Thursday, August 23, 2012

Doping and the 2012 London Games

Writing at the British Journal of Sports Medicine Blog, Dr Peter Brukner provides a detailed rundown of the 13 athletes who tested positive for doping and assorted controversies in the 2012 London Olympic games. Here is his bottom line:
There were very few actual positive tests from the 2012 Olympics. This relative paucity of positive drug tests could mean one of two things.

That we are winning the war against drugs and the extensive testing and prospect of retrospective disqualification had succeeded in putting athletes off.
Alternatively, as has always been the case, that the athletes, coaches and scientists have perfected the art of avoiding detection using regular low dosages of drugs and hormones that are too small to detect. There are certainly plenty of rumours of endurance athletes using daily low doses of synthetic blood products which maintain high red blood cell count rather than using EPO. Victor Conte of BALCO fame was in London (I thought he was in jail!!) and claimed that 60% of athletics medallists were taking drugs. Probably not the most reliable witness, but he certainly knows the drug scene!
I believe that the use of performance-enhancing drugs is still widespread in certain Olympic sports. History tells us that there have always been athletes and coaches trying to gain an advantage. History also tells us that they are invariably ahead of the drug testers, thus the relatively small number of positive drug tests at Olympics. Out-of-competition testing and the co-operation of customs and law enforcement agencies have helped catch some drug cheats, but I cannot believe there are not lots more out there getting away with it.
What does that mean? Brukner gives an estimate:
It is feared that of the 258,000 tests conducted annually, as few as 2% include the blood tests that can detect the use of Human Growth Hormone. In 2010 there were just 36 positives – a total WADA regarded as “disappointing”. Across sport, there are fears that one in 10 athletes is attempting to cheat but of those only one in five is being caught.
Taking this estimate at face value, it means that 80% (!) of those who engage in doping violations get away with it. Applied to the 2012 Olympic games that would imply 52 violators not caught. A sobering number if true


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