Welcome to the Science of Sport, where we bring you the second, third, and fourth level of analysis you will not find anywhere else.

Be it doping in sport, hot topics like Caster Semenya or Oscar Pistorius, or the dehydration myth, we try to translate the science behind sports and sports performance.

Consider a donation if you like what you see here!

Did you know?
We published The Runner's Body in May 2009. With an average 4.4/5 stars on Amazon.com, it has been receiving positive reviews from runners and non-runners alike.

Available for the Kindle and also in the traditional paper back. It will make a great gift for the runners you know, and helps support our work here on The Science of Sport.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Denials, acceptance and anti-doping progress

Finger-pointing, a catch 22 and a reaction to move cycling forward

The aftermath of Floyd Landis' allegations have continued to dominate the cycling news of late, and have produced some lively discussion here, in response to Jonathan's post regarding the pressures faced by cyclists.

In those discussions, I've seen what I believe to be a great deal of rationalization taking place from those who defend cycling as a whole, or individuals within it, against these latest allegations.  I call them rationalizations under-advisement, and perhaps I should begin by acknowledging that in some instances, perhaps many, rationalizations are in fact true.

But there are two main responses that I believe exist, neither of which moves cycling forward.  The first is the finger-pointing at other sports.  It is pretty widely accepted that cycling, by virtue of its history, perhaps beginning with the Festina scandal of 1998, has had the spotlight cast squarely on its doping problem.  One scandal after another, every major champion tainted, many confessing or being caught, and cycling was eventually at a precipice.  Police took over and raided hotel rooms.  Media began to refuse to cover the sport, focusing instead on doping stories.  Sponsors threatened to withdraw (and some did in response to doping scandals).  And as a result of this turbulent, harshly exposed environment, came the biological passport, more 'Draconian' anti-doping measures, and sport that many have defended as being the most tightly controlled, scrutinized in the world.

My objection to this is that cycling's anti-doping status in relation to others sports is utterly and completely irrelevant to the current problem.  Imagine a criminal court where the judge is about to rule on a man convicted of robbery.  In the robber's defence, it is argued that other men are getting away with murder, and hence the robber should go free.  Each situation should be treated on its merits, and it is NOT a defence to point out the failures of others!   It is widely acknowledged that other sports have doping problems, and yes, some of them (NFL and MLB foremost among them, it seems) are doing little to clamp down on it.

One can argue whether the problem is as bad in athletics - I would argue that it is not, for a variety of reasons, but the main drivers are the calendar, the team environment, the culture of the sport, and its socio-economic status and "meritocracy", which I think add up to create a "perfect storm" for doping.  Doping no doubt exists, but I think there's a reason cycling has been exposed, and that reason is that cycling had (or has) the worst problem.  And, according to some, it still does.  In the words of David Walsh, who I agree with 100%, cycling needs to be torn down.  And also, don't forget that athletics has gone through its fair share of scandals - Marion Jones, THG, BALCO, Victor Conte, Ben Johnson and Charlie Francis, so is not devoid of the same media attention and focus.

But to use cycling's "more stringent" controls as justification for leniency on cyclnig is precisely the attitude that will keep the sport from moving forward and making progress.

And make progress it has - we got a few really good comments regarding the Giro, and Ivan Basso's stage win on the Zoncolan the other day.  It turns out the Basso rode the climb 1:45 slower than the stage winner in 2007, and that the top 7 on the day were on average 1:30 slower than the top 7 three years ago.  Basso's average power output was estimated as 395 W, or 5.7 W/kg.  Compare this to values in the Tour in recent years, where much longer climbs were done at 6.5 W/kg or higher.  Basso's own coach, Professor Aldo Sassi, has said that he believes that a power output above 6.2 W/kg on a long climb at the end of a stage is an indication of doping.  

I agree with him on this, and it's possible to show this principle using physiological concepts.  This is something I worked on last year during the Tour, and will post on during this year's Tour again, when it is relevant.  However, the point is that cycling has slowed up, and while there are numerous factors (race situation, conditions etc.) that contribute to this, the suppression (not the removal) of doping is one strong possibility.

At least someone is listening - the biological passport and Floyd Landis

On another positive note, it seems that some of Floyd Landis' claims are inspiring action.  The following two pieces detail the response of Mike Ashenden, a scientist involved with the biological passport, to Landis' claims.  The first article by ESPN is interesting because it reveals some of the tricks behind how Landis claims it was easy to avoid being caught.  And if you're looking for high-tech science and deception, look no further than the simple fact that the team knew when the testing would happen, so they could take steps to avoid detection.  It's not rocket-science, in some regards.

The second article explains what Ashenden calls the "missing piece of the puzzle".  This is exactly the response that is required, because scientists involved in actually preventing cheating often do so without full information.  Landis offers them a hypothesis to test and that can only be a good thing.  What should be of concern is that Ashenden recently did a study where he injected subjects intravenously twice weekly with microdoses of EPO over a period of three months, then ran their blood values through the biological passport software. "Not one of them failed," he said.

That doesn't make the biological passport "a joke" as Landis has called it.  But it does raise some serious question marks, and to all those people who bluntly defend cycling by saying it has a biological passport system, the response has to be "so what?".  A lot of houses have very fancy alarm systems, but they're still broken into.  It may be a deterrent, but it's naive to think it's preventing doping altogether, and it's good to see that Ashenden is realistic enough to know this and that hopefully it will improve as a result.

Cycling's Catch 22 situation and the ease of denial

Then finally, the second problem for cycling (and indeed in any sport, as Dwain Chambers showed two years ago), is that it's very easy to dismiss "tell-all" confessions because the people they come from are by nature "untrustworthy".

It occurred to me (and no doubt to many others) that cycling has a deniability problem, in that the people who are credible and trustworthy don't know about the doping problem and how doping is done, whereas the people who know about the doping procedures are deemed as untrustworthy and lacking credibility.

Floyd Landis is too easy to dismiss as lacking credibility - he cheated, lied, spent a fortune of other people's money to defend himself all through denials of ever having doped, and then promptly turned around and admitted to doping.  Of course, the obvious tactic, even if you hadn't perfected it on half a dozen people before (ranging from a mechanic to a few journalists to a masseuse) is to attack credibility.  "I like our credibility" was Armstrong's response to Landis' claims - as one would when the person making the allegations is, by making them, incriminating himself as a liar.  The only problem is, he might be telling the truth.

