October 24, 2007
First up, a mention for elite athlete gone bad, Olympic gold medal sprinter Marion Jones. Ooops. It’s been a long time coming, hasn’t it? We’d feel sorry, maybe, if she hadn’t so stridently denied it.
Of course we Aussies often think or act like we are immune to the problem, but we are all in this together. From today’s Sydney Morning Herald: A track-and-field athlete and a swimmer are among the 24 Australian sportspeople who recorded anti-doping violations in 2006-07. The list included nine athletes from weightlifting and body-building, along with seven rugby league players – mostly from the Queensland and NSW state league competitions.
In the long run it will become increasingly difficult to manage performance enhancement amongst all sports, not just cycling. Today we have the question of which drugs to include, and in what quantities. To identify the drugs is hard enough, and so instead we identify the blood-count variables and set acceptable limits. When an athlete’s blood profile steps outside those parameters they are focused upon, questioned, tested or ‘rested’. It’s not perfect and many questions remain, such as ‘what after all is normal’, or ‘what is safe’? Indeed, what really is performance-enhancing? Caffeine is on the list one moment, gone the next. Cortico-steroids? It depends who you ask.
And tomorrow we face genetic manipulation. Whilst DNA-profiling will certainly help, if an athlete is baselined after the manipulation has occurred then what changes will we see? Presumably none. So do we baseline athletes at junior level, or even earlier? No doubt we will also turn to the limit-setting, but what if genetic manipulation confounds that as well? If we can manipulate our genome to produce more strength or endurance we are surely able to engineer apparently ‘normal’ blood profiles. So what next do we do? Give in?