Marijuana Is Career Poison for Olympic Athletes Who Are Not Named Michael Phelps
Judo practitioner Nicholas Delpopolo is no Michael Phelps. Nor is wrestler Stephany Lee. However, both of Phelps' once-and-former fellow members of Team USA have something in common, aside from residence on the Olympic Village: They've all used marijuana.
Of course, Phelps did not test positive for pot prior -- or following -- his feats in the pool. Delpopolo turned up marijuana-positive on July 30, the day he finished seventh in judo, and Lee tested dirty in April, costing her the trip to London.
And also of course, nothing would have happened had any of these athletes turned up for a drug test blind drunk.
The World Anti-Doping Agency still confusingly and unscientifically classifies marijuana as a performance-enhancing drug, which means the International Olympic Committee declares it hands-off for all athletes.
Watching Delpopolo's summary dismissal from the team and from the Olympic Village, Lee understandingly called bullshit, telling USA Today on Monday that "50 Olympic athletes" use pot and the policy is stupid. In return, the United States Olympic Committee said it fully supports the ban -- and promised to "follow up with [Lee] about her comments."
Lee's revelations are hardly revolutionary. It's easy to list elite athletes who have been busted using or admitted to using marijuana: Giants pitcher and Cy Young Award-winner Tim Lincecum, Heisman Trophy-winner Ricky Williams, and certified bad-ass NBA big man Charles Oakley.
What is revolutionary is Lee's candor. As anyone who has ever covered sports from the press box knows, openness is an athlete replying in multiple syllables; an athlete replying to questions in original, multiple-sentence thoughts is downright rare. For someone to slam a governing body and describe widespread pot use -- why, this is Jim McMahon status.
Lee told reporters that she'd figured out how to game the system well enough to pee clean 16 times following a positive test in 2009. Her main regret was not quitting the drug in time, she said.
That Phelps can use pot and perform at the highest level is further proof of a double standard, she added, rightly observing that an athlete can step onto a mat or into a pool drunk and not face any sanctions, aside from international embarrassment.
"We party just as hard as we train, especially when it's over," she said, conjuring up images of quite the enjoyable Olympic Village. "People are going to do what they are going to do regardless. Just because there is a test on it doesn't mean people are going to stop it. It just means they will change how they are using it and their consumption of it. I'm pretty sure that if athletes were to all party together -- who wouldn't, you know?"
Delpopolo's explanation was a bit more confusing. The Massachusetts-based judoka said he'd unexpectedly consumed cannabis in a batch of food he didn't know contained the drug. Sure, and we thought this bacon was vegan-friendly.
The USOC's choice to support the IOC is likewise unsurprising. Professional sports leagues across the world are beginning to openly question the wisdom of WADA's policy, but it's hardly politic for the USOC to inject itself into the drug war and piss off the IOC in the middle of a Games.
How hard the USOC chooses to crack down on Lee, however, will be an indicator of how ludicrous things can get. Lee is also, Bay Area readers may be interested to know, an out lesbian -- and married, no less.
WADA, as SF Weekly reported in May, won't revisit its banned substance list until fall of 2013. That means Lee, Depopolo and others may be free to do use marijuana in 2016 -- if USOC allows them to stay on the team, that is.
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