What a week. The Tour de France riders pulled into Paris on Sunday and the opening ceremonies for the London Olympics take place this Friday evening. Consistent with these events are the accusations of doping and drug use to enhance sports performance.
For the Tour de France think Lance Armstrong, Flyod Landis, Alberto Contador and, this year, Frank Schleck. Hopefully, this year’s Tour winner, Bradley Wiggins will break the streak of winners who have been stripped of the yellow jersey. Or like Armstrong, have been plagued by accusations of drug use.
Not surprising, a handful of positive drug tests have already come in for would-be Olympic athletes, including for American sprinter, Debbie Dunn, and French steeplechaser, Nordine Gezzar. And the accusations against these athletes feel a little like the calm before the storm.
UK's role in 2012 Olympics
The official London Olympics testing program began last Monday (July 16) when the athletes’ village opened, and officials hope to conduct roughly 40 percent of drug tests before the games open this Friday. Overall, London organizers expect to take 5,000 samples from the 1,250 Olympic athletes over the course of the Games. This is up from 4,770 tests taken in Beijing four years ago and represents more testing than any other Olympic Games. The drug testing will be done in a lab donated by GlaxoSmithKline where samples will be examined for more than 240 banned substances.
When athletes do test positive, it’s not unusual for them to blame a dietary or sports performance supplement, amongst other excuses. The sports performance supplement category, whether for Olympic or everyday athletes, is one of three categories consistently under fire from the FDA for tainting the supplements industry (the other two categories include weight loss and sexual enhancement supplements). And so it seems the UK is taking the opportunity of having the Olympics in their backyard to crack down on sports supplements as well.
Already this week the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) announced that it had sent warning letters to retailers and manufacturers citing 84 products containing “dangerous ingredients.” The list of ingredients that the MHRA is warning against focuses on steroids, stimulants and hormones found mainly in muscle-building or fat-burning supplements, otherwise known as thermogenic products.
The ingredients regulator warned against ephedrine, synephrine, yohimibine. Products containing the controversial stimulant DMAA, found in such products as USP Labs Jack3d were also under investigation and it is expected that more warnings specific to DMAA will be following this crackdown. The MHRA has been working with UK Anti-doping, which recently suspended Welsh boxer Enzo Maccarinelli for six months for testing positive for DMAA after a boxing match in March.
Products named on the MHRA list included Jack 3d-maker, USP Labs for its “OxyElite Pro”. Nutrex “Lipo 6” range and Isatori “MX-LS7” were also on the list. USP Labs, Nutrex and Isatori, each received warning letters from the FDA earlier this year for the use of DMAA in products and failing to verify the safety of these products. Dymatize was also on the list for its “Dyma Burn Extreme.”
Is doping or taking products like DMAA what it takes to win?
I'm not sure. Sadly, the proliferation of doping and drug tests harkens back to the famous Goldman Dilemma study. In the 1980s, researcher Bob Goldman asked pro athletes if they would take a drug that would guarantee them an Olympic gold medal but would also kill them within five years. More than half of the athletes studied said yes. And as he repeated this study over the years, the results were always the same.
Although I am no longer able to suspend my cynicism around the doping that has plagued the Tour de France (I watch it now more for the scenery than the event), I will try to suspend my cynicism a little bit longer as I watch the Summer Olympics and hope that the half of the athletes who aren't willing to die or dope for a gold will prevail and remind us what true sport is all about.
What do you think about all the accusations of doping and drug use to enhance sports performance? Share your thoughts in the comments below.