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Issues in Science and Technology


Is Landis dirty? Does it matter?

Is Landis dirty? Does it matter?

Floyd Landis might have used a banned drug during the Tour de France. The drug might have improved his performance. Banning the use of certain substances might make sport more fair. Then again, maybe not. And in the end it might be impossible to reach certainty on any of these questions.

As Gina Kolata points out in the New York Times (7/28/06), the reliability of the tests is not perfect, and the evidence that the use of testosterone enhances endurance is far from compelling. Never mind that the security of the samples themselves raises more questions than a Florida election. Kolata has been following this issue for a long time (See http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?sec=health&res=9C06EED8123CF932A25754C0A96F958260)
and the picture is not becoming any clearer.

Transcending the Landis case is the larger question of what is fair in sports. In the split-second, all-or-nothing world of sports athletes are willing to try anything to gain an advantage. There is no end to the dietary regimes, vitamins, and supplements that athletes are willing to try. There is no consistent rationale for deciding what is legal. Should synthetic vitamins be banned? What about naturally occurring stimulants? Like it or not, athletes are in a constant race to find the secret elixir before it can be banned or detected. Besides, all their training is designed to make their bodies different. Most of us cannot even imagine how much training was required or how difficult it was for the rider who finished last in the Tour.

The most thoughtful and knowledgeable contrarian on the question of regulating performance enhancing drugs is Norman Fost, a physician and bioethicist (Disclosure: and a friend) at the University of Wisconsin. Everyone who believes without thinking that ii is obvious that we can make sport pure and that even if we can’t we have to try needs to listen to Fost. Here are a couple of samples.




  • Some losing battles are worth fighting, and doping in sports is one of them. I'm a professional athlete, a professional cyclist, in fact. For me there's a very clear difference between the equipment I choose, the air I breathe, or the food I eat, and requiring illegal medical assistance to recover from training or to enhance my performance -- particularly if the manner of using those substances bypasses the body's checks and balances of the lungs and stomach and is taken intravenously. That's the moral difference between living at altitude or taking a vitamin, and injecting synthetic EPO which Dr. Frost seems to miss.

    Sports are games, it's true. And games have rules. Playing by those rules and seeing what a human is capable of within those rules is the very essence of sports. Dr. Frost says those rules are hypocritical, but it's his logic that most of the dopers I know use to justify their actions, and rationalize thier contribution to what is now an epidemic in sport.

    When I descend a mountain or sprint in a pack, I know what the risks are. I can see them plainly. But I shouldn't be forced to take unknown medical risks simply as an requirement for participation in my sport. If my genetics determine that no matter how hard I train, I won't recover as well or transport oxygen as quickly as the best, that's the whole point of competition. I can always do something else, or compete at a lower level. Right now, I compete at a lower level on the US pro circuit because I compete cleanly. I can live with that, literally and figuratively.

    By Anonymous Adam Myerson, at 9:23 AM  

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