Competition. Integrity. True grit. Performance enhancing drugs.
February 16, 2007 7:36 AM   Subscribe

 
I'd also like to mention that I'm someone who doesn't care about or even enjoy sports in general...
posted by nevercalm at 7:37 AM on February 16, 2007


Ah, people have probably been cheating in competition ever since there have been rules to regulate it. We just have better forensics nowadays.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:38 AM on February 16, 2007


In the future, people's genes will be modified prenatally to turn them into superathletes. Prospective competitors who don't receive that treatment will have to turn to other means to compete. The most popular method of enhancement will be cybernetic implants, although some will take advantage of animal- or alien-derived DNA therapy. A small but successful minority will eschew these artificial methods, and will instead train their own innate psychic talents to give themselves a telekinetic edge on the playing field.

And they're all going to look back at the people in the 20th and 21st centuries complaining about athletes using a few simple chemicals, and they're going to laugh.
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:45 AM on February 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


Cheating in NASCAR is certainly nothing new (it's alleged that a lot of early racers/managers/crew chiefs were bootleggers). The fact that this is so highly publicised indicates the increasing presence of the 24-hour news cycle in American life.
posted by muddgirl at 7:46 AM on February 16, 2007


We have the technology and we must use it. That is my explanation.
posted by smackwich at 7:48 AM on February 16, 2007


There was a good Wired article about this recently, which goes into detail about the politics around the Anti-Doping Agency.
posted by Menomena at 7:52 AM on February 16, 2007


And from the same Wired link, there's a "Story Extra" outlining the trends in gene enhancement.
posted by Menomena at 7:53 AM on February 16, 2007


Outside of Basketball (freakish height) and jockeying (small stature), genetics is a minor factor in athletics. Practice, dedication, practice, coaching, and practice are the top five.
posted by rocket88 at 8:02 AM on February 16, 2007


In addition to what is suggested above, I think this is a byproduct of the insane amounts of money that go into professional sports (especially in the US).

I heard an NPR interview with a guy from the World Anti-Doping Agency, and his point was that steroid use in baseball will continue to be rampant so long as MLB is soft on it- and they don't want to come down on it because why seriously suspend a star player for something as "insignificant" as steroid use? Star players draw fans, fans pay money for seats.

The same official also discussed athlete testing circumvention methods...the one that gave me the shivers was people injecting clean urine into their bladders just before taking a piss test. Ouch.
posted by baphomet at 8:03 AM on February 16, 2007


What does this have to do with our "culture"? People want to win and they'll do anything they can to do it. The reason this is happening now is because medical technology has gotten better, not because there is something "wrong" with modern society.

Besides, how are these people "amateur" when they get million dollar endorsement deals? The money and information restrictions (no blogs! can't use the word "olympic" to refer to anything without licensing!) are a lot more bothersome for me then doping.
posted by delmoi at 8:04 AM on February 16, 2007


Compare the possibilities:
"Well folks, it's the 100m dash. As required by law, all four contestants are precisely the same weight and have blood chemistry within .01% of the official standard. After the debacle last season with eyebrow shaving, the contestants have spent the last three hours being meticulously combed and have had most of their hair counted and analyzed. We're told all four have the same mass of hair, within the 2% required."

...versus....

"Today folks, Darrel Waltrip Jr. is driving a sixteen-pound seat, three wheels, and the engine off a 777. He claims to be using a mix of phosgene and rice vinegar for fuel! Let's see how he handles the first turn....oh, that's gotta hurt!! Look out Arkansas, Darrel just went airborne! This is anybody's race folks. And lordy lordy, the monkey-navigated hovercraft is coming in first on the second turn! Lookit her go!! Bob?"

"Well Jim, that monkey is a genetically-modified chimpanzee from the Congo, named Baby. You can see her owner-slash-lover Freddie Heinz, working on the engine while they're racing! They're a hell of a team, and great competitors."

The correct answer is obvious. Bring on the cheats!
posted by aramaic at 8:04 AM on February 16, 2007 [5 favorites]


genetics is a minor factor in athletics

I would disagree. For example, someone's knees might be the right balance of sturdiness and flexibility to let them consistently jump, run, or kick better than the next guy who has the same or better dedication or training. When you look at the ranks of professional athletes, aside from the superstar standouts, the middle and lower tiers are full of people who are only incrementally better than those who didn't make the cut. I don't have specific evidence for this, but I would hazard a guess that that small increment of performance edge that they enjoyed over the competition in many cases was due to them having a physique that was slightly more suitable to the sport at hand.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:07 AM on February 16, 2007


Is...amateur competition doomed...

