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The Stupid Reason Our Second-Best Wrestler Represents Team USA at the London Olympics

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Today our guest on The Russ Belville Show is Stephany Lee, the U.S. female 72kg champion wrestler who defeated No. 1 seed Ali Bernard 2-0 at the Olympic Trials in Iowa. So why is Ali Bernard representing Team USA in London at the Olympics, and not Stephany Lee?

Our producer Kaliko Castille explains in a piece cross-posted with permission from National Cannabis Coalition. You can hear my live interview with Stephany Lee at 3:30pm Pacific Time today at NCR420.com, or catch the replay at my blog, RadicalRuss.com. -- "R"R

The airwaves are becoming saturated with stories of Olympic hopefuls preparing to compete on the world's biggest stage, for the chance to be named the best in their sport.

In my hometown of Milwaukie, Oregon we are ecstatic about my fellow Milwaukie Mustang, Kelsey Campbell competing for the gold medal in the Women's Wrestling 59 kg weight class. Kelsey started wrestling her senior year at MHS on a bet that she couldn't last two weeks, and ended up going on to Arizona State as their first female wrestler ever. After winning several national titles, she went on to upset top-seeded Helen Maroulis in the 2012 Iowa City trials for a spot on Team USA.

I'm ecstatic for Kelsey for her amazing accomplishment. I know it is a product of years of dedication and perseverance to be able to call herself an Olympian. Despite being considered the underdog in Iowa, she left it all on the mat and proved herself to be the best female wrestler in the nation at 59 kg. She proved she was the best by beating the best.

In order for Team USA to stay atop the medal count in the London games we must showcase the best athletes the United States has to offer. So why is it that we are sending our second best competitor in the women's 72 kg weight class?

Allow me to explain. On June 28, the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) handed down a one year suspension for Olympic hopeful Stephany Lee. Lee had earned her place on Team USA at the May trials in Iowa City, by destroying top seeded Ali Bernard, who will now replace her in the London games. According to the USADA, Lee tested positive for THC metabolites on April 21st, while in Iowa competing at the Olympic trials. For her part, Stephany has owned up to using cannabis, saying she is a medical marijuana patient in Colorado, but that she thought she had abstained long enough prior to competition to not test positive.

In my completely unprofessional opinion, THC should not be a banned substance in the first place. According to the USADA's website:

Typically, a substance or method will be considered for the WADA Prohibited List if the substance or method meets any two of the following three criteria:

  • It has the potential to enhance or enhances sport performance

  • It represents an actual or potential health risk to the athlete

  • It violates the spirit of sport
  • Let's address these three points. First off, if marijuana were legal we could commission studies; but so far there is no evidence that THC enhances sport performance. Secondly, cannabis has never killed anyone in 7000 years of use, leading Judge Francis Young to rule that,  "Marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man". It is certainly safer than alcohol, which kills tens of thousands of people each year (yet still proudly sponsors Team USA). In fact, Jordan Burroughs one of Team USA's hot-shot male wrestlers is one of four American athletes singled out for a sponsorship by Budweiser. Lastly, using marijuana in an athlete's down time in no way violates the spirit of sport, which the USADA defines as, "respect for one's competitor and respect for the fundamental fairness of competition". It is for these reasons that the USADA should remove THC from its list of banned substances before the next Olympics.

    This isn't the first time that marijuana has caused an Olympian some troubles. Ross Rebagliati, the first Olympic snowboarding gold medalist was stripped of his medal for a while, after testing positive for THC. Plus, who could forget after all his glory in Beijing, Michael Phelps' infamous photo of him hitting the bong like a champ? Let's face it, even our best and most famous athletes like getting high; which is okay with the USADA, as long as it is with alcohol. In a recent ESPN story about the exclusive partying that goes on in Olympic Village, women's soccer star Hope Solo remarked, "Athletes are extremists...When they're training, it's laser focus. When they go out for a drink, it's 20 drinks".

    In response, some might say that athletes only drink during their off time; after they've competed. Considering these athletes have worked their entire lives for the honor, it is probably a safe assumption. It is worth noting though, that according to the World Anti-Doping Code, participants could compete legally drunk (too impaired to drive). The anti-doping code states that alcohol is prohibited "in-competition only"; meaning that they only test before an event. However, not only can an athlete drink in season, they could literally stumble out to the starting blocks hammered. Only six sports actually prohibit being too drunk while competing: Aeronautic, Archery, Automobile, Karate, Motorcycling, and Powerboating. These sports even have a threshold of 0.10 BAC, slightly higher than the legal limit to drive where I'm from.

    If alcohol is directly responsible for tens of thousands of deaths in the U.S. per year, and we'd allow our athletes to perform drunk (or at least celebrate with alcohol), why can't Stephany Lee smoke a joint to relax after beasting on her competition? This inane double standard has cost one Olympic hopeful her hopes of competing in London, hopefully it won't cost Team USA the gold. I wish Ali Bernard, Kelsey Campbell, and the rest of the American athletes the best of luck in London. Obviously, they have nothing to do with USADA policies, and are put in an awkward place; between supporting their friend and teammate, and steering clear of controversy.

    This is why I have a simple two-part take away: 1) Talent should speak for itself. As long as someone is not trying to get the upper hand, the best should represent the us. 2) We've got to implore upon the United States Anti Doping Agency* that marijuana is safer than alcohol, and that they should "Let Team USA smoke!"

    *It sure would help if the United States Congress would lead the way.

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