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, July 08, 2010

Rudy Pevenage admits to Puerto involvement

"It was a normal thing to do."

Well, seeing as how it is Tour time, doping scandals seem to be part of the scenery in July.  This year is no different, first because of the Wall Street Journal's article "Blood Brothers" which ran on Saturday during the prologue, and now because Rudy Pevenage has admitted to helping Jan Ulrich dope with Dr. Efumiano Fuentes, he of Operacion Puerto infamy.

I know what many must be thinking. . .that perhaps the admissions and info provided by Floyd Landis has somehow created a critical mass and more admissions will follow.  That perhaps Ulrich himself will make good on his promise to one day "reveal what he did during his career."  It would be the best thing for the sport because finally the UCI and others will be forced to admit that if there is not a problem now in 2010, at least there was only a few short years ago.  But all I can say is let's not get our hopes up just yet, because one can never, ever, underestimate the power of omerta and the denial of the officials and many fans.  There is a mountain of admissions, positive tests, circumstantial, and physiological data, but in spite of all this evidence many still believe either that the sport was never that dirty, or "that was  then, this is now," meaning with the biological passport suddenly things have changed.

The normalization of doping

You can click back to Cyclingnews.com for the details, but perhaps most telling is Pevenage's quote in the title of this post---"It was a normal thing to do."  He admits that not once did he feel like he was doing anything wrong.  Mind you, this is exactly what many dopers repeat again and again, including Landis.  He has expressed no regret for doping, and instead he saw it only as the necessary next step to climb to the top of his profession.  When illicit activities like taking hormones and infusing blood, which most of us express huge inhibitions to, suddenly become the status quo, you know you have a problem.  This is the effect of a sport's "culture," and before we get beaten again with the science stick (!), let me reiterate again that to understand fully doping in sport, one must consider all the angles, even the "social science of sport." The physiology is indeed a large part of the doping, but there are always many other angles that contribute to the entire picture.

Instead of cyclists being inhibited and choosing not to dope, for those wishing to reach the pinnacle or for those wishing to merely survive, doping is an entirely acceptable option.  It is the normal thing to do.  And until cycling---and all sports, mind you---can change that culture and that mentality, doping will persist, sometimes in epidemic proportions, although any doping at all is unacceptable.  Michael Shermer's application of Game Theory to the doping situation best summarizes it.  Until the negative consequences of doping are larger than the positive consequences of doping, it will persist as a behaviour in sport, primarily because right now there is still little risk of being caught and the benefits in the form of larger salaries, more endorsement deals, and renewed contracts, far outweighr the risks of getting caught.  And even getting caught is not the end of the world---just look at Ivan Basso's and Alexandre Vinokourov's mostly trouble-free returns to cycling.

How responsible are the coaches?

On another note, this brings up a question that has been asked before regarding the complicity of coaches and/or managers.  Typically the athletes test positive and suffer the consequences while the support staff are rarely implicated.  This has changed in the past few years as some coaches in athletics have been banned from the sport.  Most recently, Jamaican and four-time Olympian Raymond Stewart has been banned for life for buying banned substances from a supplier for his athletes, and previously Trevor Graham and Remy Korchemny have been given "life sentences" from their sport.

But is should be noted that these individuals were banned because it was shown they had a role in physically securing the drugs. and the larger question is even if a coach cannot be proven to have a role in buying the drugs, yet a string of his or her athletes test positive. . .how complicit is the coach?  Can they be held accountable at all?  It is a very gray area, and perhaps difficult to argue as it means the coach must now take some responsibility for another individual's actions.  However one might argue that if this is the case, then perhaps it might serve to deter doping or also might encourage third-party drug testing by teams and coaches, thus adding an additional layer of scrutiny outside of the organizing bodies.

Vive le Tour

In the mean time, the tour this year has produced some great, if not controversial, racing.  Stage 3's finish on the Arenberg cobbles, while not a favorite of the riders, cracked the race open and produced dramatic results from Cancellara reclaiming the yellow jersey to Andy Schleck and Cadel Evans riding themselves back into contention before the first mountain stage on Saturday.  And speaking of the weekend, what's a sporting fan to do?  Between the Tour de France and the last two World Cup matches, I hope your Tivo is working!



Anonymous said...

I agree with your point about the coaches (and team management in general). Many confessed dopers assert that while the team policy was offically anti-doping they were expected to do whatever it took to get results and then hung out to dry if they got caught. I think a way needs to be found to penalize teams/managers/directors/coaches/doctors so that riders aren't left holding the bag on their own if they get caught while the teams reap the benefits when they don't get caught. Hopefully the current "clean" teams really are clean and things are changing for the better.

RunDave said...

I've been thinking for some time about doping and its normalisation. It all comes down to perspective (or loss of it). Whilst it is quite correct to say that doping is wrong and not normal, when you look at it as part of a spectrum of practices that are employed in elite sport, it is quite easy to see how it becomes normal. For the everyday amateur athlete and/or general population, practices such as altitude training, altitude tents, hyperbaric oxygen treatment, extreme use of painkillers, extreme dietary restriction and supplementation, laboratory testing, the high training loads and all the other legal practices that professional athletes endure to get an edge would seem bizarre (colostrum anyone?) and unnecessary. Also, I don't think most people realise the workload and pain that elite athletes go through to reach their peak. So to most people, elite training and high performance practices are not normal, but they are quite happy to sit back a marvel at the end product. To the elite athlete, all the above performance enhancing practices become normal and I think that it is a pretty small step from the legal to the illegal.

The general public might think something like taking your own blood out and storing it for use later to increase performance is extreme (although this is a common surgical procedure). But take the athlete who is training all day every day, being continually tested, is on a regime of legal drugs and vitamins, they spend time at altitude and they've been doing this for years. Their lifestyle has been manipulated in every respect to achieve maximum performance. When your whole life has been shaped to gain maximal performance, it defies logic not to use a practice that increases performance.

Many of the illegal doping practices for athletes are in one form or another legal and commonly used medical procedures. Steroids are legally used to treat a multitude of conditions, blood transfusions are standard practice, stimulants are also used to treat a multitude of conditions. So for an athlete who is subjected to a range of extreme and often bizarre performance enhancing practices, not using "normal" medical procedures might feel like they are missing out on their full potential.

I suppose this all sounds like a justification for cheating. It's not, but it does indicate how a fairly warped mindset (to us) could develop.

Anyway, that's my musings about it.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Dave

I don't think it sounds like justification for cheating - it sounds pretty much on the money and I think you've made some great points in an excellent post.

I think your musings about each athlete can even be expanded across the entire sport, because everyone follows the path you've outlined and the 'culture' of the sport follows its individuals, and so within the sport, I agree, we look at it from outside, and we see "right and wrong", whereas inside the sport, those definitions evolve.

I remember talking with David Walsh about this. As you'll know, he's a very vocal anti-doping guy, and he doesn't condone it at all, but he also admitted some 'sympathy' with those riders who find themselves with the talent to get to the highest level, but who then are faced with this doping dilemma. It's a helluva difficult one, and I can also find sympathy, hopefully without condoning it.

Thanks for the musings!

wayfool said...

I always enjoy your artciles. I wanted to comment back to your theoretical power limit post. It seems like the idea has also been picked up by the New York Times and is pretty much confirming your theory as well:


Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Wayfool

Thanks a lot for that link, some interesting quotes! I will throw something up a little later today!