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Archive for June, 2009

Track the Dope

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

Former overall World Cup Champion Virpi Kuitunen (FIN) recently called for the use of embedded microchips to track the whereabouts of professional athletes for anti-doping purposes.  The idea that this could ever become mandatory is ridiculous.  The privacy issues with requiring an athlete to embed an electronic tracking device in their body are enormous – and they should be.  Talk about Big Brother.

But the idea highlights several interesting issues.  First of all, the current system does not make anyone happy.  Athletes must report their daily location and include a one hour window when they will be available for anti-doping inspections.  Every day.  Do you ever make a last-minute decision to head out of town for a few days – to visit friends, hit the mountains?  Such spontaneous endeavors become significantly more difficult if you are an elite athlete.  Sure, as Duncan Douglas points out, competing at the highest level is a privilege, not a right, but most anti-doping measures have been inflicted on the innocent because of the cheaters.  At best, clean athletes gamely endure the strict protocols, while others have come out strongly against the invasions of privacy and the restrictions on their daily lives.

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Remembering Willie Neal

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

Willie Neal, a 20-year-old biathlete from Jackon, Wyoming was killed yesterday while roller skiing in Maine.  You can read what details are currently known about the accident here.

I had the pleasure of coaching Willie during the two years I spent with the Jackson Hole Ski Club from 1999-2001.  Willie was part of the younger kids group I led two days a week, and he was already passionate about skiing, constantly asking questions and absorbing every bit of information available.  He went on to be a stand-out high-school skier, winning multiple Wyoming State Championships and turning in impressive results at Junior Nationals.  In 2007 he was selected for the J1 Scandinavian Cup Team.  Willie spent a season training with the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation Olympic Development Team and, along with his brother Elliot, recently moved to Maine to join the Maine Winter Sports Center, switching focus to biathlon.  He had deferred his acceptance to Middlebury for a year as he pursued a spot on the team for the the World Junior Biathlon Championships.

Willie’s on-snow accomplishments were matched by his non-athletic achievements.  Last November he served as a Wyoming delegate to the Democratic National Convention and had spent time interning for Senator John Kerry in Washington.

He also started his own non-profit, Cookies 4 Climate Change, an organization dedicated to educating and mobilizing young people in the fight against global climate change.

I spoke to Willie several times over the past few years, running into him at various ski events, and we discussed the possibility of him doing some work for FasterSkier on an evironmental awareness section.  I was impressed by his maturity, his commitment to his causes and to his sport, and the genuine joy he took from both.

His death is a true tragedy, a loss to the ski community and the much larger global community.  Willie had already begun to make his mark – I have no doubt that everywhere he has been and the people he has touched, are now the better for it.  Our thoughts are with his family, friends and teammates, during this devastating time.

Please feel free to use the comment section for additional remembrances of Willie.

Finally, it is worth noting that this is a reminder of how dangerous sport can be, especially roller skiing.  Even when all reasonable safety precautions are taken, significant risk remains.  Please be careful, especially when training on roads.