And on that note, one of the best comments we've received, in three years on this site, came from Steve, and it deals with exactly this point.  I know that a lot of people don't read the comments and so I am pasting his comments, in their entireity, below.  You can also read them at this post.
I'm not a scientist; but I have received law enforcement interrogation training. Landis's initial denials of doping in 2006, when interviewed immediately following the revelations of his positive test from the TdF (and before being lawyered up), showed many of the classic signs of deception: unable to muster an emotional denial, assumed belief that no one would believe such a denial, and, most particularly, misplaced outrage--his most emotional response was directed to comments about his mother. "Leave her out of this," he said (as memory serves). "She's a saint. She would never get involved in stuff like this." She wouldn't; but he would. That Landis couldn't muster outrage on his own behalf ("Hell no I didn't!") but could for his mother was a clear indicator of deception. Even in his colloquy with Greg Lemond, Landis reportedly said, he was concerned that a confession would only "hurt innocent people." Tellingly, in the Bonnie Ford interview, Landis now says that the hardest part of his confession was calling his mother to tell her the truth.

So I believe that Landis was lying then, and that his confession regarding his own doping is truthful now. And I feel sorry for those who staked their own beliefs, and money, behind his defense. I also believe that the accusations Landis makes against other cyclists (he primarily names Americans in his emails to USA Cycling, as I understand it, because that body is responsible for the licensing of the American pros) are sufficiently credible and specific to merit serious consideration and investigation. I agree with the other posts that note that the details regarding the techniques of doping appear to be corroborated by the available public details of other confessed and contemporaneous dopers such as Patrick Sinkewitz. Any such accusations will, by and large, consist of one person's detailed oral history--mob families have been brought down with less. Contemporaneous training diaries, as Landis suggests he has, could be very powerful evidence.

The sport of cycling has all the financial incentives in the world to push past practices under the rug and try to move on. But the fact that many riders of a dirty past continue to ride in the pro peleton, and have success, points to serious unanswered questions. Just ask the riders who compete against the Vinokourovs, Valverdes, and others of the world. It's time for the sport to clean house. 
About a top cyclist riding clean speaking out about suspicion of others' practices: the history of omerta (the "code of silence") and accusation in the sport suggests otherwise. For example Christian Vandevelde was asked a similar question about his strong ride at the 2008 TdF and the nature of his competitors. Vandevelde said that he didn't know about other riders, he knew that he was riding clean, and so therefore assumed that others around him on GC were, as well. Vandevelde's team published and allowed independent analysis of his year-long profile, to establish Vandevelde's bona fides.

Of course, several of the performances around Vandevelde were not clean--including Bernhard Kohl, who finished ahead of Vandevelde on GC, as well as those of Stefan Schumacher, Leonardo Piepoli, and Ricardo Ricco, among others. But Vandevelde wasn't in position to have evidence of those others' practices. One can imagine the difficulty that a rider might have to make such accusations without proof against a competitor. Given the sordid history of the sport, one might also well imagine how difficult it would be if, say, someone were demonstrably riding clean now, but was aware of questionable practices in one's own past. The riders and professionals associated with the current Garmin-Transitions team, which appears to be among those making the most effort to practice and demonstrate clean riding, are pointedly mute about their own past practices while on other teams. It's the glass houses effect.

Even if always clean, throwing stones would damage the sport, reduce one's own standing as a competitor, and yield little in reward. Ask, among others, Gilberto Simoni, who famously accused Ivan Basso of riding "like an extra-terrestial" at the 2006 Giro di Italia. While not accused of doping himself, Simoni was heaped with scorn and tagged as a sore loser; little was said or done to Simoni's benefit when, just months later, Basso's involvement in the Operation Puerto scandal became clear. Infamously, too, Fillipo Simeoni accurately accused Dr. Michele Ferrari in 2004 of being involved with doping; for his trouble, Simeoni's presence in a break at the TdF was chased down. Simeoni was not rewarded for his accurate accusation.  
Typically, knowledge of doping practices appears to come from first-hand knowledge--to know for certain what happened and where, one had to be directly involved. To accuse others with substantial evidence therefore typically means indicting oneself. The track record of cyclists who admit to doping regaining high-level employment in cycling is very poor--they have typically been shunned. The few who have gained some measure of a restored career are the exceptions that prove the rule. Most riders or team professionals with knowledge of doping practices--and there must be many, given what is confirmed about, just as examples, the old T Mobile team, Phonak, Saunier Duval, Festina, and many of the former members of US Postal-Discovery--must weigh the likelihood of ending their gainful employment in their chosen profession, and quite likely risking ruining the careers and endorsements of all of the people with whom they have been associated. Even, and perhaps paradoxically particularly, teams committed to "clean racing" such as T-Mobile-High Road, when faced with the Patrick Sinkewitz revelations, risk sponsor withdrawals over positive tests. The risks are high and the individual rewards are few.

In sum, the nature of the cycling community creates strong disincentive to defect from omerta and to display what one knows about doping practices, even if those practices are in the past, and the defections (those who admit doping practices and supply evidence against others) are, typically, those with nothing left to lose.

Those dynamics are little different from many criminal conspiracies, from drugs to racketeering to white collar crimes like price-fixing. As a prosecutor with the US Department of Justice's Antitrust Division, I worked with agents and fellow prosecutors to encourage witnesses to defect from price-fixing conspiracies and cooperate with government investigations. There, too, the incentive to defect is low and the risks are high--those who admit to price-fixing subject themselves and their companies to criminal fines and imprisonment, as well as treble civil damages. Like in cycling, those individuals who "turn state's witness" can be assured that they will never work in their chosen field again, and that they will be contributing to the ruination of everything and everyone around whom they have worked throughout their careers. The Antitrust Division offers an amnesty program to incentivize defection: immunity from criminal prosecution, de-trebled (single) damages for wrongdoing, legal protection for whistleblowers--even the opportunity for whisteblowers to share in the recoveries of certain ill-gotten gains. The system isn't perfect, but it at least begins to provide incentives for conspirators to defect.

Until cycling properly incentivizes those with knowledge to come forward--for example, with protection from suspension, guarantees of employment on clean teams, and harsh penalties for teams and individuals that do not cooperate--the incentives for those who are dirty, and even those who are clean, to keep what they know silent will remain strong.
It could not be said better!



Anonymous said...

mostly great points here, but I still say that in agreeing 100% that "cycling needs torn down" and the attack on the whole sport, rather than on doping, you are no better than people who looks at crime stats and then make comments on young black men in general because of their higher incidence in the statistics.

That's why the comparison to other sports gets brought up - because many , particularly the more lazy journalists, but also those like you who are informed to the details and background, want to tackle the problem by tearing the sport down or saying it's "terminal". Guilt by association or by a criteria like "black" "young" "runner" "cyclist" "from a neighbourhood" etc is not generally acceptable.

