Murph's Turf: Like most athlete excuses, Olympian's tale is hard to swallow

Inspiring. If there’s one word that qualifies as the verbal equivalent of the torch during the Olympics, then inspiring is it. Television hosts and audiences find the athletes and their stories inspiring; Olympians introduced to fellow Olympians describe the meeting as inspiring; former Olympians dub their successors inspiring; and current Olympians label their predecessors as inspiring.

Fittingly, even the excuses are inspired.

After becoming the first of the 10,500 athletes at the London Summer Games to fail an in-competition doping test, American judo competitor Nick Delpopolo forced even the stiffest upper lip to bend into the hint of a wry smile with his skillful explanation.

Delpopolo, who is from Westfield, N.J., said his positive test was ‘‘caused by my inadvertent consumption of food that I did not realize had been baked with marijuana’’ before he left for the Olympics.

Yes, the first Olympian caught using a banned substance was guilty of munching a pot brownie.

Although West London native and Cambridge graduate Sacha Baron Cohen once said (as his Ali G. character) that an athlete who tests positive for weed should get a head start rather than a disqualification, Delpopolo had little non-comedic recourse once THC metabolites were found in his test. The drug appears on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s list of banned substances, right alongside more tried and true avenues such as steroids, blood doping, peptide hormones, diuretics and stimulants.

Marijuana and its penthouse cousin, hashish, are grouped into the narcotics and cannabinoids category, combined with oxycodone and other painkillers that can decrease the sensation of serious injuries and allow athletes to continue training. It’s a tenuous connection — marijuana use would not seem to offer much of a competitive advantage, unless the goal was to be the first to spot the Little Dipper on the Hayden Planetarium ceiling at a Pink Floyd laser show — and WADA President John Fahey has indicated marijuana may be deleted from the prohibited list except for a few events requiring steady aim or nerves, such as archery or Operation (not yet an official game).

But that future talk didn’t spare an embarrassed Delpopolo, who found his Olympic inspiration when describing an elaborate backstory about his positive test.

“I was in total disbelief when I was told by the IOC (International Olympic Committee) that my test results came back positive,” said Delpopolo in an official statement. “After making frantic phone calls to friends and family following the results, a family member confessed that the brownies she had baked (and that I had eaten a few weeks prior) contained marijuana. I had no idea that I had ingested marijuana until that moment. I slept the entire four hour drive home the day I ate the brownie, but thought that I was just extremely tired from training and travel.”

To support Delpopolo’s claim, his relative posted a statement on the judoka’s website, confessing her role in the brownie peddling. “… He had absolutely no idea that I dealt with marijuana at all, so it never would’ve crossed his mind,” wrote the unidentified person. “This is my entire fault. …This was all a huge mistake. His hard work, and not only dedication to judo, but also being a good role model should not be down graded or punished for my selfishness and stupidity.”

There is a chance that Delpopolo is telling the truth — somewhere in the world lives a dog that has actually eaten a 10th grader’s essay on the French Revolution. There is also a better chance that he is adhering to the yarn-spinning template followed by nearly every other athlete found using a banned substance.

It’s an excuse list that includes eating too much steroid-fed veal (Czech tennis player Petr Korda); being the victim of a diabolical, testosterone-cream-rubbing masseuse (American sprinter Justin Gatlin); receiving spiked toothpaste (German runner Dieter Baumann), spiked energy drink (Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson) or spiked diet supplement (Greek hurdler Fani Halkia); having too much connubial sex the night before test (American sprinter Dennis Mitchell); possibly having a vanishing twin who was absorbed in utero (American cyclist Tyler Hamilton); falling prey to the devious work of the Cuban-American mafia (Fidel Castro on behalf of Cuban high jumper Javier Sotomayor); and ingesting dried caterpillar supplements and turtle blood potion (several Chinese runners, not Charlie Sheen).

No wonder then that Delpopolo’s story is creative. It had to be. After all, related alibis such as second-hand pot smoke (Canadian gold-medal winning snowboarder Ross Rebagliati) and not inhaling (Bill Clinton) were already taken.

In addition to having his seventh-place finish erased from the record books, Delpopolo was also sent home from the Summer Games and will likely face a short ban from his sport. On the encouraging side, he will now be more of a cult hero and immediately eligible for appearances on news programs and talk shows, as well as a sitcom spot. Most reassuring of all, though, Delpopolo competed at 73 kilograms — he wasn’t caught with them.