What, you can't still get some friends together and race them around the block or shoot some baskets? Sure, you won't know who the OMGWORLDWIDE***ULTIMATE*** around-the-block racer is to within 3/1000th of a second, but who cares? The problem with sports isn't that people are cheating to become king of the mountain, the problem is that we are treating sports as something someone has to be king of the mountain OF.
posted by DU at 8:07 AM on February 16, 2007 [3 favorites]


The All Drug Olympics
posted by Meatbomb at 8:10 AM on February 16, 2007


What DU said.
posted by JanetLand at 8:16 AM on February 16, 2007


Outside of Basketball (freakish height) and jockeying (small stature), genetics is a minor factor in athletics. Practice, dedication, practice, coaching, and practice are the top five.
posted by rocket88


I disagree. At the highest levels of sport, innate physical abilities play a large role in determining an athelete's success. Especially quickness and speed: see american football, foot-ball football, tennis...
posted by taliaferro at 8:17 AM on February 16, 2007


If we ban doping out of a misguided belief that the point of sport is to determine who is the most naturally talented, then we should ban exercise and training too. I find the idea of spending 8 hours a day working out far more unnatural than popping a pill.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 8:33 AM on February 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


Regardless of physical attributes, drive, dedication, single-mindedness, competitiveness, obsessiveness, focus, etc, all play a huge part. The very few high-performing athletes I've ever met in person all seemed to have a particular personality type. I'm no a psychologist, but I suspect that matters just as much as physical prowess, at the top levels. When we start engineering personality things might get really interesting.
posted by normy at 8:33 AM on February 16, 2007



Part of it has to be the money. We pay people, often unproven teenagers, insane amounts of money and with that money comes insane, dare I say unnatural expectations. I for example am Ok at my job, maybe better than Ok, but if my company offered me millions of dollars to do the job I do now, they would probably expect a level of excellence I can’t actually deliver. Now I would of course say yes to all that money, and then immediately start panicking about how to keep up with these monstrous expectations so that I can continue having millions of dollars. Maybe I’d use drugs so I could work a little harder, stay a little later, sleep and eat a little less. I don’t know, I’m not saying Athletes are blameless, far from it, but owners and sponsors have a lot to lose if their wonder kids aren’t so wonderful, remember Sosa and McGuire’s home run season was one of baseballs most profitable.
posted by French Fry at 8:51 AM on February 16, 2007


"Cheating in NASCAR is certainly nothing new (it's alleged that a lot of early racers/managers/crew chiefs were bootleggers). The fact that this is so highly publicised indicates the increasing presence of the 24-hour news cycle in American life."

I'd say (in NASCAR's case) it's also being highly publicized because of the ridiculous amount of money that's being pumped into the sport by its corporate sponsors, in addition to this being the first race in which a "foreign" make has competed since Jaguar ran in the late 40's/early 50's. And how unfortunate is it for Toyota that one of their teams is the one that got busted?
posted by mr_crash_davis at 9:03 AM on February 16, 2007


Outside of Basketball (freakish height) and jockeying (small stature), genetics is a minor factor in athletics. Practice, dedication, practice, coaching, and practice are the top five.

This is why we see at the world-class level so many women's gymnasts who are very tall, and so many short volleyball players, and so many marathon runners with lots of fast-twitch muscles, and swimmers with short arms and small hands, and tiny little linebackers, and strongly astigmatic shooters and archers, and...
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:20 AM on February 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


Outside of Basketball (freakish height) and jockeying (small stature), genetics is a minor factor in athletics. Practice, dedication, practice, coaching, and practice are the top five.

yeah, right. Just work harder and you will be in the NFL, despite your 140 lb stature and 6.6 40 time.
posted by caddis at 9:27 AM on February 16, 2007


Is the idea of professional and amateur competition doomed?

You may want to ask that to Ray Kurzweil. These silly "drugs" and "supplements" are mere grains of sand in what will be the evolution and body improvements that we'll see from nanotechnology, and he thinks we'll see all that in a couple of decades.

