Earlier today, I saw a news article on BBC.com which touches on the subject of doping at the 2012 London Olympics. Of course, with that being about a year away, it’s hard to say how many athletes who get a boost from performance-enhancing drugs will actually get caught during the upcoming Summer Games. And, as faithful readers here (and who isn’t at this point?) already know, just because someone doesn’t get caught doesn’t mean he or she wasn’t cheating.
So what could make the London Olympics the cleanest ever? Well, according to the Beeb’s article:
Prof David Cowan [who is in charge of anti-doping efforts for the 2012 Olympics] strongly indicated that a new test to catch blood dopers could be deployed for the first time.
Speaking at the British Science Festival in Bradford, Professor Cowan confirmed there would also be a new test for human growth hormone.
What’s special about this new test to catch those who are blood doping is that it is supposedly geared towards people who store and then reinfuse their own blood (which is known as autologous blood doping). Up to now, testing has been supposedly able to catch those who use other people’s blood, but catching athletes who use their own blood has been more problematic.
The article goes on to say:
At this meeting [Cowan] gave details of a new test that would compare the age of blood samples by looking at the genetic component of red blood cells.
“We’re working on a scheme where the nuclear material, not in the nucleus itself, but the RNA material in the cell has been shown to change and we are hoping that using those markers we’ll be able to distinguish stored blood from blood that’s in your body naturally,” he said.
I would be interested to see just how this test works. I’m not sure what change would happen over the lifetime of a blood cell that might show one blood cell is older than another. At least, not in the timeframe where blood doping occurs. I could imagine a test that could take a stored bag of blood from many years ago, and then compares those cells to existing cells to determine the age. But I can’t imagine that a cell from say two months ago is going to have a significant change in the nuclear material that could make it easy to pick which cell is older than another cell.
Professor Cowan was careful not to tell the BBC that the autologous blood doping test will be ready for the London Games. What he did say is this:
“I would never guarantee what we can deliver by a particular time, that’s the nature of research, we’re working very quickly on this, the progress is very exciting. I would put it the other way round, if you’re an athlete be careful – we may have a test in time,” he said.
Professor Cowan did confirm that an improved test for human growth hormone would be available next Summer and that tests for gene doping were also in the pipeline. His message to dopers was simple – cheats will be caught if they come to London.
I can imagine that a new, improved test for HGH might be available by 2012. Gene doping — that is, real gene doping where a person essentially changes one gene for another with the hope/belief that it will improve athletic performance — is probably not happening just yet. And testing for it will be problematic. Working on a test? Great. Knock yourselves out. Verifying that it’s accurate? Color me skeptical.
Why? Well, because gene replacement therapy is still not anything approaching safe and reliable and in the mainstream of medicine just yet. It’s still experimental, and the techniques — safe techniques — aren’t fully there yet. So anyone who attempts gene doping is literally risking his or her life. Because, not to sound melodramatic, people have died in gene replacement therapy trials. Short of actually getting before and after DNA samples to compare for modified genes, I’m not sure how the testing labs will be able to confirm that someone has engaged in gene doping.
There’s a part of me that suspects that stories like this are more about psychological warfare. If the anti-doping authorities can make the athletes believe there is a test that can catch certain types of cheating, then that (they hope) will convince the athletes not to engage in those forms of cheating.
Which could be a brilliant strategy, if it works. Problem is, the tests have to work, too. Otherwise the cheaters will eventually figure out that it’s all talk and nothing else. So if the tests really aren’t there, it’s only a matter of time before the cheats will be back to their old ways.
Still No Positives from the 2011 Tour de France
It’s still early days yet, but no new positive test results from the 2011 Tour de France have been leaked or announced. A while back, the UCI said that there were no positive test results (well except, perhaps, the Russian rider Kolobnev, who was unceremoniously booted from this year’s Grand Boucle). Of course, it seems to me that the whole Contador affair didn’t come to light until a couple of months after the 2010 Tour, so I wouldn’t go so far as to say the results are final just yet in the later edition of the race. Come November (more likely December or January) we will find out what the Court of Arbitration for Sport decides.
Who knows? Andy Schleck may go into the 2012 Tour as the 2010 champion, depending on how this all shakes out. And Alberto Contador may (or may not) be working on a cattle ranch in Andalusia, rounding up stray cows while riding a mountain bike. Yeah, I can just picture Alberto tossing a lasso while riding an MTB. At least he can stay in shape for his eventual return to the peloton. In about 2014.
The Gang That Couldn’t Merge Straight
Just a brief comment about the Leopard Trek – RadioShack merger. Seems like the two sides haven’t been able to get their stories to mesh, exactly. Almost makes me wonder how much time and thought went into the merger. Will the combination of the Schleck brothers and Johan Bruyneel’s helmsmanship lead to a Tour victory in 2012? Time will tell. Meanwhile, Team LeopardShack needs to finalize their roster for the coming year.
The Unbearable Lightness of Being … Lance
Interesting blog post in the Calgary Herald about the dichotomy of Lance Armstrong. Is he a cheat or is he a great human being? Can he be both a doper and a great humanitarian raising funds for cancer research and awareness? Does it matter if he doped, or was he the cleanest ever? (After all, Lance “never tested positive.”) Take a look and let me know what you think.