Cheating in Fitness: Ricky Garard, Honesty and Tall Tales

A unicorn with the words "warning: meat may contain endurobol."

Here’s my No. 1 takeaway from the four-year Ricky Garard saga:

Athletes aren’t always truthful.

I bring it up only for those who tend to jump to the defense of athletes who offer creative excuses when drug testing indicates use of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs).

I’m not saying every athlete is guilty—or innocent. But for hardcore members of the “they’d-never-cheat crowd,” I’m just pointing out the fact that adamant denials and creative explanations aren’t always legitimate.

Here you go:

Ricky Garard, 2017, on Instagram: “I looked into ways that could improve my performance legally & within the rules, with no intention whatsoever to be a cheat.”

Ricky Garard, 2021, responding to Chase Ingraham’s direct question “did you knowingly take those PEDs?”: “Yes.”

A head shot of writer Mike Warkentin and the column name "Pressing It Out."

Whenever an athlete tests positive for banned substances in any sport, I always look forward to the explanations. Some of them are standard and kind of boring: “My supplements were tainted and I didn’t realize it.”

Others show truly legendary creativity. Sprinter Dennis Mitchell said lots of beer and sex caused his testosterone to spike and triggered a failed drug test. Runner Fatima Yvelain said medical waste splashed up onto her from rainwater and caused a failed test.

Cyclist Lance Armstrong? He chose to go to war. He denied years of accusations and actually sued those who came after him. Then he later admitted to cheating.

And so on.

Cheating just isn’t all that rare. In fact, it’s so common that some countries help their athletes do it. (I’d bet money that Russia isn’t alone in this.) Cheating happens at very high levels, and it also happens at low levels, when the prizes are a bit of local status, a jug of protein powder and a $20 gift certificate for massage therapy.

The point is that athletes are not beyond reproach. They’re human, they’re tempted with shortcuts, and some of them choose to break the rules.

And yet a lot of people are so very quick to accept any explanation for a failed test. Perhaps it’s our tendency to see the best in people, or perhaps we just don’t want to watch our heroes fall. I get it. I remember the feeling of disbelief and sadness when sprinter Ben Johnson was busted in 1988.

People should, of course, be considered innocent until proven guilty. But, given the rich history of cheating in sports, it just seems a little naïve to accept everything athletes say at face value. This isn’t “The Crucible,” and we don’t need to instantly cancel anyone accused of cheating. But we also don’t need to swallow every hook without taking a few minutes to think and ask questions.

A few years back, testing revealed a Canadian amateur weightlifter was using Dianabol. Instead of crafting a web of lies, he simply admitted using it, decided not to have a hearing and accepted the penalty. Then he went on with his life. I really liked that approach. It felt like a great step to regaining one’s honor. Cheating and then lying about it for years seems more like pushing an evil snowball uphill: It’s going to roll backward and crush you at some point.

I’m really glad Ricky Garard finally came clean. It was a good way to bring that part of his story to a close. And I hope it inspires others to drop their charades, admit what they’ve done and move on.

But for those who choose to lie, I’ll just say I enjoy creative explanations way more than simple ones. The more complicated, the better as far as I’m concerned. If you’re going to try and fleece us, please go big and tell a ripping good story we can all enjoy.

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