As you say, we're seeing some very interesting progress in the fight against doping thanks to both the successes and failures of the passport system in cycling and what is learned through that process... but instead of encouragement for the quite far reaching steps in the sport, the pro cycling fraternity simply get attacked for each successful outing of a cheat.

In sport it seems catching cheats is actively bad for your reputation, thanks in part to the kind of color commentary blogs like this add to the topic. To borrow your analogy, it often feels like the police being criticised for catching criminals! Again you'll say its outsiders doing the testing, but what kind of effective dope control for anys port could be trusted only in the hands of insders within race and team organisation?

Anonymous said...

another point I think missing along side incentives for speaking out, is a much tougher stance from everyone (UCI, WADA IOC etc) on the bans... no more reprieves.

Why Vino is allowed back is just crazy!

There's more to life than sport, if someone cheats they should get on with life without being part of sport, and let sport get on without them (in any capacity... coach, or management as well as as an athlete).

Anonymous said...

I read a lot recently about how doping in cycling is not talked about, or is still being brushed under the carpet.
But trying to read up more on it recently it seems there is a mountain (OK comparatively) of ex riders, commentators, cycling magazines and more general media talking about quite detailed elements and methods of doping in the sport. This site as one small example.

That seems to be the case at least since the 1998 debacle at the Tour de France.

Just an observation.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Anonymous

Fair points, thanks for raising them. And good counter-analogy!

I guess when faced with a problem (doping in cycling), the approach for many years has been to turn a blind eye, to pretend it doesn't happen, doesn't matter, isn't a major issue. I dare say that going back 60 years, this is what led to the culture that Jonathan wrote about and that I've mentioned. Doping was, for a long time, condoned. If you believe the reports, many of the journalists were not merely aware, but involved in the sport to the point where they too were doping.

So with that background, the current situation could easily go the same way, unless a very hard stance is taken, an extreme view, if you will. And if I err, it will be that way, because I honestly do believe that the authorities, those accountable for the running of the sport, must take the blame for the mess it is in.

So, "tear the sport down" is meant more for those people, but you're right, it is a generalization and many cyclists, even Tour level, don't deserve to be painted with the same brush. I hope that distinction is clear, and that it's not cycling, but doping, that is being condemned.

My perception is that saying "Cycling has a problem", or that "cycling is corrupt" is understood as meaning those within the sport who have been complicit in doping, or who condone it, or who do it. Not everyone.At least, I've never written it with the thinking that "all cycling is tainted". If it comes across that way, it's because that extreme is better for the sport than the other, passive one that doesn't act on what is clearly a problem.

So to come back to that analogy about crime and police, if the police identify an area of the city high in crime, but catch only petty thieves, but not the drug-dealers and murderers (for whatever reason), then they would definitely be criticized! And if a tip-off of a murder suspect is dismissed because it comes from a drug dealer who is deemed "unreliable" without consideration, then that too would warrant investigation, in my opinion. I'm pleased to see that people are paying attention to Landis, even if it is the Feds and the scientists!

And I'd fully support sending in dozens more police, even if it meant that the law-abiding citizens, for a short time, are inconvenienced.

Here in South Africa, our police are equally mistrusted. There is a general perception that the wealthy, 'white-collar' criminals engaged in fraud get away with dodgy deals, but that those lower in the food chain are targeted. Nobody trusts the police, and in fact they are often criticized for catching criminals, because people can usually see that their success is a facade for their deliberate failure in other areas! The point is that I see certain similarities in cycling!

This is a long argument about what is actually a minor point,but that point is that the response to this topic (be it Landis, Walsh, Ballister, Kohl) by many who follow the sport is one of "liar, just ignore him, it's not that bad, what does he know?". And this extends, I believe, to those inside the sport. And it deserves more than that, and that's why I'm critical.

But you're absolutely right, one should not paint all cyclists with the same brush. And if I might say, in defence of the colour of the blog, a big part of the motivation to condemn doping so much is to give the clean rider a shot at success, that has been denied him for far too long!

And on that note, I can only agree with you on Vinokourov, and many others. If the doping is proved, then much, much harsher penalties are deserved. I don't know about life for a first offence, but I would make it 6 years, and life for the second one.


Anonymous said...

The one thing I haven't yet seen good suggestions on is how to do better.

Leaving aside stronger incentive to talk and punishment for negatives, what are the technical or scientific avenues open to a sport?

What should sports authorities do if WADA and the scientists doing the AFLD and Passport schemes are not able to catch people via blood, hair and urine tests with any regularity of effect? (ie they catch someone once having found them negative many times previously).

Is there anywhere obvious to turn from a detection pov apart from the police raids etc (though I reckon they mainly have better things to spend lots of money and time on)

Anonymous said...

...In the robber's defence, it is argued that other men are getting away with murder, and hence the robber should go free...

I think a better analogy is if whites were being prosecuted for robbery and blacks were not being prosecuted for robbery.
Maybe you can do a lengthy post on why other sports haven't been as strict with anti-PED.
How much of the cycling anti-PED activity is being driven by the French, and by a dysfunctional relation between the UCI and WADA; rather than by the probability of a pro cyclist being guilty?

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Anonymous

touche on the analogy! I guess it could be looked at that way too, across sports! Maybe some groups in some sports are being "convicted" while others in the same and different sports are not! At least the analogy has legs!

Regarding other sports, that would be a fascinating book idea, actually. There's enough content out there to take a long hard look at track and field, baseball, American football, maybe soccer, and cycling and to compare the evolution of doping and the anti-doping measures. I think it would be quite a fascinating read.

In terms of the big culprits, I think NFL and MLB stand out. Particularly MLB where doping has been big news because of the home-run record, Barry Bonds and BALCO. Not sure if you ever read "Game of Shadows", but that exposed BALCO and Bonds in a big way, great book.

My initial impression is that those sports are acting so slowly/ineffectively because they're too commercially "committed", in a sense victims of their own financial value. The Hall of Fame concept, the massive media coverage, the huge sponsorships - it's cycling times a hundred and the conflict of interests that we probably both believe prevents the whole truth from coming out for cycling is on a whole new level for baseball, and probably football too.

Also, they're "privatized" in the sense that men own those clubs and decisions within the league are taken by the league commissioner but the team owners have a very powerful voice in how the league is run. Then you have player unions, which I've no doubt are enormously powerful, and the 'tail wags the dog', so to speak. Plus, the doping probably starts at college level, because the system there incentivizes early development and rewards it by giving 21 year olds multi-million dollar contracts if they are stronger, faster than other 21 year olds. And what's more, it is affordable - doping is not cheap, but the US college system can pay for it many times over. It's another perfect storm for doping.

