The Winter Olympics kick off this week in Pyeongchang, South Korea, but the headlines leading up to the international games are dominated by a doping scandal. The International Olympic Committee banned Russia’s team as punishment for systematic state-sponsored doping.
A fight continues about which Russian athletes will receive special clearance to participate. This is not the first time doping has cast a shadow over the Olympics or over celebrated athletes. Advancements in science and technology in the past decades have allowed athletes to both use more cutting-edge substances and discover more sophisticated ways of hiding illicit substance use.
Host Frank Stasio talks about the science of performance-enhancing substances and their effect on the body with Anthony Hackney. Hackney is a professor in exercise physiology and nutrition at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and author of “Doping, Performance-Enhancing Drugs, and Hormones in Sport: Mechanisms of Action and Methods of Detection” (Elsevier/2017).
The vast majority of the ones that you see that are on the banned list are really created pharmaceutically to help medical conditions. And what we find is unscrupulous coaches, trainers, athletes usurp those for some of their physiological benefits that would help different kinds of medical conditions in an attempt to try to enhance their performance.
Hackney on what would happen if doping in sport was legalized:
But then we [would] get into issues: who's not necessarily the best athlete, but who has the best chemist and pharmaceutical companies supporting them … Are we going to say: Let the chips fall where they may, and you go ahead and die? Or are we going to say: Yes, you can use this, but we have to make certain you use it only at levels that will not cause long-term health [consequences] or premature death. I think the real issue is, again coming back to, are we harming the athlete. Is that the purpose of sport? I think not.
Rosen on performance enhancement in ancient Greece:
One of the legends is that some of the athletes who needed additional strength in their pursuits would eat a delicacy we know today as Rocky Mountain oysters. And in that way they would boost their levels of testosterone. And what's interesting about that is – assuming the story is true – that that little bit of folk wisdom or whatever is amazingly close to what was developed a couple of millennia later.