October 25, 2014 00:32 UTC

Science & Technology

Sports Doping: From the Playing Field to the Laboratory

How some athletes used drugs or other substances to improve their performance | SCIENCE IN THE NEWS

Former baseball player Barry Bonds leaves a federal courthouse during his trial in San Francisco, California
Former baseball player Barry Bonds leaves a federal courthouse during his trial in San Francisco, California

Multimedia

Play or download an MP3 of this story
  • Sports Doping: From the Playing Field to the Laboratory

From VOA Learning English, this is SCIENCE IN THE NEWS in Special English. I’m Mario Ritter.

 
And I’m June Simms. Today, we report on sports doping -- the use of drugs or other substances to improve athletic performance. We will also hear from an Olympic doctor about medically-supervised doping.      
 
Sports have long been part of popular culture. In the United States, some professional athletes are as famous as movie actors, rock musicians or even politicians. Their lives and activities are closely followed by reporters and the public, and described in films and literature.
 
Sports have found their way into everyday expressions. One example is: “It’s not whether you win or lose but how you play the game.” That saying is used to define honor in sports. But today, many people question the honor of many top performing athletes. They wonder if these men and women have used banned substances to set records.
 
When Americans talk about sports doping, they often mean the use of anabolic steroids. Most sports organizations have banned the non-medical use of anabolic steroids. But some amateur and professional athletes continue taking them. They believe steroids help them when competing.
 
Steroids are used to increase muscle strength. But they also can damage the liver, increase cholesterol levels in the blood, and stop production of the hormone testosterone. They can also cause personality changes. For example, steroid users may become angry for no reason. Some become psychologically or emotionally dependent on steroids. They feel like they cannot live without them. Steroid users can become depressed and, in some cases, may want to take their own life.
 
Some men who use anabolic steroids can develop breasts like a woman. Steroids can also cause the reproductive organs of some men to shrink. And women who use them can develop a deeper voice and even grow facial hair.
 
Testosterone is important, especially for young people. Hormones are chemicals that help keep the body working normally. The effects of testosterone can be seen in boys when they become young men. Their muscles grow bigger and stronger. Testosterone is also important for other changes, like a deeper voice and the growth of hair.
 
Both men and women produce testosterone, but men produce much more of it. Some naturally have higher levels than others. As men grow older, their testosterone levels drop.
 
Some people take testosterone supplements made in a laboratory for medical purposes. They use these supplements because their doctor says it is medically necessary. But athletes may take them to make their muscles stronger, to recover from injuries more quickly or to improve their performance.
 
Yet testosterone supplements are banned in many sports. Researchers who have studied testosterone generally agree that long-term use may increase athletic performance. But they disagree about the short-term value. And they say testosterone supplements have risks. Most doctors agree that taking large amounts of testosterone can increase the user’s risk of heart disease and other health problems.
           
In the 1990s, the International Olympic Committee organized a conference that led to the creation of the World Anti-Doping Agency, known as WADA. The conference was called after French police found banned substances at the world famous Tour de France cycling event.
 
WADA is an independent agency that writes and enforces common anti-doping rules. It is made up of representatives of the Olympic movement and officials from around the world. It receives support from many countries, including the United States.
 
“Doping” is the word used to describe the use of banned substances or activities to improve athletic performance. WADA says the term probably came from the Dutch word “dop.” Dop was an alcoholic drink that Zulu fighters used to improve their performance in battle.
 
The agency says the word “doping” began to be used for athletes in the beginning of the 20th century. At first, it meant the illegal drugging of racehorses.
 
WADA says athletes have used substances to improve their performance for centuries. Ancient Greeks used special foods and drinks. Nineteenth century cyclists and others used alcohol, caffeine, cocaine -- even strychnine, a strong poison. By the 1920s, sports organizations were attempting to stop the use of doping substances. But they lacked scientific ways to test for them.
 
One method of doping is called blood doping. It is the use of substances like hormones or blood to increase production of red blood cells. An increase in red blood cells causes more oxygen to move to the muscles, increasing their strength.
 
An example is the hormone Erythropoietin, also called EPO. It is said to be most-useful to athletes in endurance sports such as cycling and distance-running.
 
Doctors say hormones used for blood doping thicken the blood and increase the possibility of heart disease or stroke. And the use of blood from another person can spread viruses. Doctors say even the use of a person’s own blood to increase red blood cell levels can raise the risk of heart disease and stroke.    
 
Another substance said to improve performance is human growth hormone, or HGH. This hormone is produced naturally by the pituitary gland. Athletes take injections of HGH. Blood tests can show evidence of such injections. Experts say higher-than-normal levels of HGH can cause diabetes, muscle and bone pain, high blood pressure and other health problems.
 
Sports dopers are always looking for new substances and technologies to help them pass drug tests. And testers keep creating new tests for identifying the substances and fighting new technologies.
 
A few years ago, the testers received support for their efforts from an organization set up to settle disputes related to sports. The Court for Arbitration for Sport ruled that an athlete may be punished for illegal doping, even if she or he does not fail a drug test. It was the Court’s first ruling after examining the scientific and legal strength of an athlete’s “biological passport.” Information in a biological passport can help identify athletes who use banned drugs but find ways to keep from testing positive, using substances called “masking agents.” These men and women are known as “sophisticated dopers.”
 