Anyway, I'm thinking out loud here, and maybe I'm completely off the point. I'll look into it more, maybe email some friends in journalism and then look at a post. Or even a book!

Re your last point, I think the anti-doping quest has been very strongly influenced by the French, yes. I have a few journalist friends who cover the Tour, and they're very strongly of the opinion that the French have led the way. Certainly, the Tour de France tests of 2008 where Ricco was caught for CERA was AFLD led. I remember the confusion from within the UCI because they didn't know what that was about. So there seem to be different parties pulling in different directions, and to answer the anonymous poster above you, this would be a big part of resolving the issue.

The conflict between WADA, the UCI and even the AFLD is bad for anti-doping, in my view. I think it highlights the different agendas of the various organizations. Jonathan has followed that drama much more closely that I (I have enough politics on my hands in South African Olympic sport and athletics!), so maybe he has something to add.

But all those parties should have the same purpose, but it seems they don't.


Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

to the second to last anonymous poster:

Good question. I think the major changes will come from policy/management of the technology, rather than radical new approaches.

I think the science is actually doing quite a good job. About a year ago now, we interviewed Yorck Olaf Schumacher, one of the scientists involved with the blood passports, and he shared his views, and I agree with him on pretty much all fronts. He and Ashenden, and the rest of that group, have my confidence, and I think they're doing well.

Here is the link to the interview:

However, what Landis' allegations highlight are loopholes, that hopefully will be closed in time, as the testing improves. But, all of this is irrelevant if teams are getting tip-offs as to when testing is.

I remember Dwain Chambers talking about how easily he avoided testers. And Landis is suggesting it was equally easy for them. This is a massive problem - you can have the world's best science as your weapon, but it has no ammunition.

I think the key in all this is transparency. The biological passport system is promising only if it is open to all to see. Otherwise, manipulation of data is too easy, it's too easy to find ambiguous results (as we saw last year with Lance Armstrong's results - a few scientists were saying it was suspect, others said it didn't show enough to be flagged). Now, which is it? And why the conflict?

As long as that grey area exists, it will be difficult, and in my opinion, the grey area is removable only by making the whole process fully transparent. There are enough clever, driven scientists out there to come up with solutions to eliminate the grey, so how can they be involved by the authorities? And how much information should be disclosed? I believe if you have nothing to hide, all of it, but this rarely happens.

So to me, it's a question of "open-source". We did a post or two where this was mentioned once:



Difficult one, but not insurmountable. As I say though, the core issue is not the technology, it is the effectiveness of the science given the management/process, which Landis has once again highlighted as having major holes.


Anonymous said...

The NFL REALLY stands out to me. These guys are bigger/stronger/faster than ever before. Records are being shattered year after year. Steroid busts are extremely rare. Either they are not being tested properly, they are being tipped off about a test, or the NFL is sweeping positive tests under the rug. I believe the latter is the case.

6'3" 250 lb linebackers who run a 4.3 40 and bench 600 lbs are not the exception, they are the norm in the NFL.

Dannux said...

Good article. I have some ideas I would like to share in your website.
1- Many love cycling for what cycling really is. You know that if you have train and live in cycling.
2- I believe that competitive cycling is dirty. However, I believe the same for other sports. The problem is that cycling is the sport being crucified here.
3- I would love you to do an analysis comparing cycling controls versus other sports. How often, what kind of analysis, what kind of drugs. I believe you will get pretty charts for your website.
4- I get angry when people that DO NOT HAVE an idea about cycling are only feed with the doping crap. While they idolize other athletes than are in less controlled sports. So it is not fair to damage cycling unless you compare all sports by the same terms. If the other sports are not doing the same kind of controls you should place them even in a worse category than cycling.
5- I do want cycling to be clean and all these false idols to be taken down their pedestals. However, I do want cycling to be respected and appreciated for what the sport is.

Thank you,
Daniel C

Anonymous said...

"Infamously, too, Fillipo Simeoni accurately accused Dr. Michele Ferrari in 2004 of being involved with doping; for his trouble, Simeoni's presence in a break at the TdF was chased down. Simeoni was not rewarded for his accurate accusation."

Let's not forget who it was who chased Simeoni down, and then led other riders in a chant of 'Bastard, Bastard' as they rode behind him, and who subsequently tried to take legal action against Simeoni for speaking out about Ferrari. Yes, it was Lance Armstrong who was secretly 'prepared' by Ferrari from 1999 onwards.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Daniel

Thank you for your thoughts.

Regarding your third point, you're right, that would be a fantastic topic. I dare say it would make a sensational book.

I very briefly put some thoughts down in one of my previous responses, just above this one, so you might find that above. But definitely, it's something well worth discussing.

Agreed on all points, and I hope that the sport inches towards what you want from point 5!


Sean LeFloch said...

Hey Guys!

I just found this site. As a scientist, and an avid triathlete, this site is my dream come true!!! Articles are amazing and it refreshing to see a blog where it isn't just all ranting and raving but facts! Keep up the good work.

I have a question for you guys that you might be able to tackle. Is there any research out there that would suggest that long slow distance training(ie: 4 hours low intensity training rides, or 2 hour jogs) increases overall performance. If so, what athletic aspect does this improve (lactic threshold, fat usage, strength?)

I ask this question because someone directed me toward a radical new training methodology called Crossfit Endurance (You can get a more thorough description by googling it but here is a little snipit).
CrossFit is a strength and conditioning program that delivers a fitness that is, by design, broad, general, and inclusive. They take functional movements, done at varying distances and time domains, and perform them at high intensity. They recently extended the idea toward endurance sports. The endurance protocol is to: 1) crossfit 6 times per week (this will supplement the long slow training), and 2) for a triathlete, perform 2 workouts per week for each of the three sports (2 swims, 2 runs, 2 bikes). The endurance workouts are usually shorter than conventional workouts, but in much higher intensities (ie: 40k time trial, tabata intervals, 10x100m all out efforts). Nothing over a half marathon during training regardless if you are going for an olympic length triathlon or ultramarathon. To some things up: high intensity strength training to supplement the LSD, and threshold work or high intensity work for the specific sports.

I would love for you guys to take a look at this stuff and either tare it down or verify if it's legit.

(By the way, full disclosure, I am trying this training for a season, but I am apprehensive to continue this protocol. That's why I am asking you guys!)

Anonymous said...

