Isolation - Martin Fagan Doping Reaction



Perhaps somewhat fittingly, it has only been a few weeks since I finished the eye-opening “Rough Ride” by Paul Kimmage, an Irish teammate of Stephen Roche and Sean Kelly during the heyday of Irish cycling back in the early to mid-80s. It is a chronicle of blood, sweat and gear. Paul Kimmage has since become ostracised from the cycling fraternity for breaking rank in revealing general practice within the then peloton. He has since been one of Lance Armstrong’s strongest critics in the ongoing saga over the Texan’s incredible, and equally controversial, exploits in the Tour.

In the wake of Martin Fagan’s failed EPO test and abrupt admittance of guilt, it’s probably surprising that I won’t make the obvious comparison to the supercharged Irish domestiques in the peloton of yesteryear. This appears to be an entirely different story. One is about the ease in which a fresh faced athlete can be drawn into a peer group over time, the other a cry for help from an athlete facing down the barrel. Despite sharing a love for their respective sport, frustration at endless counts of ‘close but no cigar’ and struggling to make ends meet, comparison is almost fatuous.

Football has recently been confronted with the reality of its battle with mental illness. Robert Enke’s and Gary Speed’s death both closely linked to the condition, as well as other high profile sufferers such as Stan Collymore and most recently, Dean Windass. Track and field has so far seemingly not been affected, but Martin Fagan has shown that support networks need to be instilled in our sport too. Leaving the comfort of the NCAA to the gun-fight of professional sports is something that needs closer attention.

Drug cheats of the past have done it to win, or in many cases just to compete. This is not a case of sporting gain. Such was the process of procurement and self-administration, it would suggest he never had any intention of long-term ducking and diving. A cry for help was all it was. But, there’s always a but, or two. He did. Regardless of his motive, he crossed that invisible line and danced to the wrong tune. It’s a desperately sad situation, but Martin Fagan pre-2012 will be forever clouded and tainted by the Martin Fagan of now. We can only take his word as the truth in lieu of other mitigating evidence. He has confessed to a single injection, a one-off, a momentary glitch in his psyche. As long as this was the extent of it, and it was pure coincidence the testers nabbed him on this day, it is hard not to feel sympathy towards him.

I have never met Martin Fagan personally but all mutual friends have nothing but good things to say about him and that such an act would have been incongruent with his beliefs. He had a successful collegiate career and the chance to compete post-collegiately as a professional, albeit I use that word very loosely as it is far from a desirable existence at times. Many of us would sacrifice a lot to have matched this resumé. But still, it wasn’t enough.

Such are the surrounding circumstances, his agent, Providence coach Ray Treacy, and coach, former NCAA XC Champion while at Providence, Keith Kelly, are probably less shamed by the revelation and the stigmatisation of being associated with a ‘cheat’, but rather the welfare of their athlete and friend. Martin Fagan the person is more important than Martin Fagan the athlete.

Adorned somewhat ironically across his chest by the lyrics of one of the most troubled wordsmiths of his generation, Joy Division’s Ian Curtis, it is not love that tore him apart, but desperation to fulfil a dream, a dream that ultimately became too much.

We wish Martin Fagan the best in his recovery. May lessons be learnt from this all.

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