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.

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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.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Happy 2nd birthday to us

The Science of Sport turns 2...and Rashid Ramzi tests positive for CERA in the Olympic Games

OK, so we forgot our birthday...turns out it was yesterday, two years ago to the day that we did our first ever post.

Since then, 435 more articles have been written, read, and occasionally commented on, by you.

So once again, thank you very much for your support and continued reading of our "hobby". When we began the site, the intention was to document our insights and opinions for no reason other than we enjoyed it, and it's grown to the point where it is genuinely the most enjoyable thing we do. It is hard to document how much time in a day we spend thinking about and researching content for the site---don't tell our bosses!

Obviously, as the site has grown, it's taken more and more of our time, and that's often been time we can't give (have to pay the bills somehow - Jonathan has "overheads", Ross is saving up for his one day!). March this year was our leanest month ever, thanks to work commitments, but we've bounced back in April courtesy Boston and London, and hopefully, we'll keep the momentum going through the summer months of cycling and track and field.

Obviously, we'd love for this site to become fully financially sustainable to allow us to retire from the "rat race" and do the site even better. Perhaps that opportunity will present itself some day. We've considered the option of creating a subscription service where we'd charge a nominal fee to subscribe or to read "premium content", but that model, while used fairly widely on-line, doesn't grab us, it seems too exclusive and goes against our core value of making information available (perhaps this is the difference between scientists and businessmen!), so we're putting it off for as long as possible. Variations on that model are possible, so we'll see how it goes.

But what we have done, based also on what seems to be a trend in the online "industry", is to create a DONATION function, where you can support our efforts and time by donating to The Science of Sport. You can see that link on the top right of the homepage, and it's a pretty simple matter of clicking on "Donate" and then following the instructions. From time to time, we'll also include a small paragraph at the bottom of our posts to encourage donations, for those of you who don't actually visit the site but receive the articles in your inbox.

Obviously, no obligation, but rather just an attempt to earn something for the time and effort. We'll continue as long as possible regardless, because we enjoy it enough! At least til we're three years old!

In other news - Rashid Ramzi tests positive

A potentially big story today is that six Olympic athletes, including 1500m gold medalist Rashid Ramzi, have tested positive for CERA, the latest generation EPO hormone, which was made famous by Tour de France cyclists (Ricardo Ricco primary among them) last year.

When Ricco was caught, we did a post explaining CERA, and speculating that maybe some Olympic athletes would be jumping for cover now that a test had been developed through collaboration between anti-doping agencies and the pharmaceutical company that produced the drug for medical use.

According to reports, the IOC went back and retested samples from Beijing, and found that two medalists were using CERA. According to this article:

"The person, speaking on condition of anonymity because the names haven't been released by the IOC, said a male track and field athlete who won only one gold medal was one of the athletes. The other medalist was in cycling."

As you can imagine, great debate today about who they were. The cycling positive is rumoured to be Davide Rebellin, who won silver in the men's road race. The Italian news media are reporting this, though the Italian Anti-doping Agency (now there's an oxymoron if ever there was one) is not naming the athlete, stating that first the "B" sample must be tested before they will confirm the identity.

Who is the male track and field athlete? Speculation time!

As for the track and field athlete, the very latest news, which just came out about two minutes ago, is that it's Rashid Ramzi of Bahrain!

Earlier today, it was still unknown, and so Ross played around with some possible names. However, now that the news has apparently been confirmed by the Bahrain Olympic Committee, speculation no longer seems required, so I edited the post. For the record, though, I thought it more likely to be one of the race-walkers, particularly the Italian Alex Schwarzer, since most of the athletes tested positive for CERA so far are Italian, and this would be consistent with the idea that the doping practice can be traced back to a common source.

However, turns out I was wrong (apologies to the race-walkers! But it was our birthday, I took liberties!), and that the positive test belongs to Rashid Ramzi, the winner of the men's 1500m title. He also won the 800m-1500m double in 2005, and then promptly disappeared from the scene for the next few years. A few very weak showings, interspersed with what was a completely dominant performance in 2005 aroused a great deal of suspicion, because it is consistent with doping. The fact that he has now been caught will give great satisfaction to many people who have "known" or suspected it all along.

In fact, all of today, there has been a poll on LetsRun.com, where you can vote for your likely "doper" - they didn't have the race-walkers in, so they were a step ahead of me, but Ramzi is winning by a clear majority - 54% of the vote last time I checked.

Also, there's an entertaining read on their world famous Message boards, to add some humour and opinion to the piece.

OK, but seriously, I'm joking around (it's our birthday after all, we're allowed) about a serious topic. Ramzi becomes one of the first high-profile positives in track for a long, long time. Justin Gatlin was maybe the last (I stand corrected) gold medalist caught, and in distance running, there has been no one on the men's side for a while. I'm interested to see what the fall-out is. Will he do what most athletes seem to, and simply deny it? "It must be a mistake", or "the lab is out to get me". Or will he confess and take whatever punishment is dealt. That will be interesting, because currently in cycling more and more dopers who get caught admit it hoping that the UCI will go easy on them and reduce their two-year ban by some amount. But in athletics there is no precedent for this kind of "strategy."

A final thought - given that athletes knew that a test had been developed for CERA in July (thanks to Ricco's bust in the Tour), to continued taking it through to the Olympics in August suggests that athletes are either:

a) incredibly stupid, knowing it's detectable, or
b) relying on other methods of avoiding detection, and not 'tester blindness'

That is, it suggests to me that they may have tried tricks to avoid the testing process, perhaps involving substitution or collusion to get away with having a banned substance in the sample. Surely they wouldn't be so stupid as to go blindly into providing samples knowing they're testable - plan B must exist. And it seems to have failed in this case!

That's it for today. Again, thanks to everyone for your support over our two years of existence (or the two weeks you've been reading), and let's hope the third year is as successful!

Ross & Jonathan


steve said...

Not really a big surprise but it's Ramzi. Good to see someone who has been so suspected of use over the years finally get caught.


Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Steve

yes, I'm also glad. A couple of thoughts:

Like many, I've followed the debate on Ramzi closely, so it comes as little surprise. But other than his sketchy seasons mixed up with that brilliant 2005, and the fact that he raced so rarely outside of championships, what other reasons were there for speculation? It's not like in cycling where rumours abound, so while I've always suspected, I'm not entirely sure why i did?

Then also, I see the b-sample is only going to be tested in June. There was a time when results were only announced after the b-sample. That seems to have changed, and I wonder why? All it does is open the authorities up to legal loopholes that get athletes off. Hopefully that doesn't happen here, but it's odd that they've announced it. ANd it's not just a leak either.


Anonymous said...

Is it possible Ramzi used CERA to boost his red blood cell count prior to removing some for storage? This would mean he would have a relatively 'normal' count to continue training. Any remaining CERA in his system would be used up by the time of the olympics. If blood was stored early on in the year before it was known a CERA test existed but then reinfused just before the olympics the CERA could then show in the test. IS this possible or can blood not be stored for that long?