Don't forget Stuey's brilliant career

Mike Tomalaris

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The national backlash since Stuart O'Grady confessed to taking EPO prior to the 1998 Tour de France has been quite startling to say the least, writes Mike Tomalaris.

When competing at world championship or Olympic level there wasn't a louder and prouder Australian as Stuey whenever he wore the green and gold jersey.

It seems one costly mistake made 15 years ago may forever taint a brilliant career - one which has brought so many historical moments and memories.

Is it fair to continuously grind Stuey into oblivion as some ignorant members of the non-cycling media and community have chosen to do?

Is it fair to sully a reputation to the extent his career achievements could forever be wiped from the record books?

For the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) to suggest O'Grady return his 2004 Athens Olympic medal is a complete overreaction and ludicrous.

It smacks of being a convenient and politically correct public relations response.

There's no dispute a very young Stuart O'Grady made a big mistake at the time - one that has come back to haunt him in an era when clean riders were the exception to the rule.

After living the dream as a star track cyclist under the support of the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS), O'Grady travelled to Europe for the first time in 1996 to pursue a professional road career.

He had little money, few friends, no support and nobody to guide or direct him.

Imagine how difficult it must have been for a boy from Adelaide with stars in his eyes to fit into a new environment and adapt to the cultural practices of a foreign way of life?

Stuey was an original member of the new-wave of Aussies who decided to sacrifice a lifestyle in Australia for the glory of European cycling - and he succeeded.

I remember meeting him for the first time when he made his Tour de France debut appearance in 1997.

Here was a red-headed, freckled-faced kid with raw talent and ambition living out of a suitcase, representing the small French GAN team and enjoying immediate success.

Finishing second in a stage in the Tour's first week behind teammate Cedric Vasseur kick started the career we've all come to admire.

Stuey was forced to fend for himself in the early days, as is always the case when one decides to leave the comforts of a Government-funded entity like the AIS and tackle the professional circuit in Europe for the first time.

Do you remember the thrill you got when Stuey became the first and only Aussie to conquer Paris-Roubaix?

Are you old enough to remember what you were doing when he won several stages at the Tour, or when he was involved in that tussle for the green jersey with German rival Erik Zabel?

And what about that hot afternoon in 2004 when he teamed up with Graeme Brown at the Athens Games to snatch the madison gold medal. How good was that?

There was no suggestion or proof of any doping practices at those landmark moments.

When competing at world championship or Olympic level there wasn't a louder and prouder Australian as Stuey whenever he wore the green and gold jersey.

What next, strip O'Grady of all his results and achievements post 1998 when he has proven to be an advocate of clean cycling and a role model for a new generation?

Worse crimes in society have been committed, O'Grady is no criminal so why should he pay the cost of being humiliated for one simple oversight made a long time ago?

One mistake. One mistake! We all make mistakes we regret in life.

Shouldn't he be forgiven for all the good work he's produced, than be rubbed out altogether for that one error?

O'Grady is no Lance Armstrong. He should not be compared to cycling's biggest ever fraud.

Doping, no matter how much a rider takes or for how long, should ever be tolerated but I'd like to think our Australian sporting legend has learned from his mistake.

May authorities issue Stuey with an a appropriate punishment to fit the crime, but please don't let him "hang" because history will show he is far, far better than that.



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