The other day I got to talking with a friend about doping in sports. Somehow, we got onto the topic of how amazing Lance Armstrong is and from there the conversation drifted into supposed doping allegations.
I’m always amazed when I go to mass spectrometry conferences… there are entire days of talks dedicated to drug detection/analysis. A significant amount of resources are dedicated to preventing athletes from taking performance enhancing drugs, and at a certain point, it all becomes a bit of a joke. I completely understand why athletes choose to dope; the amount of pressure experienced by athletes to perform is through the roof. If there were a pain free way of improving performance, by ingesting a pill or injecting oxygen enriched blood… why not do it?
Aside from the obvious, ‘it is against the rules’ (lowest level of morality), there are plenty of other reasons why I’m very much opposed to doping.
For one, doping removes the primal aspect of a sport. There’s something to be said about the simplicity of running, or swimming. I suppose one could argue that fancy trainers and aerodynamic carbon framed bicycles aren’t primal, and I agree… maybe there should be standards for types of bicycles used in races or maybe there should be a uniform swimsuit worn by swimmers to even the playing field.
I’m a chemist. I believe in the phrase better living through chemistry. About half of my daily caloric intake comes from synthesized foodstuffs (in the form of protein isolates), and I wholeheartedly support the use of medications that are biologically relevant. By biologically relevant, I mean medications/or supplements that are physiologically present in our systems. I advocate the use of medications such as levothyroxine (a synthetically derived version of the hormone thyroxine) that is used to treat hypothyroidism… when the dosage is appropriately controlled, no adverse side reactions occur, and a patient functions at an optimal level. Medications or supplements I oppose are ones that change the biology of our being… cholesterol lowering statins are examples of this… they actually inhibit enzymatic activity (activity that is not normally physiologically altered), and as a result, many adverse side effects can also occur. In some cases, when the alternative (death) is on the table, dealing with the side effects isn’t so bad… especially since we no longer live in a ‘survival of the fittest’ world.
In the case of the athletes, sport is fitness… and using a performance enhancing drug takes away from that which is natural.
My main concern with doping is that if done, the competition is no longer between athletes, but between chemists. Who can make a better performing drug, who can realize the ideal method for dosing, who can do all of this discreetly? Suddenly, it all becomes a competition in methodology. I precisely love sports because it is my one outlet from science… I’d like to keep it that way.
I love free will, and I think people have the right to do as they please, but I also feel that supported/sponsored athletes should be selected/chosen based not only on their performance, but also on their ability to remain true sportsman… that is, athletes in their natural state who compete for love of the sport.
Until then, I guess sports won’t really provide me with a complete break from science. At least I can sleep at night knowing I can easily find a job doing drug detection 😉

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