Athlete's 'Nope To Dope' Became 'No To Sports' In the 1980s, Katherine Hamilton was a track star with big dreams. A heptathlete attending college on a full-ride athletic scholarship, she was training hard without steroids but "watching everybody else go forward, year after year after year." As performance-enhancing drugs took over her sport, she decided to sign away her scholarship and leave school.
NPR logo

Athlete's 'Nope To Dope' Became 'No To Sports'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/129533093/129537158" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Athlete's 'Nope To Dope' Became 'No To Sports'

Athlete's 'Nope To Dope' Became 'No To Sports'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/129533093/129537158" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

Retired pitching great Roger Clemens showed up in federal court today. He entered a plea of not guilty to charges of lying to Congress about his use of performance-enhancing drugs. Perhaps the most startling thing about Clemens' day in court is that it's not all that startling. Drugs have become a constant in sports. A parade of star athletes has had to answer similar charges - from Clemens to former Olympic star Marion Jones.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

BLOCK: I want you to know that I have been dishonest, and you have the right to be angry with me.

SIEGEL: And NPR's Tom Goldman only had to go as far as his radio to find it.

TOM GOLDMAN: Sometimes, the story comes to you.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

NEAL CONAN, Host:

And let's get a caller on the line. This is Katherine. Katherine is calling us from California.

BLOCK: Hi...

CONAN: Hi.

BLOCK: ...in Larkspur.

CONAN: In Larkspur. Go ahead, please.

BLOCK: I have a...

GOLDMAN: Katherine, from Larkspur, called into NPR's TALK OF THE NATION nearly three years ago. The show was about doping. It was a few days after Marion Jones' public admission.

BLOCK: It just so happened, I guess I was the first caller - I think because I was so hot.

GOLDMAN: Katherine didn't want to hear any more about famous athletes who dope and get caught. That, she said, was missing a bigger point.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

BLOCK: There is an untold story about all the thousands - literally - athletes, men and women, who make a conscious decision - that are really great athletes, doing the right thing, working really hard. And they just drop out because they're just not willing to do the things to your body, and to go down that road.

GOLDMAN: In other words, athletes who don't just say no to drugs, but no to sport. Athletes like Katherine.

BLOCK: My name is Katherine Hamilton. I just turned 49.

GOLDMAN: Since the phone call, Katherine Hamilton moved from Larkspur to Moraga, a small town east of Oakland. When I finally visited her this summer, she pulled out a framed collection of her sports photos. They'd been sitting in the closet.

BLOCK: That's me approaching the high jump; that's me actually jumping 5'10".

GOLDMAN: Next to the photos, a plaque and a ribbon honor Katherine Hamilton as the 1979 Junior National High Jump Champion. Hamilton used to watch the Olympics on black-and-white TV, and she remembers that tantalizing feeling of athletic promise.

BLOCK: When I won nationals, there was a glimpse of oh, my God, maybe this is not just something that I could just dream. Maybe this could actually happen.

GOLDMAN: Hamilton got a four-year scholarship to U.C. Berkeley as a heptathlete - the first-ever track and field full ride at Cal for a woman. But the hope and promise she felt going in faded. Hamilton discovered her sport at the collegiate level was more of a business, and that included drugs. It would be another decade before track and field had out-of-competition testing - the only way, anti-doping experts agree, to control banned drug use. Which meant in 1980, little - if any - control.

BLOCK: I became involved in a larger community where everybody knew that this is what you do.

GOLDMAN: Hamilton started to recognize the athletes on steroids and those not.

BLOCK: They're softer. They're not as cut. They can't last as long in training.

GOLDMAN: It went beyond her immediate world.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV BROADCAST)

U: Steroids brought athletic glory to East Germany during the Cold War.

BLOCK: You start looking at pictures of what your competition would be if you were on the world stage. And it's like, hmm.

GOLDMAN: And it was close to home. At Cal, Hamilton lived with a man, a track-and-field athlete, who she says took anabolic steroids in her presence. Hamilton decided she wouldn't be part of it. And then, she went a step further.

BLOCK: I was not willing, at that point, to settle for being 20th and 30th working my ass off, with no steroids, and watching everybody else go forward year after year after year.

GOLDMAN: Did you react this way then?

BLOCK: No.

GOLDMAN: Why do you react that way now?

(SOUNDBITE OF CRYING)

BLOCK: Because I'm thinking of myself at that age. I kind of feel sorry for that person. I feel badly for that person, to have to have made that decision so young.

BLOCK: I think with Katherine, she really felt that she got robbed even before the prime of her life.

GOLDMAN: It's fitting that Gale Grover is sitting on the couch next to Hamilton. For 30 years, their lives have been woven together as best friends. They met at Cal - Hamilton, a hyper heptathlete; Grover, a no- nonsense discus thrower. But after Hamilton turned away from sport, Grover kept going. She almost made the 1984 U.S. Olympic team, and then she moved to Canada, where she became national champion. From afar, Katherine Hamilton watched her friend succeed without drugs.

BLOCK: We made a pact. Actually, you and I had a lot - we would never do that. We had these pacts that it doesn't matter how bad it gets, we're not going down that road.

GOLDMAN: The conversations with Grover were Hamilton's only connection to sport. Hamilton had, in her words, cut herself off from her body. She started smoking. She ballooned to 185 pounds on a 5-foot-8 frame. She married, had a son, got divorced, launched a career in health care.

BLOCK: women from Cuba, the Soviet Union, East Germany. And she saw the ceiling.

BLOCK: That's when it really hit me. It was like, there is no way I will ever be able to win a medal in this event, maybe not even place top six, you know, at the Olympics unless I decide to make that choice. And I was just, there was no way I was going to do it.

GOLDMAN: Hamilton missed out, but she isn't tortured by regret. There was no guarantee of success even if she took banned drugs. And with doping an even more daunting issue today...

BLOCK: I'm even more resolved that I made the right decision.

GOLDMAN: Turns out, though, these two former athletes are not quite done.

BLOCK: Still cold enough to pull something.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: Words to live by.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GOLDMAN: Hamilton started bike racing four years ago. She lost a lot of weight, and rediscovered the competitive woman within. But long jump and high jump? She hadn't done that for 30 years.

(SOUNDBITE OF 2010 USA MASTERS OUTDOOR TRACK FIELD CHAMPIONSHIPS)

U: All right. The next long jump will be W-40 and W-45 combined. Gina Lanier, Kim Freetly, Katherine Hamilton.

GOLDMAN: Tom Goldman, NPR News.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.