Sunday, August 12, 2012

On doping

All dopers? Or just a minority? I had friends in high school who took steroids. At the time, many coaches, doctors and "sports scientists" claimed the drugs didn't work (placebo effect, they said). But it was obvious that they did. I distinctly remember this as the point at which I became very suspicious of statements by medical and "scientific" authorities. If they were wrong about something as simple as this, what else could they be wrong about?
Der Spiegel: Angel Heredia, once a doping dealer and now a chief witness for the U.S. Justice Department, talks about the powerlessness of the investigators, the motives of athletes who cheat and the drugs of the future. 
He had been in hiding under an assumed name in a hotel in Laredo, Texas, for two years when the FBI finally caught up with him. The agents wanted to know from Angel Heredia if he knew a coach by the name of Trevor Graham, whether he carried the nickname “Memo”, and what he knew about doping. "No", "no", "nothing" – those were his replies. But then the agents laid the transcripts of 160 wiretapped telephone conversations on the table, as well as the e-mails and the bank statements. That’s when Angel "Memo" Heredia knew that he had lost. He decided to cooperate, and he also knew that he would only have a chance if he didn’t lie – not a single time. “He’s telling the truth,” the investigators say about Heredia today. 
SPIEGEL: Mr. Heredia, will you watch the 100 meter final in Beijing? 
Heredia: Of course. But the winner will not be clean. Not even any of the contestants will be clean. 
SPIEGEL: Of eight runners ... Heredia: ... eight will be doped. ... 
Heredia: Yes. When the season ended in October, we waited for a couple of weeks for the body to cleanse itself. Then in November, we loaded growth hormone and epo, and twice a week we examined the body to make sure that no lumps were forming in the blood. Then we gave testosterone shots. This first program lasted eight to ten weeks, then we took a break. 
SPIEGEL: And then the goals for the season were established? 
Heredia: Yes, that depended on the athlete. Some wanted to run a good time in April to win contracts for the tournaments. Others focused on nothing but the trials, the U.S. qualification for international championships. Others cared only about the Olympics. Then we set the countdown for the goal in question, and the next cycle began. I had to know my athletes well and have an overview of what federation tested with which methods. 
SPIEGEL: Where does one get this information? 
Heredia: Vigilance. Informers. ... 
SPIEGEL: What trainers have you worked together with? Heredia: Particularly with Trevor Graham. 
SPIEGEL: Graham has a lifetime ban because he purportedly helped Marion Jones, Tim Montgomery, Justin Gatlin and many others to cheat. Who else? 
Heredia: With Winthrop Graham, his cousin. With John Smith, Maurice Greene’s coach. With Raymond Stewart, the Jamaican. With Dennis Mitchell ... 
SPIEGEL: ... who won gold in the 4 x 100 meters in 1992 and today is a coach. How did the collaboration work? 
Heredia: It’s a small world. It gets around who can provide you with something how quickly and at what price, who is discreet. The coaches approached me and asked if I could help them, and I said: yes. Then they gave me money, $15,000 or thereabouts, we got a first shipment and then we did business. At some point it led to one-on-one cooperation with the athletes. 
SPIEGEL: Was there a regimen of sorts? 
Heredia: Yes. I always combined several things. For example, I had one substance called actovison that increased blood circulation – not detectable. That was good from a health standpoint and even better from a competitive standpoint. Then we had the growth factors IGF-1 and IGF-2. And epo. Epo increases the number of red blood cells and thus the transportation of oxygen, which is the key for every athlete: the athlete wants to recover quickly, keep the load at a constantly high level and achieve a constant performance. 
SPIEGEL: Once again: a constant performance at the world-class level is unthinkable without doping? 
Heredia: Correct. 400 meters in 44 seconds? Unthinkable. 71 meters with a discus? No way. You might be able to run 100 meters in 9.8 seconds once with a tailwind. But ten times a year under 10 seconds, in the rain or heat? Only with doping. Part III: “If he maintains he is clean, I can only answer that that is a lie.” 
SPIEGEL: Testosterone, growth hormone, epo – that was your combination? 
Heredia: Yes, with individual variations. And then amazing things are possible. In 2002 Jerome Young was ranked number 38 in the 400 meters. Then we began to work together, and in 2003 he won almost every big race. 
SPIEGEL: How were you paid? 
Heredia: I had an annual wage. For big wins I got a $40,000 bonus. ...


