Any American who played arcade games from 1989 to 2000 has seen the phrase “Winners don’t use drugs”, which was included on all imported arcade games. However, sports stars from around the world apparently didn’t get the memo, since major events from the Tour de France and the 2012 Olympics have been marred by doping scandals.
Earlier this year, seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong had formal charges brought to him by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) which may cost him his titles. Two cyclists in this year’s Tour de France have had to withdraw due to doping allegations. Debbie Dunn, who was to compete as a sprinter for the U.S. at the 2012 Olympics, resigned from the team testing positive for banned substances last weekend. On Wednesday, Wesh boxer Enzo Maccarinelli was banned from the 2012 Olympics after testing positive to a substance that was in an over-the-counter “fat burner” product.
The 2012 Olympic Games in London will be the most screened ever. There are more than 5,000 planned tests for all medalists and about half of the contenders. Even the Paralympic Games will feature 1,250 anti-doping tests. A staff of 1,000 testers will be on call 24/7 just north of Olympic Park in Harlow, England.
“The message to athletes is loud and clear,” says Dr. Matthew Fedoruk, science director of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), in an interview with Bloomberg News. “They shouldn’t show up [at] the Games and be doping because they’ll be caught.”
While tests may discourage some potential performance-enhancing drug users, history has shown that some athletes will find creative ways to avoid detection. Unscrupulous athletes have tried using masking agents, designer drugs, concealing bags of “clean” urine, and even injecting their bladders with fresh urine.
“The sophisticated doper is getting more sophisticated,” explained the director general of the World Anti-Doping Agency David Howman. “The dopey doper will be caught.”
The use of performance-enhancing drugs has effects that go beyond the professional athletes who take them. Most steroid use comes from recreational bodybuilders who use the drugs to achieve the results they want faster. However, since recreational users face no drug tests, they are more likely to use performance-enhancing substances in a way that will damage their bodies.
“Elite athletes might use [steroids] for three months a year in the off season, then recreational users use them all the time for 30 years, thinking they are doing the same thing, but it’s more dangerous,” says Dr. Shalender Bhasin from Boston University School of Medicine.
Despite all of the testing, endocrinologists believe that many doping athletes will go undetected. The tests look for certain known chemicals, and many of these chemicals can leave the athlete’s body within 48 hours.
Victor Conte, the trainer who spent time in jail in 2005 for his role in the Balco steroids scandal that cost Marion Jones her five metals, acknowledges that drug use will remain a problem for the Olympics.
“Here’s where you’re not getting it right: When you build your explosive strength and speed and power base is October-November-December. Eight months later, they’re winning gold medals based on the drugs they used nine months ago. So you don’t need to be testing at the Games. … You need to stick your hook and line and pole in the pond during this time frame. I know, because I was preparing people this way,” Conte reportedly told WADA officials years ago.
Though WADA will be testing athletes during the weeks before the game, they will not be testing during the strength training period that Conte suggested.
With all of the doping in professional sports, perhaps a better slogan than “Winners don’t use drugs” would be “Winners don’t get caught using drugs.”
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