August 26, 2012
Easy To Cheat At Athletic Drug Doping

Brian Alexander says use of many small doses and other techniques makes it easy for athletes to cheat and use performance-enhancing drugs.

However, declaring somebody a doper based on the test requires a judgment call, so labs tend to err on the side of caution. Some estimate that for every EPO user discovered, 10 others get away. On the other hand, there have also been cases of false positives.

So many false negatives combined with the false positives underscore the weaknesses of current doping detection methods. Alexander reports that anti-doping agencies are

How many world records are held by athletes who used drugs to reach their performance peaks. Some claim steroid usage is widespread. Another article on this topic reports that the athletes have been able to adjust their doping techniques in response to new doping detection methods. Sure, some athletes get caught when new testing methods first get introduced. But the advantages of doping outweigh the risks of getting caught.

In the longer run I expect a greater understanding of DNA sequences to enable more reliable detection of doping. The reason is fundamental: If a person's athletic performance exceeds the performance limits imposed on them by their genes then they must be cheating in order to reach top ranks. Doping detection will turn into a game where the anti-dopers sequence an athlete's DNA and create a profile that project's the athlete's natural limits. If the athlete performs in excess of those limits then the athlete must be cheating.

Of course, once genetic testing results and other biological testing results can be fed into a computer that can accurately predict each athlete's peak performance then what becomes of games as a way to measure relative performance? How to retain athletic competitions as settings where humans compete? The answer is obvious: make athletic games into contests between rival scientific teams. The winning athlete should be like a winning car racer who competes with the help of engineers who design better race cars. Rival bioengineering teams should compete to develop humans who can win in each sport. If bioengineering crews for athletes were legitimized then the rate of advance of bioengineering would accelerate.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2012 August 26 09:36 PM  Biotech Athletics

soren said at August 26, 2012 10:59 PM:

Wow, thanks for that Usain Bolt article... he mentions Marion Jones but he didn't mention that "Mexican steroid dealer Angel Heredia has told a San Francisco court how he provided sprinter Marion Jones with a triple-cocktail of banned substances."

I am flabbergasted that Mario Jones's steroid dealer is Usain Bolt's coach... that is absolutely insane.

I'm also flabbergasted that Usain Bolt would hire a guy that's already called him a cheater like he did in that Der Speigel article.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Heredia, will you watch the 100 meter final in Beijing?

Heredia: Of course. But the winner will not be clean. Not even any of the contestants will be clean. (emphasis added)

SPIEGEL: Of eight runners

Heredia: eight will be doped.

SPIEGEL: There is no way to prove that.

Heredia: There is no doubt about it. The difference between 10.0 and 9.7 seconds is the drugs.

soren said at August 26, 2012 11:39 PM:


Here's the tweet from Victor Conte that Deadspin links to: deadspin:

Victor Conte seems to be referring to this news story:

The claim Bolt's been working with that guy has been repeated at least a couple tin

And back in November Bolt denied a connection to Angel Heredia.

Their denial is good enough but the last sentence isn't very logical... the opposing boxer would actually be elevating his opponent by mentioning Bolt rather than knocking him down.

soren said at August 26, 2012 11:59 PM:

After this tweet from Victor Conte I'd like to see more proof linking Herdia to Bolt.

I have to wonder when did the rumor Bolt hired Angel in 2009 come from? Was that inferred by Bolt's performance or what?

Mike Johnson said at August 27, 2012 9:36 AM:

I think you could do that (calculate someone's 'genetic athletic potential' as a clean performance ceiling) but it seems so finicky (due to complex interactions) and coarse.

I suspect a better testing regime will involve gene expression levels, relative to an expected baseline. Doping works because it turns some genes up, and some down-- if someone's gene expression follows expectations except for the particular muscle growth protein often targeted by drugs, that would be very damning.

If we just test for biomarkers, there'll always be ways to 'dope to the test'. But gene expression is a good window (or excellent proxy?) for the body's physiology. I think it's even possible that different styles of doping would leave distinguishable fingerprints on gene expression, so we could tell if someone used Testosterone, EPO, blood doping, etc.

PacRim Jim said at August 27, 2012 4:44 PM:

Of what significance, then, are competitive athletics?
Our drugs against yours?

fresno dan said at August 30, 2012 2:21 AM:

I would be interested in the actual data that supports use of "doping." I know that the data that supports prescription drug use is often very marginal (people confuse relative versus absolute improvement). When one also considers the negative effects (people advertizing drugs are of course going to downplay adverse effects, or no effects, or that the true effect is marginal) one wonders how much of the doping scandal is a placebo scandal.
"The other issue is that this comprehensive list of adverse effects is subject to a powerful disclaimer. Unlike
most other drugs available for human consumption, anabolic steroids have undergone limited clinical studies.
Placebo-controlled clinical studies are not feasible due to the ethical constraints of administering anabolic
steroids in a non-therapeutic setting, so the only clinical trials that have been conducted have been in
clinical-therapeutic trials, such as the treatments discussed above for AIDS and cancer patients. Thus, the
data for healthy humans is less than scientific, which means that the above list has not been scientifically
tested and supported. This leaves open the possibility that small amounts of anabolic steroids have no, or
minimal, negative side effects, a stance supported by some"

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