Olympics, Doping, Genes, and Other Inconsistencies in “Performance Enhancement” and Sport

Editor’s Note: Today and tomorrow, Points “rips from the headlines” to look at doping– Olympic and otherwise– as part of drug history.  Guest blogging for us in these pieces is Ross Aikins, a self-proclaimed sports-nerd, journalist, teacher, and postdoctoral fellow at the National Development and Research Institutes in New York City.  A recent PhD from UCLA’s School of Education, Ross principally studies enhancement drug use in society, substance use issues among military veteran and college student populations, and other education and health related issues. He blogs at www.yourblogondrugs.com; this is his first article for Points.

The Mandarin Mermaid

Two weeks ago the sports media landscape buzzed with suspicions about the dominating performance of 16 year-old Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen.  There shouldn’t be anything controversial about this.  After all, competing at the limits of human performance and shattering world records is what virtually all Olympians aspire to and train their whole lives to accomplish. But when we talk about “suspicion” in sport we’re usually talking about doping.  Olympic athletes are the most tested humans in all of sport, and to date there is no evidence to suggest Ye ever used a banned substance.

Much of the faux-controversy may stem from the fact that the freestyle leg of Ye’s 200 IM was faster than that of men’s gold medalist and world record holder Ryan Lochte.  Or, in the 400 IM, Ye dropped the world record by nearly a whole second.  But are these feats really any less credible than the perennial dominance of, for example, Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, who seems to regularly set world records while celebrating mid-race? And is our collective speculation over alleged athletic performance enhancement any less warranted than, say, allegations that the man who announces these feats– NBC Sports’ eternally cherubic Bob Costas– may be cosmetically enhanced?

This is where sport, and sports culture are unfairly inconsistent, despite the premium that we—the sports consuming public—place on fairness in competition.  This pair of blog posts are about a lot of things, but mostly they are about the past, present, and future of both objectivity and subjectivity in sports and sports medicine.

Read more