Tuesday 16 January 2018

Catherina McKiernan: 'It's not a level playing field, lots of countries don't want to catch their own cheats'

Michael O’Reilly’s case will serve as a warning to all young athletes. Photo: Sportsfile
Michael O’Reilly’s case will serve as a warning to all young athletes. Photo: Sportsfile

Catherina McKiernan

I wasn't a bit surprised when I heard that an Irish boxer had failed a drugs test. I know that might sound terrible but the way things are gone nothing surprises me anymore.

There just always seems to be people out there willing to take a chance, it's a mind-set thing.

We still don't know yet what this Irish boxer took. Was it a social drug or a performance enhancer? Was it deliberate or is he saying it was accidental?

If he did take something deliberately I'd come back to my belief that this sort of thing is always about an individual's state of mind.

People can fool themselves into believing they're not doing anything wrong.

Ben Johnson seemed to believe it was his destiny to become Olympic champion and he was prepared to do anything to achieve it. That was his mentality and, for me, this all comes back to mind-set.

It's a sad thing to happen, especially for his family and friends. They will have to deal with all the coverage and fallout of this as well and that will be very tough on them.

I genuinely don't believe our high-performance boxing system would have a doping problem in it, particularly because we have such stringent anti-doping rules in Ireland. It looks to me like an individual doing something wrong or very stupid.

Our testing system is actually one of the toughest in the world - it's actually not a level playing field at all because our system is a lot tougher than a lot of other countries.

As an athlete in Ireland you are afraid to take anything in case you make a mistake.

When I was competing I was terrified to take anything, even when I was sick, in case I took the wrong thing.

By coincidence, when I competed in the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, I shared a room with an Irish athlete who tested positive during the Games.

Her name was Marie McMahon, she was a 5,000m runner from Clare who had been on scholarship in America.


It turned out she had taken a cough bottle or a painkiller or some medicine that she shouldn't have. It was a completely innocent mistake and she was able to prove that.

I remember she was dreadfully upset. She came in that evening and had been crying for ages and ages with the shock of it all.

But that was a very different situation from this one.

She had already competed, the test was taken out there after her competition and it was an innocent mistake.

She explained what she'd taken and it was accepted that she made a genuine error.

She wasn't sent home or anything. She stayed in the village and came home with everyone else, although she probably wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible.

But that was 20 years ago.

The whole anti-doping system is much stricter now and the bottom line is that, no matter how it got there, an athlete is responsible now for whatever is found in their system.

All Irish athletes know that by now, they've no excuse.

They have all kinds of systems and supports telling them what they can and cannot take.

You'd have to feel sympathy for his family and the people close to him though.

They'll be caught up in all this now and will have to deal with all the media coverage.

There is one good thing that can come from this.

It shows our anti-doping system is very strict and warns our younger athletes that they cannot afford to take even the slightest risk with medicines etc...

OK, it's not nice, it's a little bit of a scandal for the country, especially at such a high profile event but, for our up and coming athletes, they'll definitely know now that our testing system is very stringent.

I know they'll be competing against people who are cheating but, at the end of the day, you can only control what you're doing.

The real pity is that other countries don't want to catch their athletes the way we do.

It isn't a level playing field at all, there are lots of other countries who don't test their athletes the way we do.

I don't think this will affect the rest of the Irish team, I genuinely don't.

Most of our track and field athletes are still in a holding camp up in Uberlandia, they're not even in the village yet.

OK, it'll have given the rest of the Irish team a bit of a shock and given them something to talk about but I really don't think it will affect their performances whatsoever.

They're elite athletes, they're used to just thinking about themselves.

Most top sportspeople are focused primarily on themselves and their own performances.

I genuinely don't think the rest of the team will be bothered or affected by this.

Irish Independent

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