What people think about what Landis had to say is irrelevant. He destroyed his own credibility. No one need do it for him. That leaves the need for proof. There are openings. Landis said Kristen Armstrong was in the room and witnessed something. Lets hear from her. Her credibility is high among the cycling community, I think. It is with me, a cancer survivor cyclist who admittedly supports Lance Armstrong until I see proof. If she supports Landis, that would be huge. I also understand investigations are underway here in the US and in Europe. They will focus on all of the people who have been named, I'm sure, names which include some of the top names in cycling. Let's see what proof the investigators can find. We know they have not tested positive, which is our 0only scientific measure. Critic the testing all you want, it is what we have. Until then, I can tell you that I am about a sick as sick can be listening to this over and over and over. Get proof, indict, convict, punish harshly with life-long bans, and move on. Only then will cycling be free of its past. One other point. It is important to recognize that cycling is the most transparent of all sports on this topic. Baseball was forced. The NFL's new symbol should be an ostrich. In that regard, I'm proud of cycling. At least there is an attempt to grapple with this very difficult subject.
Bloomington Il

Laura said...

Another perspective: http://www.cycle-smart.com/blog/2010/05/20/pretty-boy-floyd

Blog by Adam Myerson, a professional road cyclist mainly in criteriums and cyclo-cross.

Gene said...

...In the robber's defence, it is argued that other men are getting away with murder, and hence the robber should go free...

Anonymous captures very well how your analogy fails. I was thinking of a more benign example: if everyone around you is driving well over the speed limit and you get pulled over for going a few mph/kph over, you'd think something was not fair and would rightly say so.

This is not a side or small issue. It speaks to the nature of the system. In team sports, when players get traded, we often hear the phrase, "it's a business." Well, cycling is a team sport and a (capitalist) business too; that's the context of its doping. To treat it as largely individual failures is, as I suggested before, beside the point. Now, if there were no sponsors and interested media of various kinds making money off of it, so that the athletes were doing it as competitors, for individual glory, modest income and the sport alone, and doping still continued then the problem could be looked at differently.

I strongly suspect, though, if the sport were under the organized control of the athletes and coaches, i.e., the fundamental dynamic was different, this stuff wouldn't be going on but as an exception that was quickly and firmly dealt with. And I think that applies to all sports. Short of that, I think the efforts at stopping doping, however well meant, end up chasing their tail at best, lost in corruption at worst. Just like similar prohibitions face in other parts of life.

The Sports Scientists said...

Hi Everyone,

Thanks for all the discussion here, there are many good points from a number of you, as always.

Regarding Kristin Armstrong, I agree that she is a credible source of info, but I am not hopeful that we will ever hear from her. It is just too much to ask of her if you put yourself in her shoes.

Testifying against her ex-husband would likely be an unforgivable "offense" in the eyes of her children, who are likely still too young to understand any of this. To them (11 year old 9 year olds) their dad is their dad, and in their eyes he probably is superman---as is the case with most parents when kids are still young.

So to ask Kristin Armstrong to apparently tear down the father of her children. . .that is a big ask, and I am not sure any parents out there would be willing to do that, no matter how bad your ex-spouse has been, when the kids are that age.

I am not necessarily saying that I agree with that approach, but the main point is that is an incredibly unenviable position. She may realize she holds the key to exposing the fraud of her ex-husband, but has to balance that with her family life with her children. That is tough, and I must say I cannot blame her for just staying out of it for at least another 8-10 years until their children are adults.

She was contacted by Sports Illustrated for one of their great stories so far. It was to comment on Landis' claim that she witnessed the incident where Landis arrived at Armstrong's apartment in Girona and was handed six pre-dosed syringes of EPO, allegedly right in front of Kristin.

Her response was that she did not recall that episode. . .which might mean one of three things:

1) Landis has it wrong and she was not there
2) Landis made it up
3) She was there but is not going to help corroborate any stories by anyone

My money is on #3, but again I cannot really get hacked off at her for her unwillingness to speak out. Of course it is possible that eventually she is subpoenaed by the Feds, and in that case she might be inclined to speak. We should all remember that it is easy for us to be critical of her for remaining quiet, but again I think she is in a most undesirable situation and cannot even imagine what it must be like, but we will have to wait and see how that plays out.

I suspect that like any parent she is trying to do what she thinks is the best thing for her children, and we cannot fault her for that.

Kind Regards,

Simon said...

Landis may well have shown the "classic signs of deception", but Steve is kind of missing the point.

Landis' denial that he was doping and his long and expensive attempt to get his "conviction" overturned was based on the FACT that he knew he had been stuffed up. He tested positive for a drug he WASN'T taking, and the test failed to pick up what he WAS taking. That's from his emails.

Cycling - or more particularly the Tour de France - is in the hot seat about doping for two reasons.

First, it is the hardest sport in the world and it is that much more obvious to external observers that it is simply impossible to compete at the top level without medical assistance.

Some of that is even legal: I recently found a posting about the 2008 Tdf that said - "Today's Cycling News mentioned that 76 of the 180 riders who started the Tour De France had a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE)."

The TdF, as the pinaccle of the sport - way above the Olympics - is the place where riders use everything they can get hold of to enable them to survive. I started riding a bike seriously in 1967, the year Tom Simpson died on the Ventoux.

Track and field is at LEAST as dirty as cycling and has been that way for at least as long. East Germans anybody? Which brings me to the second reason cycling is taking al the flak - it is because cycling's governing bodies are crap at cover-ups.

Compare and contrast with some of the other sports mentioned here.

Track and field is a good one to look at. You could write a book on athletes who have been found positive but let off the hook for various "technical" reasons. Marion Jones - never found positive? Are you kidding me?

Charlie Francis was mentioned along the line (and Jones trained with him at one point) - read his book Speed Trap about how athletes used banned drugs and got away with it - it is an eye-opener.

You can see the same pattern in the major pro sports that have been mentioned here - for instance the spurious post-dated "medical exemptions" for NFL players caught using testosterone and/or HgH.

It seems that pro sport seems to appeal to an amazingly high number of sick people: people with life-threatenbing asthma, people with "testicular disease"....

How to "solve" it?

The first thing that needs to be done is to overhaul the proscribed list and chuck out half the listed drugs. It is time to accept that competing at a high level demands that athletes are allowed access to the same degree of medical support as they are entitled to as "civilians".

That means setting limits, as cycling has done for hematocrit, for example. With that set, let riders use EPO to achieve it if they need to. Set biochemical limits and test for those, not for drugs. Not sure how to apply that to out and out stimulants - but maybe set upper limits for levels disclosed in urine samples, as is already done for ephedrine and caffeine.

