Crossfitters were surprisingly unsurprised when one of the sport’s top athletes was banned for taking performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs).

The community did not specifically think Ricky Garard, third at the 2017 CrossFit Games, was cheating, but suspected there was widespread drug abuse at the top level. CrossFit combines high-intensity workouts with Olympic weightlifting. The winner of the CrossFit Games is labelled the fittest on Earth. 

A comment on Garard’s Instagram post about the ban nonchalantly said: “All the top athletes are on something”. Garard tested positive for testolone, and a beta-2 agonist known as endurobol, both anabolic agents. He has been banned until 2021, stripped of his bronze medal and made to repay his prize money. 

Garard’s post said he would take responsibility for his actions. He claimed he took the PEDs by accident and his world had fallen apart, but he admitted he pushed the rules and boundaries to the edge and dabbled in ways that could improve his performance, “with no intention whatsoever to cheat”.

Others, he said, were more maliciously motivated: “It’s tough to be on the receiving end when I saw a top athlete at the CrossFit Games intentionally outsmarting the system, getting away with it and ruining the integrity of the sport.”

What was surprising, was the amount of people who called for the ban on PEDs to be removed. One comment on a CrossFit Facebook group said if the sport wanted to see how far humans could push themselves, it should allow drugs. 

An Instagram comment said: “No denying that there is a small percentage that don’t use drugs who can compete as a top level athlete … Can’t really claim WHO takes or doesn’t take until their [sic] caught, that’s the only leg any athlete has to stand on. Which is a shame, because PEDs in professional sports should be legal”.

CrossFit Games bronze medallist Ricky Garard banned for drugs – casting spotlight on popular sport’s doping policies

Removing a ban on drugs would be a mistake, even if the allegations of widespread drug abuse are true. 

CrossFit on drugs would turn into Formula One for gym goers. 

Formula One is a fine sport, but the engineers are as important as the drivers. The best car is often the winner, not the best driver. 

In that sense, the fittest on Earth would be determined by who has the best doctors and latest drugs. 

That makes sense in Formula One, but not in CrossFit.

The CrossFit drug policy says: “A true and honest comparison of training practices and athletic capacity is impossible without a level playing field.”

The policy rings true. 

Not only do drugs defeat the purpose of finding the fittest, it also adds another financial element to an already expensive sport. 

Access to CrossFit is restricted to those who can afford expensive gym memberships. If competing at the top level means investing in an expensive long-term drug programme the barriers will rise even further.   

Instead of opening up a PED free-for-all, CrossFit needs to actively engage in random out-of-season testing. 

The policy says all registered athletes are subject to out-of-competition tests, any time and any place. But organisers rarely enforce surprise tests. 

Ben Garard, Ricky’s brother, said: “I am OK with them using Ricky as an example in attempt to further legitimise their sport. 

“As long as the CrossFit Games continue to invest in this same level of strictness to every single athlete competing, especially at the CrossFit Games, not just the podium finishers, but the entire field,” he said. 

Random tests are not a perfect solution. There will always be cheats who get away with taking PEDs. Cycling and weightlifting quickly spring to mind as sports that have had serious drug problems despite random testing. 

But out-of-competition tests are necessary in any sport that offers the incentive of being named the fittest in the world, not to mention the US$275,000 prize money for the individual winner.