Editorial: Bodybuilder no different

GRANT SHIMMIN
Last updated 05:00 16/08/2014

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It may not be a universally popular view in Timaru, being his home town, but justice would not have been served if Steve Orton had got what he wanted yesterday afternoon.

What Orton, a successful bodybuilder who moved to Christchurch at 17, wanted, was a discharge without conviction.

That was after pleading guilty to two charges relating to the importation of drugs worth, according to the prosecutor, up to $90,000.

Many South Cantabrians will know Steve Orton personally, and those who don't may well have read the Herald's feature a year ago, which followed the biggest victory of a burgeoning bodybuilding career, when he was crowned the sport's amateur world champion in Italy.

The 24-year-old has been touted as a future winner of the Mr Olympia title, a crown collected seven times by one Arnold Schwarzenegger, though he said a year ago he was in no hurry to enter the professional ranks.

Impressive stuff, but yesterday he found himself in a less welcome spotlight, in court to listen to Judge Gary MacAskill's decision on conviction and sentence.

Orton pleaded guilty in May to two charges of importing the class C drug methylone, which mimics the effects of ecstasy and is regarded as a type of party pill.

He'd been caught in a controlled delivery operation after the incoming packages were intercepted at Auckland International Airport last year.

Orton, who had a previously blemish-free record, is no drug kingpin. Even Customs conceded his offence, which apparently involved taking delivery of packages, advising someone of their arrival, and leaving them to be picked up, was at "the lower end of culpability".

His counsel was undoubtedly right when she argued on Thursday a conviction would present "a high hurdle" to his career prospects as a bodybuilder, as it may hamper his ability to travel.

But as Judge MacAskill rightly decided, that shouldn't mean he would be dealt with differently from anyone else, sentencing him to seven months' home detention and 150 hours of community work.

We've seen athletes' counsel put forward similar arguments before. Some have been successful.

But the fact is Steve Orton did something that, while at the lower end of the scale, still formed a link in the chain that facilitates the distribution of illegal drugs within New Zealand. That's not something anyone should be able to simply walk away from.

I hope he's learned his lesson, and I sincerely hope he can overcome this obstacle to reach the pinnacle of the bodybuilding world.

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- The Timaru Herald

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