It's one of the oldest cliches in the book: An athlete at a major sporting event says, "I'm just happy to be here."
Zach Lund means it — he's thrilled to be in Vancouver, British Columbia, for the Winter Olympics, which begin Friday. And this time, he plans to stick around.
Four years ago, Lund arrived at the winter games in Turin, Italy, favored to win the gold medal in skeleton, which is an event like luge, except the racer goes headfirst.
He was forced to leave the Olympics because of an 11th-hour drug suspension.
Lund called it his "walk of shame." Kicked out of the 2006 games, he had to pass by U.S. teammates in a staging area getting ready for the opening ceremony.
"Everyone was out in their gear, lookin' all snazzy, and I was walking out with my bags, which was kind of embarrassing in a way," Lund says. "A couple of hours before that, I was going to be right there with them."
Lund recounted that painful moment the following day in a park in Turin.
His thinning hair had been the culprit. Lund had been trying to save it for several years with hair-loss medication that contained a substance called finasteride.
Lund always had written it down on drug testing forms, and always made sure finasteride wasn't on the list of banned drugs — until 2005.
"After five years of checking," Lund says, "I figured, you know what? This is obviously not illegal. I guess I just got comfortable with that fact."
But as all Olympians know, you have to pay attention all the time.
Olympic athletes are the most tested of any — they have to let testers know their whereabouts around the clock. It's part of the athlete's job to be careful and to check the banned list.
Lund didn't check once, and because of that, he missed the addition of finasteride to the banned list. The World Anti-Doping Agency, known as WADA, decided finasteride could be used to mask steroids.
Lund tested positive and was suspended for a year. In announcing the punishment, the Court of Arbitration for Sport said it found Lund to be an honest athlete and that it was suspending him with a heavy heart.
Lund says he left Turin devastated but full of resolve. "I came back with a vengeance the next year — had a lot to prove."
In 2007, Lund won the skeleton overall World Cup title. But a year later, cruising toward the Vancouver Olympics, he hit another emotional pothole.
WADA announced in late 2008 that it was taking finasteride off the banned list. The agency said its labs successfully rendered finasteride ineffective as a steroid-masking agent.
"That was a big punch in the gut," Lund says. "I already knew I wasn't a cheat, but to have it confirmed that it was all for nothing, it was all for naught — that's hard to accept. I've done my best to cope with it, but it hasn't been easy."
When the anger does spill over, much of it is directed at WADA, which pushed for Lund's suspension after the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency decided to only give Lund a public warning.
WADA Director General David Howman defends his agency's actions, saying Lund "was subject to the rules that were in place at the time, and he was dealt with accordingly."
Howman is equally unrepentant about the WADA decision to take finasteride off the banned list. He says many athletes have tested positive for substances that have subsequently been removed.
"You cannot go back and review the cases and say, well, therefore, because the rules have changed today, they should've been different yesterday," Howman adds.
Lund believes this is the tough talk of an unbending agency that considers itself policeman, judge and jury in drug cases. He thinks the anti-doping system over which WADA presides is broken — unwilling to distinguish between an athlete who dopes by mistake, as Lund says he did, and one who's a hard-core user of performance-enhancing drugs.
Maybe that was the case in the past, but less so now. And it was the Lund case that helped bring about change.
Howman says the six-year-old WADA code, which harmonizes anti-doping rules around the world, was revised last year to go easier in some cases, and harder in others.
"The sort of cases [in which] you might have an inadvertent doping have a more flexible process within the sanction process," Howman says. "The other end of it is that we have now rules which are firmer. The athletes who have committed aggravated cases of doping can be sanctioned up to four years."
One U.S. anti-doping official says this shows the system is far from broken. What's truly reflective of a fair system, the official says, is one that tries to get better.
Lund says this past skeleton racing season has been less than ideal. He's had a nagging hamstring injury, and he finished 12th in the world.
But the outlook isn't bleak. Lund feels confident in his physical appearance — he now shaves his head.
"Looking back on it," he says, laughing, "I wish I did this a long time ago!"
Plus he makes money for it, endorsing a head-shaving blade.
Lund feels good about his Olympic event, too. He says the Olympic skeleton track fits his style — built for a technical slider, and very fast.
In addition, he doesn't have the pressure of being the gold-medal favorite this time around.
Finally: He gets to race.