Author : Paul Starkey

The athlete sat before me took a while to speak. At first he just sobbed. It’s a common enough reaction; I see it in many of those referred to me. A combination of fear and guilt, with a spoonful of self loathing mixed in. As was often the case he started explaining with little preamble.

‘I used to be fast, you know?’ he said, wide eyed, on the verge of hysteria. ‘Won my first medal when I was just ten. I won gold at the under fourteens, under fifteens…won silver in the Commonwealth Games when I was nineteen. Everyone said I was going to win gold at the Olympics next time around.’

I said nothing, just sat behind my desk, nodding empathetically. I didn’t ask him what’d gone wrong. In all honesty I didn’t care. Maybe he hadn’t trained hard enough, maybe it was drugs. Probably it was just fate. He simply wasn’t quick enough anymore.

‘The final Olympic trials are in six months.’ He smiled sadly. ‘I’m not going to get through; I’ve barely scraped through the preliminaries. All I ever wanted was to win gold, but if I don’t make it to Miami this time…I’m not getting any younger, this is my…my…’ He started crying again, burying his face in his hands.

I gave him time. Eventually he wiped his tears away and looked up with a new found determination in his eyes. Now we could get down to business.

‘Gary said you could help me, Doc. That you could get me to Miami.’

‘I can,’ I said. ‘But you understand the risks, yes?’ he nodded. ‘You also understand that you might not make it to Miami. You might have to wait four years, until Tripoli. Is that acceptable?’

He nodded. ‘I realise there’ll be adaptations I need to make, to my running style and all.’

Before we did anything else we discussed money. He’d brought the full amount, in cash. I counted it, twice—someone who’ll cheat in sport won’t hesitate to try and cheat a crooked doctor. Satisfied that the amount was correct I walked over to the medicine cabinet, twisting my body slightly so he couldn’t see the combination I punched into the lock.

I placed a bottle of pills on the table in front of him. ‘You need to start taking these now; they’ll strengthen your immune system, just a precaution. Now then, as to the nature of your adaptation, I think a car accident is always best…’ His eyes widened. ‘Don’t worry,’ I said as reassuringly as I could. ‘My team are experts, the risks are very small and there will be no way of determining that it wasn’t an accident.’

‘Ok.’ He nodded. His lust for gold overrode all other concerns.

I smiled. ‘Excellent. Now we just need to decide; right leg or left?’

* * *

We discussed matters for another hour, then he left and I settled down with a scotch to check my fee for a third time.

I’m still amazed the authorities don’t crack down on me and my ilk, but I guess self interest keeps them from making a big issue of it, and whenever the media try to stir up a storm all manner of government officials quickly debunk the story.

With each passing Olympics the medal haul becomes more and more important, national pride is at stake and the Paralympics is almost as important and, more importantly, easier to influence. Maiming an able bodied athlete is a lot easier than prescribing performance enhancing drugs. After all, none of my patients ever failed a disability test…

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