Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Keeping Ice Fishing Free from Doping

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Keeping Ice Fishing Free from Doping

Article excerpt

With doping a rampant problem throughout sports, drug testing has arrived at the most unlikely places, including the Big Eau Pleine Reservoir in Wisconsin, where ice fisherman prize patience over power.

The ice fishermen spent a week on the frozen lake, and on the last day, after emptying perch and bluegill from their buckets and scrubbing bait from their hands, several winners of the World Ice Fishing Championship were ushered into their rooms in the Plaza Hotel.

There, an official from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency ordered them to provide urine samples for a surprise test to detect steroids and growth hormones -- drugs not normally associated with the quiet solitude of ice fishing.

"We do not test for beer, because then everybody would fail," said Joel McDearmon, chairman of the U.S. Freshwater Fishing Federation.

With doping a rampant problem throughout sports, drug testing has arrived at the most unlikely places, including the chilly Big Eau Pleine Reservoir, where competitors prize patience over power.

The leaders of the sport of ice fishing have started a long-shot bid to take their lonely pursuit to the Olympics. A berth in the Winter Games would come with many obvious advantages, but first there are hurdles to clear. Once the anglers shuffled off the ice and put down their rods, they had to submit to the same examinations as world-class sprinters and weight lifters.

In sports like ice fishing, where speed and strength are not necessarily at a premium, an agent from an international antidoping federation can seem, well, like a fish out of water.

After all, ice fishing is not a particularly physical sport. Most days are spent crouched low around the ice hole in snow pants, kneepads and improvised shin guards made of foam. The hardest part is staying warm -- most anglers forgo gloves in order to better feel fish tugging on the rods.

Fishing officials wondered whether doping would even help anglers jigging for panfish, roughfish and crappie.

"We kind of joked about that," McDearmon said. "You're obviously not going to have anybody out there oxygen doping or something like that."

Bill Whiteside, a previous gold medal winner from Eau Claire, a city in western Wisconsin, said that physical strength often had little to do with fishing success.

"It's not the best athlete that usually wins the events," he said. "A lot of times it's the experienced older guys."

Ice fishing is not the only fringe sport that has embraced drug testing. Competitors in darts, miniature golf, chess and tug of war were all tested in recent years, according to the sports' organizers and the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Some of those sports are gearing up for long-shot Olympic bids of their own. Others are aiming to ensure that no competitor, no matter the scale of the competition, has an unfair advantage. …

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