lifetime ban from all sanctioned equestrian competitions.

Danson immediately filed an appeal. He claimed the lifetime ban for ephedrine and pseudoephedrine should never have occurred, and that only because of it did Lamaze take cocaine. And technically, argued Danson, Lamaze used cocaine at a time when, because of the ban, he was not accountable to either the COA or the centre for ethics. Danson also noted his client’s troubled family history— his mother was a cocaine addict and dealer—and his history of depression. The arguments proved persuasive to Ed Ratushny, the University of Ottawa law professor who heard the appeal—and reversed the ban.

But that was not enough to convince the COA to put Lamaze back in the saddle in Sydney. Nor did it lay the matter to rest: Danson, who has been in contact with Toronto MP Dennis Mills, chairman of the House of Commons committee on sport, called for a full public inquiry into the centre for ethics’ handling of the case. No matter what happens next in the Lamaze saga, though, it had already turned into yet another drugs-in-sport sideshow—and stolen some of the spodight from the sports themselves.

Susan McClelland in Toronto with Andrew Phillips in Sydney