The Daily News, Still Walking the PED Beat

Do you know what Actovegin is? Oh, sorry: Do you remember Actovegin, as the Daily News asked this morning, presuming, once again, that you care at least one-one-millionth about PEDs today as much as they do? (To the point that you are recognizing names of specific drugs you hadn’t heard in a while, categorizing them as “a calf-blood extract,” and then expressing shock that, lo, they have returned!) The Daily News has gotten some substantial, valuable mileage out of its “Daily News Sports I-Team” rubric, even a perfectly fine book, but it’s probably time to give up the ghost, guys.

The story that gets the special syringe logo this morning is a piece by Nathaniel Vinton about a Russian cross-country skier being caught with 22 vials of acotovegin as he crossed the border into Switzerland. That is all the News has confirmed, and even that is shaky, considering it’s based off a Russian-language report and, apparently, absolutely no one at the News speaks Russian. This is all that has happened.

Let’s look at some basic facts in this story:

1. This is a story about Russian cross-country skiing.
2. The skier isn’t even very good. He has won only one event in a decade.
3. Actovegin is, in fact, not banned by the International Ski Federation.
4. “A mystique has gathered around the substance in the doping underworld, where bodybuilders often put themselves forward as guinea pigs for obscure substances that get gossiped about in online forums.”
5. This “might” have been how a BALCO scientist discovered actovegin seven years ago.
6. “The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) keeps a suspicious eye on its use by athletes.” Ooooh!
7. Everyone in the story says actovegin doesn’t actually work.
8. Here’s our favorite part:

The International Olympic Committee could give the Russian Olympic Committee some heat for this and other incidents, given that Russia is hosting the next Winter Olympics at the Black Sea resort of Sochi in 2014.

Oh, no, they might get some heat! Because he’s Russian, we guess? (By this rationale, the USA should never, ever be allowed to host anything. Ever, ever.) We are talking about a washed-up cross-country skier being “stopped” (not arrested) at the Swiss border with a drug that isn’t banned by his own organization, a drug that doesn’t even do anything. And the whole thing is based on a shady report in a language no one over there can speak.

Yet the News this morning devoted more words to this “incident” (660 words) than they did to one of the city’s largest after-school programs swindling $82,000 from New York’s education budget (301) or Carl Paladino’s win in the GOP gubernatorial primary last night (469).

We don’t mean to pick on Nathaniel Vinton, who seems like a good guy and probably didn’t imagine he’d spend his sports-writing career chasing down PED ghosts. And the News certainly has gotten its money’s worth out of the I-Team; they’ve produced an impressive amount of work. But this Steroid Task Force is a relic of a time when people cared about this stuff light years more than they do right now, back when there was legitimate outrage about this, rather than exhaustion. Roger Clemens is the only real enemy left anymore — he’s the main focus of the I-Team’s Twitter feed — and the I-Team’s blog has become more of a media-critique site. There was a time that taking down the biggest names in sports because of their PEDs sold papers and crossed over to the front page and the cable-news outlets. We’ve lost much of our interest now — thankfully — but the I-Team is still out there, plugging along, finding syringes in Russian Dumpsters and screaming for us to pay attention and look, look what they found. You’ve done great work, guys. But the war’s over. Time to come home.

The Daily News, Still Walking the PED Beat