Richard Seiter said...

This is probably considered old news at this point, but I found this Outside Magazine article from 2003 chronicling a journalist's experience with doping himself an interesting read at the time:

jandahl said...

I have two cousins (one of each gender) who live in Greenland. They are both children of the 1970s and were both enrolled in championship skiing programs. Both were given illicit drugs of these kinds by their trainers, much to the detriment of especially their normal growth (especially that of the female.

Anonymous_IV said...

Interesting article, whose author also unwittingly obtained some anecdotal evidence against
the notion that the effects of HGH are just placebo. The conclusion disappoints by too casually dismissing the proposal of removing all "doping" restrictions: as with drug legalization in general,
once HGH, EPO, etc. were made legal it would no longer be "cheating" to use them.
Yes, these drugs entail significant costs and risks, but then so does regular practice in many sports
ranging from soccer (chronic brain trauma from heading the ball) to gymnastics. For that matter,
somehow WADA also gets to test for marijuana, which is not "cheating" at all (it's not
performance-enhancing in any sport, right?), but is still grounds for disqualification. All this suggests
that the "anti-doping" drumbeat is really about protecting not the athletes or the Integrity of Competition but the monopolistic and hugely profitable brand of the Olympics. :-(

Shawn said...

Well, if everyone's doing it is it really cheating (just kidding)?

David Coughlin said...

WADA and the USADA are disgraceful.

Gregory Cochran said...

Theodosius Ruled OK !

5371 said...

If doping is universal, why has elite performance declined in most events since 1988?

esmith said...

I'm not a drug dealer or a professional athlete, but I fail to see how
EPO would help in 100 m or discus. Feeding EPO to a sprinter is not only
pointless, but counterproductive: there's no physiological benefit but
you increase the risk that he'll get busted.

On the other hand, in events like the marathon, there simply isn't much
(other than EPO and blood transfusions) that you could do to improve
your performance, since the ability to transport oxygen from the lungs
to the muscles is the ultimate bottleneck. As to the efficacy of these
methods, according to Wikipedia, EPO was first purified in macroscopic
quantities in 1977, when the marathon world record stood at 2:09:12.
During the marathon competition in the 2012 Summer Olympics, this mark
was surpassed by two runners, one from Kenya and one from Uganda, and
the winning time was 2:08:01. (Athletes from certain ethnic groups in
Sub-Saharan Africa are thought to have genetic predisposition towards
long-distance running. Back in 1977, athletes from Sub-Saharan Africa
were virtually nonexistent in major competitions. Neither Uganda nor
Kenya even sent teams to 1976 Summer Olympics.)

It would appear that benefits of EPO or any other doping methods, known
or unknown, at least at the marathon level and subject to doping testing
constraints, are vanishingly small.

Robert Sykes said...

I think it is clear that every highly-ranked woman and man athlete in every sport is on some sort of mixture of drugs. There are no exceptions. Has anyone seen the Williams sisters lately?

thdurham said...

Most athletes may be doping, but with additional testing they may not be able to dope as effectively, due to timing of cycles or other test evasion methods.