We might as well give up now and start making the NFL a fight to the death.
posted by symphonik at 9:33 AM on February 16, 2007


Soon they will all be replaced by Perl scripts.
posted by srboisvert at 9:36 AM on February 16, 2007


aramaic writes "Darrel Waltrip Jr. is driving a sixteen-pound seat, three wheels, and the engine off a 777."

I'd pay to see that racing series.

mr_crash_davis writes "And how unfortunate is it for Toyota that one of their teams is the one that got busted?"

Considering Toyota's infamous problem in WRC I find it hilarious that it's their intake that is in question.
posted by Mitheral at 9:43 AM on February 16, 2007


The Olympic Games - Then and Now:
Cheating, though, is almost as old as the games itself: records of the ancient Greek games are riddled with tales of athletes paying off their competitors, and of boxers fixing the results of their fights. In ancient Greece, though, there weren’t many ways an athlete could cheat in a race: maybe take a shortcut, or borrow a horse.

By the time of the St Louis Olympics in 1904, more modern means were available. The original “winner” of the 1904 Olympic marathon, Fred Lorz, was disqualified after it was revealed that he had travelled half the distance in a car. The man later declared the official winner, Thomas Hicks, wasn’t much better: he was carried across the finishing line by two of his trainers. Hicks’s trainers had tried to enhance his running ability by feeding him a mix of egg whites, strychnine and brandy. This early attempt at a performance-enhancing drug was rather unsuccessful, as it left Hicks drunk and incapable. The trick of having two men carrying him, though, seems to have worked.
More about the entertaining 1904 St. Louis Olympic Games, with photos of Hicks being assisted and posing with his trophies. Ah, the thrill of victory — where was TV when the nation really needed it? At the time, even Anthropology Day would have gotten ad sponsors.

Competition, cheating, fines, celebrity, money, religion, politics, elitism, gender issues, etc. — there's not much difference today from The Olympic Games in Ancient GreecePDF.
posted by cenoxo at 9:44 AM on February 16, 2007


"Considering Toyota's infamous problem in WRC I find it hilarious that it's their intake that is in question."

I don't follow WRC. What's the scoop on Toyota there?
posted by mr_crash_davis at 9:56 AM on February 16, 2007


I'm fine with allowing drugs in the Olympics as long as you're fine with your kids being encouraged to take drugs for high school and especially college sports. This was already happening when I was in high school in the late 80's, or at least our coach went out of his way not to notice that some of his players were obviously using steroids. Not noticing must have been difficult when some of my teammates were bragging about it.

I first bench pressed 300 pounds in grade eight (actually I think it was the summer between grade 8 and grade 9) but it was still hinted that if I took stuff I could unlock my true potential (or kill somebody in a steroid induced rage, or have my balls shrink to the size of marbles, or die of pancreatic cancer - none of which was mentioned)
posted by substrate at 10:00 AM on February 16, 2007


"I find the idea of spending 8 hours a day working out far more unnatural than popping a pill shooting a syringe full of chemicals and goo into the muscles in my ass."

Fixed that for you, try that one instead.
posted by baphomet at 10:13 AM on February 16, 2007


Hicks’s trainers had tried to enhance his running ability by feeding him a mix of egg whites, strychnine and brandy. This early attempt at a performance-enhancing drug was rather unsuccessful, as it left Hicks drunk and incapable.

I've never been one for the whole "old days was the best days" foolishness, but come on... That's just totally awesome. I'm off to enhance my working ability with a large glass of gin, some cookie dough and a shot of DDT.
posted by Divine_Wino at 10:16 AM on February 16, 2007


symphonik said: We might as well give up now and start making the NFL a fight to the death.

Go for the gusto. Let's make it a no-holds-barred, anything goes international sports event, like the ersatz war Olympics in Walter Moudy's 1965 sci-fi story, The Survivor. From Wikipedia's Reality television entry:
Survivor (1965), a science fiction story by Walter F. Moudy, depicted the 2050 "Olympic War Games" between Russia and the United States. The games are fought to show the world the futility of war and thus deter further conflict. Each side has one hundred soldiers who fight with rifles, mortars and machine guns in a large natural arena. The goal is for one side to wipe out the other; the few who survive the battle become heroes. The games are televised, complete with color commentary discussing the tactics, the soldiers' personal backgrounds, and slow-motion replays of their deaths.
No more wars, except in the Arena. The public would probably love it — imagine the worldwide ratings, ad revenues (10% right off the top to good causes), and victor's gear sales — but governments would probably ban it as too violent.
posted by cenoxo at 10:35 AM on February 16, 2007


I say there should be a Dope League, where the athletes are allowed, nay, encouraged, to inject themselves with anything they or their doctors can lay hold of before they hit the courts.
posted by lekvar at 10:49 AM on February 16, 2007


mr_crash_davis writes "I don't follow WRC. What's the scoop on Toyota there?"