I'll declare a vested interest here - as a masters athlete I am not allowed to have my testosterone levels topped up, even to "normal" levels, despite the fact that there is sound medical evidence to show that low testosterone may be a risk factor for major diseases. I wouldn't get a TUE for it. Now, if I was a pro footballer...

Gene said...

Steve's post is very well put and shines light well on the individual dynamics of denials and confessions, but I find his comments ultimately disingenous. What federal prosecutors do in the kinds of cases he's talking about is lop off the most egregious or ostentatious violations (often the nouveau riche); the everyday corruption and nefarious dealing of various kinds that is considered part of doing (capitalist) business is rarely touched, as long as it isn't talked about openly or doesn't otherwise cause waves. That's the difference between the Michael Milkens or the high-spending CEOs who drive their companies into the gutter, and the Goldman Sachs' and others' wheeling and dealing from the bottom of the deck, such as in recent years. If those latter are chased, the effort is almost invariably half hearted and, in any event, very hard to prove. After all, the Constitution was written by businessmen, and that's what the Steves of this world are sworn to uphold and defend.

How does this apply to cycling and other sports? Even if Landis' accusations all prove to be true, some heads roll, titles taken away, testing improved, etc., etc., what will fundamentally change if the system and interests under which the sport operates is the same? From a scientist's perspective, or from that of any interested outsider for that matter, I think that's the question which has to be addressed.

Rod said...

The real tragedy for me is that every remarkable performance is now viewed with cynicism, or at the very least with skepticism. We (cycling fans) have been burnt enough.

Does cycling get an extra bad reputation for doping (compared to soccer [see Operacion Puerto]), NFL, MLB? Absolutely. It is a smaller sport, which means that it is an easier target when things go bad. And they have gone VERY bad in the last 20 years!

My hope is that further tightening of the anti-doping system, especially fine tuning the bio-passport will make it more difficult to dope.

That said, when the regulating body itself is suspicious of corruption, it darkens the whole sport. McQuaid's statement saying that at the time LA was not under suspicion so there was no conflict of interest is ridiculous. It's like having Al Capone buying police cruisers as a "donation".

I completely agree that there needs to be full transparency in testing and its results, as well as making random testing truly so. The UCI has it's spoon to deep in the pot to be an effective antidoping agency. Or in the words of Juvenal - Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Steven Sashen said...

It seems to me that all the "GET DRUGS OUT OF SPORTS!" demands come from people who are not living in a situation where your livelihood, let alone tens of millions of dollars, depend on you being 0.01% better than the other guys.

When there's money (or prestige) on the line, there will ALWAYS be people looking to alter themselves or the system. We've got millions of years of psychological evolution to guarantee that. Arguing that we could or should be different is tilting at windmills.

And even if we outlawed drugs, there are other ways to manipulate our body chemistry that will never be detected. I mean why is blood doping, or EPO illegal when sleeping in a hypo/hyperbaric chamber is fine?

It's presumptuous and arrogant to think, "Well, if *I* were on the other side of the needle, I wouldn't do what they are!" Humans are notoriously bad at predicting our own behavior in unique and unusual circumstances.

So, instead, we pontificate and place unenforceable demands on those who are in those situations (both in terms of performance and the means by which they achieve those performances).

Anonymous said...

Some great points here.

One thing that stands out in a historical context regarding the 50% rule the UCI used.... What else were they supposed to do?

- There was no test for EPO back then
- It was more than anyone else did
- Science offered nothing better at the time
- They're not above the law so can't just go dawn-raiding people's home etc at will!

Much of that still applies today.... better testing protocol and analysis (maybe OPEN SOURCE) seems a great step. But the basic application of testing by the authorities in cycling, or monitoring cycling seems to be at the limit of what is possible and of what the law and human rights will allow.

And to reiterate a theme, goes far beyond what other sports even pretend to attempt.

Edla said...

Lively and interesting debate. Thanks for good site. Keep going.

Two remarks. It still astonishes me how there are people who do not understand that Sport is vital part of the society and its culture. Sport is not the realm of fair play, at least not the area where the play is fairer than in society at large. We see how everyday and damaging doping is in financial world. And the reason is the very same than in sports. By fouling you can earn tremendously. Laws, rules and regulations are changed again and again in the area of finance. But show goes on and on. You catch some crooks, some reveal others and some are put to jail. But same dynamics remain.

Media development has increased the motivation for sports doping enormously. As Machiavelli put it: if people are not forced live decently, they don´t.

Another point. Evolution of science and medicine keeps the barrier of doping in constant move. Top sports is about making exceptional performances but you are not allowed to use all means to be able to perform outstandingly. There is an inherent contradiction here but more important is to understand that doping barrier and the list of prohibited substances is in a constant move. Caffeine is probably most well-known item which has been forbidden and then allowed. Tiger Woods eye operation is also well-known example of how science enables doping, namely gives you better eyes for putting. Of course eyeglasses already take you out of natural, but eye operation does it certainly as well. Better nutrition is a doping for todays athletes compared to athletes century ago. Some therapy today may end up enhancing your muscle strength (e.g.muscular dystrophy treatment). So we won´t ever have a solution for doping question. Its motivation is built in sports and science keeps on enhancing possibilities of doping. Latest new dawn perhaps coming from the recent creation of new form of life by some Dr. Venter.

Dannux said...

I have been reading some of the comments and I would like to said a couple of things.

1- I believe that cycling is the hardest competitive sport at least is very demanding on the body. However, I think that cycling racing is dirty. I do not believe for a second any of the guys racing now. I would believe that once cycling averages go down tremendously and you see the "captains" losing big time some days. Not seeing the same 5 super machines climbing or doing time trials like cars after 2 weeks of racing very hard. Based on the effort you should see it in their bodies. Therefore, the average of the whole race should come down by the final weeks.

2. We focus on cycling which have very good doping controls compared with other sports. and even with those controls most of the peloton is still dirty and they are not getting caught. So? What about other sports that not even have the same controls? If they are using the same doctors or the same school of doctors as the cyclist, they never are going to get caught.

3. Rumor said that when the Operation Puerto was open they found records of many big names in sports. Based on news the Spaniards have cover up and close down this investigation. Why?

Anonymous said...

What's your take on the MAIIA EPO test?

Anonymous said...