Also, some sports have changed in the meantime. For example, the javelin has been changed for that event to shorten the length of the throws. Another change is that the top long-jumpers tended to be the top sprinters in the past. These days that doesn't seem to be the case, perhaps because the sprinters don't see the glamor in it, or perhaps the extra upper body mass they're carrying for sprinting impairs them in the long-jump. I'm sure some of the other sports have had changes too, though without
looking at them individually one can't guess as to how that might effect

Furthermore it isn't clear that lesser events are getting the same quality of athletes that they used to get. If you're an American, for example, and you had the size and explosive power needed to be a shot-putter, would you want to do that or play (American rules) football? That size power could be put to good use as an offensive or defensive lineman, and if you are one of the top athletes you can get paid millions. How many shot putters make millions a season? The explosion of salaries and the level of specialization in American sports has been happening over the last 40 years. Remember that at the top of the heap we're talking about small but still significant differences - just as in Steve's current field of physics! Small differences can lead to major differences in outcome, and the siphoning of talent by big money sports might take some time to show up in results. Like twenty years or so.

5371 said...

There is actually a world outside the US.
Also, sprinting talent is far more relevant to the NFL than shotputting talent, and the men's sprints - unlike men's shotput - have shown improvement!

thdurham said...

There is actually a world outside the US.

Oddly enough, I am aware of that.

I am also much more familiar with the USA athletic environment than I am with that of the rest of the world. I assumed that anyone reading the comment would have the intelligence to figure out that I am commenting on what I know, and if they have pertinent knowledge about other parts of the world (in support of or disputing my point) they would provide examples, and that I wouldn't get an idiotic comment conflating particular examples with the belief that the USA is the only nation on the planet. Thank you for showing me that I shouldn't over-estimate the commenters like that.

Also, sprinting talent is far more relevant to the NFL than shotputting
talent, and the men's sprints - unlike men's shotput - have shown

Lovely. You completely missed my point, which was that LOWER PROFILE SPORTS might be suffering from a loss of talent in the US to other sports. (CAPS utilized as a clue for the clueless.) Sprinting, in particular the 100M, is a high profile sport, and the people at the top of that field can make millions a year. High profile sports that offer excellent rewards are much less likely to suffer a talent drain to more rewarding sports than those that are poorly rewarded. That's why I mentioned shot put, working on the assumption (perhaps wrong, but I doubt it) that quality linemen in the NFL make considerably more than even the best shot putters.

For the record, I used this particular US-centric example because I know something about it. Whether or not this is happening elsewhere around the world (with other sports) is in question, and respondents from other countries can judge this idea against what they know of their own country's sporting environment. Examples and counter-examples are welcome. But please don't tell me that the US isn't the only country in the world. I already knew that fact because we didn't win all the medals at the Olympic Games just completed.

And sprinting is no more relevant to the NFL than power sports. Or have there been a bunch of 330 pound top-class sprinters running the 100M that I missed? Not to mention not all the sprinters drafted into the NFL that haven't been all that special as wide receivers, which is where they're best utilized. Or am I arguing with Al Davis's ghost?

botti said...

Looks like New Zealand has picked up gold medal number six and moves up to 15th on the Olympic medal table :-) "Two urine samples taken from Ostapchuk - one the day before the August 6 final and one that night - have been found positive for the steroid metenolone. The International Olympic Committee has stripped the Belarusian of her gold medal, with it now going to New Zealand's Adams. An elated Adams was told last night. But Ostapchuk, 31, vehemently denies taking the steroid and seems to be hell-bent on clearing her name. "It's a complete shock to me because I was tested on July 30 [before going to London]. It showed I was clean," she said, adding that she would wait for the Belarusian delegation to return from London before deciding what to do next. "In total, I've been tested 16 times since April. You must be a complete idiot to take doping just before the competition especially such an outdated drug as a steroid, knowing you're going to be tested not once but probably several times." Ostapchuk also accused Olympic organisers of prejudice against the Belarussian athletes.

5371 said...

The point is that any muscle drain within the US from athletics to American football is irrelevant to the trend in world-wide performance across twenty events for both sexes, which changed abruptly at the end of the 80s.

David Coughlin said...

And I reiterate this.

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