By Dev K. Mishra, M.D., President, Sideline Sports Doc
Organizers at the recently concluded summer Olympics in London took an aggressive stance towards identifying and imposing sanctions on anyone testing positive for banned or performance-enhancing substances. According to Reuters, intelligence gathered from everyone from Olympic village cleaning staff to customs officials at Britain’s border controls helped authorities target drug testing before and during the Games at the right countries, sports and athletes.
This intelligence-led approach, which anti-doping authorities learned from law enforcement experts, took time to adopt but apparently paid off in London.
Many athletes were tested under the new comprehensive blood and urine testing prior to the Games beginning, and according to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), 107 athletes were banned from qualification before the start of the Games. The banned substance list included many anabolic steroids, stimulants, masking agents, and an improved test for human growth hormone.
During the Games itself, 11 athletes tested positive for banned substances and were excluded from participation, with stiff penalties for future participation. In total about 5000 tests were administered and samples will be kept on many of the athletes for 8 years. In theory, athletes using substances now for which we don’t have a test could be tested later and found guilty of doping retrospectively. As quoted in the Reuters article Phil Watson an exercise physiologist who knows David Cowan, head of the Drug Control Centre at King’s College London and the man who led the 2012 anti-doping scientists, praised the systems as “absolutely 100% state of the art”.
“WADA and the anti-doping agencies are doing all they can,” he said. “But there are always going to be people who are one step ahead. That’s the reality. There’s a lot of money to be made in producing medal winners. And some of the people helping athletes cheat are very sophisticated.”
So how young can cheaters be and to what lengths will people go to try and create a champion? 16-year-old Ye Shiwen of China faced accusations of doping after phenomenal improvements over her previous times, and especially after she swam the final 50 meters of the 400IM faster than Ryan Lochte in the men’s race. The Chinese delegation vehemently denied the accusations and Ye tested negative in multiple samples.
And now coming to a middle school near you: drug testing as a condition of participation. An article this weekend in the New York Times noted that several states have laws allowing for testing of middle school students, but so far no one has tested positive for anything other than marijuana. The school districts state that they are doing testing to raise general awareness of the perils of drug use. Parents are saying that it’s an invasion of privacy and unnecessary. The jury’s out (literally) but two things are for sure: younger and younger athletes will unfortunately try to gain an edge through doping and testing will definitely happen.