2010 Plan de Corones - after a rest day
1 Stefano Garzelli (Ita) Acqua & Sapone 0:41:28
2 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 0:00:42
3 John Gadret (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale 0:00:54
4 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo 0:01:01
5 Michele Scarponi (Ita) Androni Giocattoli 0:01:07
6 Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo 0:01:10
7 Rigoberto Uran Uran (Col) Caisse d'Epargne 0:01:36
8 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) Astana 0:01:37
9 Dario Cataldo (Ita) Quick Step 0:01:41
10 Evgeni Petrov (Rus) Team Katusha 0:01:46

2008 Plan de Corones - after back to back mountaintop finishes
1 Franco Pellizotti (Ita) Liquigas 40.26 (19.142 km/h)
2 Emanuele Sella (Ita) CSF Group Navigare 0.06
3 Gilberto Simoni (Ita) Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni-Androni 0.17
4 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Astana 0.22
5 Riccardo Riccò (Ita) Saunier Duval - Scott 0.30
6 José Rujano Guillen (Ven) Caisse d'Epargne 0.49
7 Marzio Bruseghin (Ita) Lampre 1.04
8 Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) CSF Group Navigare 1.43
9 Danilo Di Luca (Ita) LPR Brakes 1.45
10 Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank 1.49

Anonymous said...

"EPO is no longer the primary source of the gains, it's just something you use to make it look like everything is normal," said the person with knowledge of Landis' conversations. "You get the transfusion, and that's what skews the values. You correct that by using small doses of EPO."

Most anti-doping experts have traditionally seen EPO - which is detectable, but imperfectly so - as an end in and of itself. The usage Landis has told officials about is more of a means to an end, as if cyclists were using it as a masking agent for blood transfusions.

Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/more_sports/2010/05/26/2010-05-26_wheels_turning_on_lance.html?page=1#ixzz0pB3zQgU9

Steve said...

It's Steve here, the original poster. First, Ross, I'm flattered for your inviting continued discussion on my prior posts; thank you.

Responding to Gene, broad-brush claims of prosecutorial underreach do not reflect reality and, as it turns out, are inaccurate in the current case. Of course, law enforcement always faces practical and legal limits on its reach. But the US government, as it is now reported is investigating the Landis claims, has for practical purposes unlimited resources to pursue an investigation, once opened, to its full conclusion. The FBI, and for that matter the US Postal Inspector General, take fraud against the US government (in the form, in this case, of the US Postal Service) very, very seriously indeed. The availability (and certainty) of credible enforcement is a significant incentive to defect from wrongful conduct.

Furthermore, many laws exist to enhance private whistleblowers' ability to spur investigations, and even to bring actions themselves, on behalf of governmental authorities. A recent article in Velonews (http://bit.ly/c7jmmC) highlighted the potential use of the federal False Claims Act in the Landis matter; it's worth a read. I would be glad to give a detailed description of the FCA--my area of expertise when formerly a practicing attorney--but suffice to say that effective use of the FCA has spawned thousands of whistleblower cases that have struck fear, spurred extensive compliance programs, and resulted in the recovery of billions of dollars of ill-gotten gains in the defense contracting and health care industries, among others. The greatest obstacle in pursuing such cases typically is convincing a court of the merit of the legal theory underpinning the claim of fraud; but in a case such as this one, where the federal government itself is conducting the investigation, the likelihood of a credible claim being established, and therefore recovery, is far greater. The availability of personal gain for reporting knowledge of wrongful conduct is demonstrably a powerful incentive to defect from that illicit conduct.

It's notable, too, that Garmin-Transitions team has also publicly announced that it has encouraged its riders and staff to cooperate and tell the truth to investigating authorities--and has assured them that they will continue to have employment with the team so long as they are truthful. (http://bit.ly/bgNhIs) As I also observed previously, professional safeguards for truthful cooperation is yet another incentive to disclose wrongful prior conduct.

In sum, although it will be some time until the results are known, we may be witnessing a turn of the tide in the incentive structure in cycling to perpetuate a "code of silence." I certainly hope so.

Anonymous said...

Feels like the Garmin guys among others may be a better source of openness.

Who knows, the Landis admissions may yet elevate above rider to rider mudslinging and net in the docs and suppliers etc behind the problem.


Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi all

Well, huge thank you for all your comments and for the links you've provided - you've given me more reading material than I have time to read!

but I'm going to try!

Thanks to Steve for coming back and addressing some of the questions. Your thoughts no doubt inspired the comments, so thanks again!

Then to the poster who gave the times from the Plan de Corones climb, very interesting. Will definitely refer to that in the future.

To the rest, give me some time, I'll put some thoughts together!


Giovanni Ciriani said...

Interesting article on the psychology and complex relationships that weave the sport mentality. I found this other article adding a further perspective. http://downthebackstretch.blogspot.com/2010/05/funeral-for-friend.html

Gene said...

Steve speaks to the issues from the standpoint of a (federal) prosecutor; I'm speaking from the standpoint of the economic and political system. Anyone who knows their economic history for the past couple of hundred years, knows that what I called corruption and dealing from the bottom of the deck are typically perfectly legal, or only marginally illegal, and rarely prosecuted unless they get out of hand and someone decides to go after them. Whistleblowers, however individually brave (and often naive), are one of the mechanisms that facilitates this process, that makes the legal side look like it's working. Overall, though, it's sort of a PR cleansing method for the system, so it can go onto the next round with "everyone" happy. Study the history of economic crises over the past 170 years in England and the U.S., and you'll see this pattern repeating itself over and over. And this doesn't even touch the issue of everyday violations of the law by employers toward their employees, ones that rarely (as a percentage) get prosecuted.

I come back to the fundamental issue for cycling and sports: how is a piecemeal approach to controlling drug use going to stop the fundamental economic and ideological forces behind it? Government/regulatory prohibitions don't work and never have, when the structure and incentives are for them not to work are left fundamentally intact.

Joe Garland said...

Further from Sports Illustrated.

As to the what-can-be-done question, to what extent is the nature of cycling in which the peleton has a "boss" could the riders themselves do something about it. Seriously. I would think that the riders themselves know who's doing what, or at least have pretty good guesses, and many would prefer not to do anything but have to given the nature of the sport (a point Walsh makes in "From Lance to Landis"). Forget omerta, what if someone of respect in the peleton simply said "Nada mas"? Instead of chasing down the guy who talked, chase down the guy who used.

A pipedream I know. As to Gene's point, it stops when the riders want it to stop. It's a cliche, but given the nature of the sport, mightn't it work?

new london said...

To the Sports Scientists.....i enjoy reading your thoughts and have learned an awful lot in a short time regarding the issue of doping but please....stick to that.....when you mention why K. Armstrong would not testify to that you are assuming 1) the event was meaningful enough to her, not floyd or lance and us cycling junkies, that she would have remembered it.

If the event held no meaning for her...she would never remember it or create any association with a package being swapped. Perhaps she may remember the ride solely because she had never been in a helicopter before, her kids were excited or she was fighting with lance.

