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Super human powers?

Our previous blog titled ‘Doping in Sport’ featured two of the most memorable doping scandals of the modern Olympic Games. Now a recent article in the journal Nature discusses the topic of doping in sport and challenges the reader to imagine what it would be like if doping restrictions were lifted and ‘… science could push human performance to new extremes.’ For example, would new Olympic events emerge as a result of enhanced athletic capabilities such as ‘… power running, and power swimming, and power climbing’?

Drug doping is not the only means of performance enhancement in sport. Gene doping, which is discussed in Chapter 66 of the new edition of the Clinical Sports Medicine textbook, is defined by the World Anti-Doping Agency as ‘The non-therapeutic use of cells, genes, genetic elements, or of the modulation of gene expression, having the capacity to improve athletic performance’. Nature’s article comments that natural mutations do exist and gives the example of the three time gold medalist, Finnish cross-country skier, Eero Mäntyranta. Mäntyranta’s genetic mutation improved his Erythropoietin (EPO) receptors efficiency, thus increasing his aerobic capacity. However there is a conundrum lurking beneath this emerging science: ‘If you’re going to turn a gene for something like EPO on, you better be able to turn it off’. Will athletes become their own guinea pigs and jeopardize their health and safety? Could we ever return to natural, clean sport if it all went horribly wrong?

With Olympics now finished for another four years, Professor Peter Brukner has recently written a blog titled ‘Drugs and the London Olympics’ and is a great read for anyone interested in drug doping issues and scandals from this year’s Olympic games. In his blog, Professor Brukner lists the positive drug tests announced at the games and notes that over 100 athletes were actually banned from competing, even prior to the games. With the latest news of Belarusian female shot putter, Nadzeya Ostapchuk, being stripped of her gold medal from the games after testing positive to the anabolic steroid Metenolone, the public’s attention is again focused on the cheaters of the games and not the heroes.

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