One year back in the mid 90s Toyota was cheating in WRC (their cars were generating too much power). Everyone who was paying attention at least suspected it but they couldn't figure out how. When three day races are often decided by a few seconds even a 1% difference in power can mean the difference between first and not making the podium. At the time engine power was limited by a restrictor (a plate with a specific sized hole) upstream of the turbo which in theory totally caps the available HP by limiting the oxegen available for combustion.

The Toyota engineers manufactured a sneaky spring loaded turbo intake housing that allowed air to be sucked around the restrictor when it was clamped together but sealed up tight under static conditions (IE: when inspected). It was a brilliant piece of engineering that was unfortunately wildly illegal and it resulted in Toyota's ban from WRC (and a stripping of current season points as the seals on the intake proved they'd been using the cheat for some time).

Max Mosley explained: "When the system was dismantled, the flange would automatically close itself and remove evidence that extra air could have entered engine. This system not only allowed extra air which did not pass through the restrictor to enter the engine, but also the restrictor itself could illegally be moved further from the turbo.
"The hose was fixed to the restrictor by a jubilee clip. A special tool was then applied to open the device and then the device then gripped in the open position by a second clip. Both of these clips had to be undone for a scrutineer to check the restrictor and in the process of opening those clips the device snapped shut.
"Inside it was beautifully made. The springs inside the hose had been polished and machined so not to impede the air which passed through. To force the springs open without the special tool would require substantial force. It is the most sophisticated and ingenious device either I or the FIA's technical experts have seen for a long-time. It was so well made that there was no gap apparent to suggest there was any means of opening it."
The FIA estimates that 25 per cent more air was allowed into the engine than permitted although admits it's difficult to estimate how much more power that would achieve. An expert put it as high as an extra 50 bhp - a considerable advantage when the cars are supposedly limited to 300 BHP.


I just found it funny that is was the intake that was getting them into trouble.

It's kind of bizarre though, I would have thought they'd have told their teams to be squeaky clean for at least a few races.
posted by Mitheral at 12:58 PM on February 16, 2007


genetics is a minor factor in athletics

Not once you get into elite categories it isn't. Especially in sports where winning is measured in hundredths of a second or in micrograms. But only a few are going into the elite category. And then I agree 100% with you.

I agree in that the problem in America is that our concept of Athletics begins skewed. When we are kids coaches simply don't have the time or inclination to groom the attributes of non-naturals. It's why so many people have such a disfavorable attitude about competitive physical expression. They were never given a chance. Which is a shame since some of our best athletes have been those whose extraordinary dedication allowed them to overcome less than ideal natural gifts. Exceeding the plateau of talent in the "natural" class by sheer force of will.

Let's also remember that extreme dedication and the desire to s compete may also be influences by an inherent "natural" attribute as well. We just don't know enough about all that.
posted by tkchrist at 1:11 PM on February 16, 2007


Um, wha?

What sort of rose coloured glasses do you have to have to think that cheating is on the rise and wasn't rampant in the past?

Sheesh, it is practically a tradition in many sports, that is why there are so many checks.
posted by Bovine Love at 1:23 PM on February 16, 2007


I first bench pressed 300 pounds in grade eight
Case and point on the genes thing. Dang. I didn't break 250lbs until I was 33! And even that was not sustainable for long.

Substrate how much did you weigh back then? Seems to me you had a career in power lifting ahead of you.
posted by tkchrist at 1:28 PM on February 16, 2007


Competition, cheating, fines, celebrity, money, religion, politics, elitism, gender issues, etc. — there's not much difference today from The Olympic Games in Ancient GreecePDF.

I just saw that the other day. Also there was a PBS series on the ancient games. Winning was literally everything. The loser was brutalized. Sometimes even lynched by his home town.