You cannot just assume it was memorable for her.

Second. Floyd never did this to clear his conscience. Any thought that this is the case is truly remarkable if you read the emails where one could easily conclude that if his team was in the Tour of California his conscience would have been satified; only when he could not did he break the story.

Third. I agree with you that even though he was not clearing his conscience, many of the allegations ring true. But because with a straight face and absolutely no conscience he could testify that he did not dope and hood wink thousand of dollars to support that lie...his allegations are suspect.

Did David Millar clear his conscience after waging the war Floyd did and trying to extort his way into a event.........if he had pointed fingers at other riders than one would think his hypothetical allegations were much more credible than floyd's.

Do you really think Bernie Madoff believed his was stealing.....or rather that he created a complete different set of values within his mind to justify his acts in a manner that allowed him to live with his conscience for years and now is left to untangle the created memories from fact.

and oh yeah...i am pretty cycnical and do think more were doping than not.....and it was probably impossible to hid it from other cyclists. Keep writing Sports Scientists you get me all fired up!

Frank Day said...

I simply cannot get to worked up over the use of epo when there are seveal perfectly legal methods of doing the exact same thing such as living and training at altitude or using an altitude tent. There is no evidence that erythrocytes that come from the use of epo are more proficient at delivering oxygen than any other "naturally" derived erythrocyte and those that are derived from transfusion probably have less than average usefulness as their average age is older. As long as the percentage of erythrocytes is regulated it seems there is a level playing field.

I see it somewhat similar to those who use alcohol or tobacco as their "relaxing" drug of choice railing against those who refer marijuana as being "druggies".

That having been said, if it is against the rules, it is against the rules. The only question is: What should the penalty be?

I have more issue from a competitive point of view with those enhancers that enhance training recovery or training benefit. That, in my opinion, is where nature is being tweaked and the playing field being tilted.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

HI folks

TO New London:

Thanks for the debate re Kristin Armstrong. Points taken. However, I just have to say on behalf of Jonathan who responded to the Kristen Armstrong question: Remember this was actually a question asked of us on the forum. Jonathan gave his opinion. It may be an arguable opinion, and you may indeed differ, but I would distinguish between responding to a question in the comments section and actually writing posts for the site. Two very different things, and I think here, on this forum, one can speculate in response to those questions.

In fact, I'd say that on the site, speculation is fine.

The other thing is that when you write that Floyd was not making these confessions to clear his conscience, you're making as much a leap of faith as you are suggesting we are when we assume that the exchange was memorable to her. I think we all have to make those assumptions to debate the issue, which is what this is!

Your point about Bernie Madoff is a really good one - I think that people will create values to justify their actions and that would a fascinating thing to know about. Having said that, I've seen dopers confess and then admit that for years, they slept poorly, they felt guilty and they knew they were doing something wrong. So while they justify it, I do believe they know that they're doing the wrong thing.

Thanks for the post, and keep being fired up!


voline said...

One more link:

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

HI Steve

Thanks for the follow up debate.

If you'd like to put some thoughts together on the False Claims Act, given your background of the law and the sport, then I'd gladly post them, do a follow up on this topic.

My email is ross.tucker@mweb.co.za


Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi again Everyone, and thanks again for participating here.

To Frank:
The problem with living at altitude or using hyperoxic tents/chambers is that it is different on a critical level from using EPO.

When exposed to a stimulus such as altitude, the body will in fact adapt and increase one's hematocrit. This is a classical and well-documented response to the decreased pO2 in the air at elevation.

However, just like everything else in the body, it is regulated, and in such a way that fits with the other attributes of the individual's physiology. By that I mean some people will tolerate a higher hematocrit and therefore given the same altitude stimulus as another person will increase their hematocrit to a higher level.

It is not a linear relationship however, so to speak, and so even if you move increasingly higher your hematocrit does not keep on getting higher and higher. The same is not true for EPO use, however, because in that situation there is no regulation because the athlete is "secreting" (injecting) the hormone in spite of signals to the body that might be turning it off in normal situations.

Therefore although an athlete might increase their hematocrit to 47% when living at altitude, they can increase it almost indefinitely (until death, theoretically) while using EPO.

So we can control for the upper limit and let athletes take EPO so long as they do not exceed a given hematocrit, but I would argue the individual differences between athletes are what makes sport so compelling to watch, and in fact we do not want a "level" playing field by having every athlete line up with the same physiology, but rather we want it leveled by the exclusion of outside and/or artificial influences.

Given this type of level playing field, Athlete "A" might have a higher hematocrit, but Athlete "B" might have some other attributes that "level" out Athlete "A's" advantage. To me this is real competition. The difference might be as simple as motivation, but as we have mentioned so many times here before performance is a terribly complex thing, and therefore is the product of a number of different attributes that might occur in different combinations but with "equal" results (i.e. close competition).

This can quickly turn into a discussion about what sport actually is and why we watch it, what value it adds to society, how it might mimic society and its values, etc., but we already got beaten to a pulp with the science stick earlier by suggesting there is a social and psychological aspect to all of this!

Thanks again for the comment.

Kind Regards,

Mark said...


The latest seems to be mechanical doping? http://cozybeehive.blogspot.com/2010/06/gruber-assist-made-no-sale-to.html

leagz said...

A fascinating debate that does touch on the essence of what elite or professional sport is. Jonathan argues that "the individual differences between athletes are what makes sport so compelling to watch, and in fact we do not want a "level" playing field by having every athlete line up with the same physiology, but rather we want it leveled by the exclusion of outside and/or artificial influences."
So an altitude training induced hematocrit increase is OK, but the EPO route is not. Humans are naturally competitive, but when you get to the highest levels in modern sport, I would argue that many techniques to improvement are artificial or not natural, including the tough training regimes endured by many top athletes, whether legal or not. Physiology plus training equals performance. It is tempting to push both components to the limit using any technique that works and isn't subject to penalties on discovery, in order to gain incremental performance gains. The only question is: where to draw the line and how?
Basketball players need to be tall, cyclists need high endurance, swimmers need big feet and hands, etc. They can be born with the right genetics - that's an essential starting point - but then can only take substances, induce changes or undergo training regimes to give a competitive edge. There was coverage in the UK press recently about a Romanian tennis player undergoing "surgery in a bid to improve her game" (see http://bit.ly/9umQlG). This seemed to me to sum up the "thin end of the wedge" of tampering with physiology in the name of sport. You have strong opinions about Semenya, Pistorius and Landis, which may be seen as extreme cases that have crossed way beyond the line. But where is the line?