The debate as to how and if cannabis has any effect on athletic performance is old and on-going. Not that the average stoner would likely associate the two – weed not being the kind of thing that usually makes you want to hit the gym. Still, it’s considered the kind of substance that’s dodgy enough to be banned by those in charge of the biggest sporting events and leagues worldwide. If you’re caught smoking pot – even when there’s nothing going on at the time sports-wise – you risk having them tear you a new one.
Why is this all relevant right now?
Well, given the fact that the Olympics are wrapping up in Rio, it’s very relevant. Not only this, but in the case of Michael Phelps, who after breaking all records ever held for Olympic medals won announced his retirement, once had his own brush with pot and the consequences of apparently overstepping the mark.
If you cast your mind back to 2009, you might just remember the global tabloids going crazy when there was really nothing to go crazy about. If you need your memory refreshed, the long and short of it was that Michael Phelps – already a record-breaking Olympian at the time – was caught on camera indulging in a bong rip. The image made it to the press, presumably somebody made a hell of a lot of money for it and Phelps found himself in deep s**t.
First of all, the offense was deemed severe enough for him to be suspended from professional competition for three months. The decision was made as a means by which to show that world that this kind of behaviour would not be tolerated. Not only this, but he also lost a massive sponsorship deal he’d held with Kellogg for a while, which was worth an undisclosed though clearly huge sum of money. Not that the money was the issue – it was all about making a statement.
“Michael’s most recent behaviour is not consistent with the image of Kellogg,” Susanne Norwitz, a spokeswoman for the company, said in a statement.
As for USA swimming, they decided it was better to reprimand Phelps publicly, in order to show everyone that doing pot when you’re supposed to be an athlete is bad. This, despite the fact that he was a young guy in the prime of his life in peak fitness and won a massive 8 medals at the Olympic games in Beijing. They stopped paying him the $1,750 per month he was receiving from them during his three-month break, which again was more of a statement than of any financial relevance.
“We decided to send a strong message to Michael because he disappointed so many people, particularly the hundreds of thousands of USA Swimming member kids who look up to him as a role model and hero,” the organisation said in a statement.
As for what Phelps himself had to say about it all, he obviously has little choice but to go with the consensus and pretend what he’d done really was a big deal. He released a statement through his agent, confirming his deep regret and hoped he could make up for all he’d done.
“He feels bad he let anyone down,” the statement said. “He’s also encouraged by the thousands of comments he’s received from his fans and the support from his many sponsors. He intends to work hard to regain everyone’s trust.”
So here we are now in 2016 and not only is Phelps a success, he’s the single most successful Olympian in history. He announced he would be retiring following the close of the 2016 Olympics, emphasising how much he was looking forward to spending more time with his fiancée and baby boy.
“There’s nothing like being back home!!” he wrote alongside a very cute Twitter post. “Great way to spend my first day in retirement!!”
After finishing his fifth Olympics and bringing up his medal total to 28 (making his personal total higher than 90 countries), the 31-year-old told PEOPLE, “It’s time for me to start the next chapter of my life.”
“I have a beautiful fiancée, a beautiful baby boy [whom] I want to spend as much time with as I can,” he added. “I’ve been able to accomplish everything I could ever dream of [with professional swimming], and it’s time to move on.”
So given what’s been happening over the past few years, what does this tell us about the whole debate regarding cannabis and sports?
It’s simple – a bong rip here and there isn’t going to slow you down. In fact, it’s not even going to stop you winning gold medals…or becoming the most successful Olympian in history. It tells us that things are blown out of proportion just for the sake of it and while these statements and actions are taken with the best interests of the public at heart…apparently…they’re misguided at best.
The simple fact of the matter is that there’s already so much scientific evidence that cannabis doesn’t mess you up long term or short term, it’s nonsensical to keep pretending it does. Seriously – what is anyone gaining out of the charade? It’s just holding things back in an age where it’s supposed to be all about forward movement! Still, it takes more than scientific fact to convince those that cannot be convinced – even if it’s backed with the kinds of evidence that’s right there in front of you.
One of Many
Here’s something those on the critical side of the fence might find hard to swallow – Phelps isn’t even close to being the only medal winner to smoke pot. In fact, some of the most famous and successful Olympic athletes in history are known to be pot smokers – their habits in no way getting in the way of their achievements or stopping them from becoming icons.
So first there’s Phelps, who despite only being caught once with a bong in his hands back in 2009 was treated as if he’d been busted with the world’s biggest pot plantation in his back yard. This was just three months after he’d taken home a record haul of 8 medals from the Beijing Olympics – didn’t he deserve a break, even after all that? Of course he did, and despite hitting the bong, he still went on to break all the records ever held by anyone ever in the history of the Olympics! So will pot make you a failure? A loser? Unhealthy? Yeah right – just ask this guy!
That’s right – the fastest man that has ever set foot on the planet also readily admits that he used to smoke a lot of pot as a youngster. He grew up in Jamaica, so it’s hardly a big surprise, but he’s been pretty canny about not mentioning anything about smoking pot as an adult. Not only this, but if he’s still smoking, he’s doing a good job keeping it under wraps and away from the cameras. After all, he’s got the kinds of sponsorship deals that might well make Phelps himself envious – not the kind to be put at risk for a toke or two!
He might not be a household name quite like the previous two, but this championship snowboarder nonetheless managed to pick up a gold medal in 1998, despite testing positive for THC in his system. Clearly smoking pot didn’t turn him into the mumbling vegetable the critical masses seem to suggest it will if the rest of us give it a try.
Nicholas Delpopolo maintains to this day that he was spiked. He was banned from competing at the London Olympics in 2012 after testing positive for a relatively strong dose of THC in his system. Which is very plausible, given the way in which pot isn’t the kind of thing that would normally give the kind of aggression and primed reflexes to compete in a judo competition. Still, the evidence seemed to be stacked overwhelmingly against him, despite his on-going plea that he was given a cannabis edible without realising it. Not really sure what to make of this one, but can you seriously imagine trying your hand at judo after a blunt? No – neither can we!
Last but not least, Jamie Anderson took home the slopestyle gold in 2014 at the Winter Olympics and while she didn’t test positive for cannabis or anything else, she gave more than a few subtle hints to the press that she was partial to a toke or two. It’s pretty obvious to anyone that there’s a rather strong link between the snowboarding community and pot, so it’s not like she wasn’t telling us anything we didn’t already know.
You listening, critics? Pot smokers win medals too…so there!