Bridge fans understand the value of drug testing

BY STEVE JACKSON
The SportsMonday Column
Published September 15, 2002

This just in: Disa Eythorsdottir was stripped of her silver medal for failing a drug test. I know what you are thinking - is that the same Disa Eythorsdottir that is one of the premier bridge players in the world? The one that was born in Iceland but now lives in Alabama with her American husband?

Paul Wong
Steve Jackson

Yes, sadly, I am speaking of the same Disa Eythorsdottir.

Now, for the benefit of those of you who don't follow the latest developments in the World Bridge Federation, I'll relate the whole story.

Random drug testing for bridge players at the World Championships was introduced in January of 2000 as part of the WBF's campaign for bridge to become an Olympic sport.

To streamline the process, the WBF used the same list of banned substances as the International Olympic Committee. That way it doesn't have to argue over the possible performance-enhancing effects of legal substances like Ginko Biloba, caffeine, etc.

Four members of the team were chosen for the tests, but Eythorsdottir refused.

WBF President Jose Damiani told the London Telegraph: "Since we introduced random testing two players have failed, but both so narrowly that we did not publish the names, informing only the player and their federation of the problem.

"However, she (Eythorsdottir) refused the test. She is deemed to have failed the test. Her medal has been removed and her name has been referred to her federation."

Eythorsdottir said she believed she would fail the test because of the "diet drug" she took for her back condition. Apparently playing bridge professionally can really make an impact on your dress size.

Eythorsdottir was forced to stand aside while her teammates accepted their honors at the medal ceremony. Close to tears, she said: "They have taken everything: My medal, my name."

She was later consoled by the fact that no one in the world really wanted her medal or her name.

So what can we learn from this story of woe? Well, besides the fact that I can spell Eythorsdottir, I also learned that while baseball has yet to begin administering random drug testing, bridge is already very serious about this issue.

Bridge fans around the world demanded an even playing field, and they got their wish.

I understand the way those bridge fans felt. If I'm watching a game on ESPN74, I want to know that all the players at the table are legitimate. When I see them shuffling those cards, I need to know that they are not just a bunch of juiced-up creatine-created freaks. Some medicine closet of a bridge player must not be allowed to break the age-old records that belonged to the legends of the game. I think we would all agree that it is crucially important to be able to compare different generations in a sport with as much tradition as bridge.

Eythorsdottir's incredible weight gain and back problems (while they may have something to do with her inability to leave the house or even stand up) could lead bridge fans to believe that she was using a banned substance.

Was she using? We'll never know because she never even took the test.

Why would any athlete elect not to take a random drug test? Well, from my limited data in other sports, I would say that she is either a) guilty or b) a member of one of the most powerful unions in the world.

I repeatedly tried to call Ms. Eythorsdottir at her home in Alabama so that I could pull a Rick Reilly and offer her a place to get tested. But no one answered the phone, and she has not returned any of my messages. However, I can tell you right now - without a shadow of a doubt - that I am not her father.

Rumor has it that back in the 1990's Eythorsdottir was a champion of the drug testing movement. One of the people I met on the pro bridge message boards even told me that she claimed she would be "the first in line" when testing began.

I'm glad the WBF laid down the law in this case. This sort of hypocrisy has no place in the world of sports - or card games.

Steve Jackson can be reached at

sjjackso@umich.edu.