Hair-raising ride

  • By Kate Hairopoulos The Dallas Morning News
  • Saturday, February 6, 2010 10:07pm
  • SportsSports

U.S. skeleton athlete Zach Lund is the first to admit his hair has never been his strong point.

Back in high school, his hairline already receding, he wore a mullet.

When he was ranked No. 1 in the world but was unceremoniously kicked off the 2006 U.S. Olympic team in Turin, it all came back — in twisted fashion — to his lifelong insecurity.

Months earlier, Lund had tested positive for finasteride, a steroid-masking agent found in a prescription hair-restoration drug. The Court of Arbitration for Sport met in Turin and rejected his final appeal to compete in the Olympics, though it agreed he hadn’t been attempting to cheat.

“His face had this blank look,” says Kevin Ellis, Lund’s 2006 Olympic teammate. “Oh my gosh, all this work can go away so quickly.”

Authorities cut up Lund’s Olympic credential, and he was escorted from the Olympic Village hours before the opening ceremonies. The U.S. uniform laid out carefully on the bed went unworn.

Four years later, Lund, 30, will finally become an Olympian at the Vancouver Games. But what he’s looking for now doesn’t make up for what he lost.

“It’s who I am, and it’s what happened to me,” Lund said at the U.S. Olympic Media Summit in Chicago last fall. “I don’t want that to be my legacy, but it can be part of my journey. I want a chance to shine on the world’s biggest stage after I had that taken away from me.”

It’s taken Lund every bit of four years to move on.

Motivated after his initial depression following the Games, he returned to sliding the following season and won the World Cup title.

But after the initial vindication, Lund slipped. He finished third the next World Cup season, then plummeted in the standings in 2008-09. He hated that he’d been defeated in a courtroom instead of on a track, that he’d been labeled a doper.

“I was peaking in my career, and I know I could have gotten a medal,” said Lund, who had been taking the hair pills for years and disclosed it, but missed it when the drug was added to the banned substance list in 2005. “I know in my heart it was a gold.”

Even learning that finasteride has since been removed from the list of banned substances didn’t help.

“I started laughing until I cried,” Lund said.

“My whole dream was taken away from me for nothing at all.”

It took a text message from a former high school rival for Lund to get it. The friend had seen an interview with Lund, and he offered a gut check.

“You’re a champion, not a victim,” the message read. “Act like it.”

“I realized I was holding on to what had happened in 2006 way too much,” Lund said.

Lund — who had narrowly missed making the team for the 2002 Salt Lake City Games in his hometown — resolved to throw himself, full-force, back into his sport, in which he rockets headfirst down a twisting, icy track.

It paid off.

Lund earned a spot on the 2010 U.S. team, though not without difficulty. Lund finished 13th in the World Cup standings.

He is nervous now, of vitamins and protein shakes and drug testing. An estimated 2,000 doping tests (blood and urine) will be conducted in Vancouver.

But Lund is back, not the same as he was in 2006, but ready for his long-postponed Olympic experience. About a year ago, spurred by the potential for a razor blade sponsorship that didn’t pan out, he did something for the first time — he shaved his head. Completely, wonderfully bare.

“It felt good,” Lund said. “For the first time in my life.”

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