Doping in sport (2)

My previous essay dealt with the drugs banned by the anti-doping agencies but it is equally interesting what is not on the black list.

Modern athletes have at their disposal a raft of legal performance enhancing techniques unheard of 30-40 years ago. Let us start with nutrition. Food supplements containing vitamins and minerals make sure the athletes’ bodies do not suffer from nutritional deficiencies during training or competition. The food they eat is also carefully prepared with the right balance of protein, carbs and fats. The optimal nutrition is tailored for a particular event and the phase of preparations. For example, endurance training for long-distance runners requires lots of complex carbohydrates while wrestlers trying to make the weight limits before competitions would stay low carb. The nutritional side of high-performance training is based on a comprehensive physiological research into the way human body functions and what it needs to best cope with the stress of training and competition.

Then we have the sophisticated biomechanical analysis of the athletes motorics. It involves taking high-speed video footage of the athletes bodies during simulated training sessions and replaying it in slow motion to look for any inefficiencies. Biomechanical analysis is ridiculously detailed and, in case of swimmers, may include dissecting how the fingers are cupped together to scoop more water during stroke or where the toes are pointed. Bowling action in cricket, golf swing, javelin thrower’s thrust etc are all analysed and perfected in this way. These improvements will not make a sprinter out of a chubby nerd but will certainly help a good sprinter become even better.

The division of the performance enhancing measures into legal and illegal is somewhat artificial. For example diuretics (chemicals inducing  urine production) are one way weight-lifters or judo fighters can try to become lighter before weigh-in. Used in this context diuretics actually degrade athletic performance (by causing dehydration) but are still illegal. The reason is that the same diuretics can also be used to help excrete from the body traces of illegal drugs, so there is a blanket ban on all diuretics. But things get even more weird when it comes to blood. Blood of humans living at high altitudes contains more red cells, to compensate for the lower oxygen levels in the air. So, for example, runners training at high altitudes will develop a higher red cell count which is a form of performance enhancement. Surprisingly, altitude training is legal but taking and freezing one’s own blood after altitude training with a view of transfusing it before an athletic event is not. Even more interestingly, there are currently no methods to detect auto-transfusion (after all, it is the athlete’s own blood that is transfused) but still the practice is illegal!

Faced with such an astounding variety of performance enhancing techniques we have two choices. We can either try to regulate and police the ever-changing scene of performance enhancement or let the athletes do whatever they feel comfortable with and watch the results from the comfort of our TV lounges. I believe that the regulation & policing approach comes from an angle of implied purity of sport. Sport is viewed as a field of human endeavour which is supposed to be based on ancient ideals of fair play and respect for the opponent. Another angle of this utopian concept used to be amateurism but it died a natural death in 1980s. I believe (and hope) that sooner or later the romantic notion of a drug-free sport will also go the way of the dodo.

But you may say that doping is not good for athlete’s health. On this score I believe that athletes view their body as a tool of the trade and should know how to use it wisely. Most will choose a moderate level of enhancement which they will be able to maintain for years. Some will go for a few big hits before major competitions and then fade. A few stupid ones may overdose, eliminating themselves from the genetic pool of the mankind (and doing us all a favour in the process). This is no different to say rally drivers. Car racing is dangerous but most drivers have long careers and then retire to their houses on French Riviera. A few are too cavalier and will end their lives on a tight corner. We remember them as tragic figures and keep watching the true professionals like Marcus Groenholm or Sebastien Loen.



2 Responses to “Doping in sport (2)”

  1. Nick Says:

    So, you stand for legalize =) That is why I do not like the Big Sport. It is either rat races or just a show nowadays. Only amateur competitions still hold the real Sport spirit.

  2. da-boss Says:

    Yeah – legalise it!
    [Rasta beat in the background]

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