There are somethings to admire about the spirit of Arte but I hope we don't (re) embrace some of the other barbaric attitudes the ancient Greeks seemed to have.
posted by tkchrist at 1:32 PM on February 16, 2007


All of our athletic contests should be performed by proxy by means of factory-fresh tamper-proof neuronically-controlled identical androids. Possibly equipped with lasers. They will be directed on the playing field through the power of pure thought, so the folks with the fastest neurotransmitters and cleverest imaginations will win.

Of course, I suppose the controllers would then just take mind drugs to increase their brain size or something. Oh, well, 'twas ever thus. Even back in Colosseum days, I suppose the lions were doping to get that crucial edge over the Christians.
posted by Midnight Creeper at 1:39 PM on February 16, 2007


Well, as Drill Sergeant Booker used to say, “If you ain’t cheatin’ you ain’t tryin’, if you get caught cheatin’ you ain’t tryin’ hard enough.”
While I have never been a fan of this approach there does not seem to be a shortage of cheaters, fuckers and nasty bastards.
I still like the Orphans coach Rod White’s mantra, “You can’t make chicken salad out of chicken shit.”
posted by MapGuy at 1:43 PM on February 16, 2007


That PBS program must have been The Real Olympics (2004). I'll check my local library for the DVD.

NPR's Winner Take All segment discusses the Victorian sentiments that made the modern Olympics a more gentlemanly contest. The University of Pennsylvania Museum has a nice online exhibit, The Real Story of the Ancient Olympic Games. WRT to the Athletes:
One of the things we'll hear argued about the modern Olympic Games is the question of amateurism (and professionalism) of athletes.

This was not a concern of the Greeks since ancient athletes regularly received prizes worth substantial amounts of money. In fact, the word athlete is an ancient Greek word that means "one who competes for a prize" and was related to two other Greek words, athlos meaning "contest" and athlon meaning "prize."

Our first glimpse of organized Greek athletics is in the 23rd book of Homer's Iliad, where Achilles organizes funeral games for his friend Patroklos who was killed during the Trojan War. In each of the eight events contested on the plain of Troy, material prizes are offered to each competitor, including tripods, cauldrons, valuable metal, oxen, and women.
Don't look too closely at your sports heroes, kids, they may mostly be all about the money, cars, and women. As Arliss says, "Plus c'est la meme chose, plus ça change."

BTW, does the winners' champagne squirting ritualYT in today's sports (mostly motor sports, it seems) remind anyone of something, er, ah, primal?
posted by cenoxo at 2:37 PM on February 16, 2007


Athletes should be able to use whatever chemical or physical enhancement that will help improve their performance.

I don't see the problem -- never have, never will.

I also think that this will eventually become the norm in all physical sports. Just not there yet.
posted by mooncrow at 2:39 PM on February 16, 2007


Also -- don't conflate auto-racing with sports. People try to link these issues, but they are not part of the same problem.

Of course, eventually auto racing should develop an "open" classification -- anything goes. I'd watch that. NASCAR is stupid, but suped-up turbo-jets lashed to a tiny hover-chariot, racing through desert canyons, sabotaging each others engines, all that, would be cool.

You could call it "pod racing" ...oh, wait...
posted by mooncrow at 2:45 PM on February 16, 2007


HAHAHAHA, that's awesome, Mitheral. I loves me some well-engineered engine cheats.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 2:52 PM on February 16, 2007


...suped-up turbo-jets lashed to a tiny hover-chariot, racing through desert canyons, sabotaging each others engines, all that, would be cool.

It was: after all, George borrowed Ben.
posted by cenoxo at 4:01 PM on February 16, 2007


I drink a lot before I post on the internet
posted by mmrtnt at 8:14 PM on February 16, 2007



genetics is a minor factor in athletics. Practice, dedication, practice, coaching, and practice are the top five.
posted by rocket88


I take it you believe that superior quick twitch muscle response is not genetic.

Might you be a high school athletic coach?
posted by notreally at 9:23 PM on February 16, 2007


A sport that has its origins in bootlegging and running from the law, sees its participants not following the rules?

Call me when they turn right.
posted by Sukiari at 12:32 AM on February 17, 2007


You got your NASCAR in my Metafilter.
posted by dozo at 3:44 AM on February 17, 2007


I suspect that Kurzweil and Tipler will win out in this debate over the people who revere the sanctity of "undoped" competition. My guess is right around when the current two ruling generations (1950, 1920) move out of power. Bring on the dope. I mean, uh, doping.
posted by avriette at 6:00 AM on February 17, 2007


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