A question a lot of people ask is, “What is wrong with doping?” Some experts believe that sports doping should not be banned. They support what is called “medically-supervised doping.” They say medical supervision would reduce the dangers of doping. They say sporting events would be fairer if all of the competitors can openly take part in doping.
 
The World Anti-Doping Agency opposes medically-supervised doping. Its former medical director, Alain Garnier, says doctors should have nothing to do with doping. Dr. Garnier says helping athletes perform better is not necessarily good for their health. He says it is wrong to say that permitting doping would create an equal playing field. To do so, he says, would be to let economic resources and scientific expertise decide the results of sporting events.
 
Anti-doping officials say they want to protect the integrity, or honor, of sports by guaranteeing what they call a level playing field. They want to ensure that athletes who do not use banned substances have an equal chance at winning.
 
Don Catlin is professor emeritus of Molecular and Medical Pharmacology at the David Geffen School of Medicine in California. He was at the 2012 London Olympics as a member of the International Olympic Committee’s Medical Commission. Dr. Catlin spoke with VOA about medically-supervised doping -- a subject, he says, he has thought about for many years.
 
“Yeah, I’ve gone back and forth on this over the years. Every time I, I try to convince myself that maybe we could do it, I turn away from that. There, there’s so many difficulties in doing that. It’s really impossible to, to control. And even if you wanted to try it, then all the athletes would be able to take drugs. It would be a battle of pharmacologists, I guess, and there would be all kinds of problems in that sort of battle. But worst of all, there would be a new equilibrium where all athletes are on drugs, and their times are a little bit shorter, they get a little bit faster, a little bit better, but they’re all equal again, and that doesn’t really help the matter. We have to keep fighting to control the drugs right at the front.”



 
This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Learn with The News

  • Audio Wealth, Poverty Are Issues in Hong Kong Protests

    The pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong are mainly about the right to vote without interference from China’s central government. But there are at least two other less talked-about issues. One is concern about the rising cost of living in Hong Kong. Another is the gap between rich and poor. More

  • Texas Voter ID

    Audio US Supreme Court Allows Texas Voter ID Law

    The United States Supreme Court says the southwestern state of Texas can keep in place a new voting law. The law says voters must show identification documents before they are permitted to mark ballots. A lower court had ruled that the law could keep minorities from voting. More

  • President Barack Obama hugs Dallas nurse Nina Pham as her mother Diane looks on, Oval Office, Washington, Oct. 24, 2014.

    Audio In US, Fear of Ebola Spreads Faster than Virus

    For Americans, Ebola started out as a disease in a far-away continent. But it changed when a Liberian man died in Dallas. US officials said tests show that a New York doctor has the Ebola virus. The doctor recently treated Ebola patients in Guinea working for Doctors Without Borders. More

  • Brazil Elections

    Audio Who Will Be Brazil's Next President?

    Brazilians will choose a president Sunday. Two candidates will be on the ballot -- Dilma Rousseff and Senator Aecio Neves. President Rousseff won the most votes in the first round of voting earlier this month. But she did not win a majority of votes, so a runoff election is required. More

  • Audio Gunman Identified in Canadian Capital

    Also, UN human rights officials have called on China to guarantee open elections in Hong Kong. And, an attack in southwest Pakistan kills 11 people. WHO advises against Ebola travel bans. | In the News More

Featured Stories

  • Audio Oscar de la Renta Dressed First Ladies and Movie Stars

    Clothing designer Oscar de la Renta died Monday at his home in the American state of Connecticut. He was 82 years old. His wife said he died of problems related to cancer. Mr. de la Renta dressed American movie stars and first ladies such as Jacqueline Kennedy, Nancy Reagan and Hillary Clinton. More

  • Audio Iron Ships Clash at Sea

    The American Civil War was fought not only on land, but at sea. In 1862, Confederate and Union forces fought a new kind of navy battle in waters off Hampton Roads, Virginia. It was the first battle between iron ships. On the Confederate side was a ship called the Virginia. | The Making of a Nation More

  • Audio San Francisco Radio Stations Ban Lorde's 'Royals'

    The California baseball team, San Francisco Giants, is playing the Kansas City Royals for the 2014 Major League Baseball championship, the World Series. Two radio stations in San Francisco banned the hit song "Royals." In return, another station in Kansas City chose to play the song once every hour. More

  • A neurovascular unit on a chip being developed by Vanderbilt University researchers. (Vanderbilt University Photo/John Wikswo)

    Video Scientists Design Chips to Act Like Human Organs

    Testing new drugs for safety and effectiveness is a costly process in the United States. It also can take a lot of time. Some scientists are now designing silicon computer chips that act like human organs. The scientists think they have found a way to make the process faster and more economical. More

  • Brain Resource Infographic

    Audio Dealing with Distractions and Overreactions

    Five million American children and teenagers have Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder, commonly known as ADHD. ADHD makes it difficult - if not impossible - to stay with a duty until it is complete. Katherine Ellison knows the problem well. | Health Report More

Practice Your Writing

Confessions of an English Learner BlogConfessions of an English Learner Blog

Tell us About Our Programs