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Jul 14th, 2002, 01:11 PM
Drugs claims nothing but a slur on tennis

July 13, 2002
THIS may all be too late. We realise that. All our fine athletes are no doubt headed for Manchester already and the selection well and truly put to bed.


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But we are leaving our best gold medal chance behind. We need to rethink.

With no Cathy Freeman we won't win a thing if Thorpie catches a cold.

So we cannot afford to let red tape stand in our way. Get out the scissors and get our Jumping Johnny Mendoza over to Manchester on the next plane.

Jumping Johnny is not just in form, he is at the very peak of his career.

Hell, that was a personal best he put in for The Australian yesterday morning and he was still in his track suit.

Had he slipped off those trackie daks, we were looking at an Australian record.

How is this for a hop, step and jump. Women tennis players get to be very good, very strong and very big, so our Jumping Johnny reckons they are on steroids. If our man ever did the triple jump at altitude we are not sure he would ever come down.

Jumping Johnny competes for the Australian Sports Drug Agency, a tough little team who have their training base in Canberra.

Johnny is chief executive and now the No. 1 hop, step and jumper in Australia.

Don Talbot and Forbes Carlile used to be the best but they became complacent. Jumping Johnny needs just the hop and step to fly past that pair now.

Yesterday Jumping Johnny effectively said that Jennifer Capriati and Serena and Venus Williams use anabolic steroids.

Here is what he claimed: "Tennis is heavily under the influence of doping and they (officials) are in denial if they don't accept that."

He went on: "What Australian parent would want their daughter going into tennis? If you want to be No. 1 in the world in women's tennis, you are going to have to be abnormal in body shape."

The Williams sisters and Capriati have been the past three No. 1 women tennis players.

They are all big women. So Jumping Johnny says they must be taking drugs.

Now, that's some leap.

Give Jumping Johnny the gold.

Anybody who has any success and is not a resident of Australia would be getting used to these claims by now.

If you are Chinese, can swim the length of a pool and do a tumble-turn without drowning, this is enough evidence for most of our swim coaches to claim that you sprinkle nandrolone over your cereal.

The worst that can be said of tennis players is an apparent reluctance to undergo out-of-competition testing.

At Wimbledon, Capriati and Venus Williams said they would resist moves by the Women's Tennis Association to introduce wider testing in the near future.

You can argue that if they had nothing to hide the women should allow any testing procedures.

It is a small price to pay to ensure the integrity of a sport that is delivering these women fortune and fame.

However, it doesn't make them drug cheats if they say they are not in favour of out-of-competition testing.

And Jumping Johnny's claim is nothing but a slur.

It is one thing to argue both the men's and women's international bodies should have stricter and more vigorous drug-testing protocol.

That is a legitimate position to take. But it is grossly unfair to then say that because they don't the athletes who succeed in that sport must necessarily be riddled with steroids and cheating the system.

Jumping Johnny is not saying women's tennis might have a problem but that it does have a problem. And one that is clearly standing right in front of us.

"It is now self-evident that doping in the sport is out of control and, like the 1994 swimming in Rome where there were grotesque physiques, it is obvious that tennis has a problem it needs to deal with," he said.

If grotesque physiques are the giveaways then who is he talking about? Anna Kournikova? Barbara Schett? Martina Hingis? Or Serena Williams?

Jumping Johnny has effectively and unfairly accused every tennis player who gives the ball a decent clout of being a cheat.

He is right to say that tennis is a rich sport that demands a heavy practice and playing schedule.

Steroids would make it easier to maintain form and fitness and therefore make money. The game is hardly without temptation.

And the sport should do more out-of-competition testing if Jumping Johnny's claim that the International Tennis Federation completed only 50 such tests last year.

Tennis needs to address these issues. But it doesn't follow that, because its protocol doesn't please Jumping Johnny, all the good players are nothing but syringes with strings.

So, on reflection, we won't send Jumping Johnny to Manchester. But he can go take a jump anyway.
Patrick Smith appears on Channel Seven's Sportsworld program every Sunday.