On October 15, Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner broke the record for the highest skydive ever, at the same time becoming the first person to break the sound barrier, reaching a speed of 834.4 MPH or 1.24 Mach. This was an incredible feat that I thought would never be duplicated, that is until USADA released their report on Lance Armstrong. Shortly after it’s publication in late August, Lance began his free fall, eventually losing all his endorsements, stepping down as chair of the Livestrong Foundation and culminating with the International Cycling Union (UCI) stripping Lance of his seven Tour de France wins.
Am I disappointed? In a word … yes, and even more disturbing is that those seven titles are being vacated. In fact, it is now believed that doping was so widespread in cycling, the UCI cannot determine a winner at all! John Fahey of the World Anti-Doping Agency said, "There was a period of time in which the culture of cycling was that everybody doped. There is no doubt about that." Pushed on what he meant, Fahey replied, "The evidence that was given by those riders who are teammates of Lance Armstrong, one after the other, they said the same thing - that you could not compete unless you were doping." It was reported by USADA, that 26 people - including 11 former teammates - believed that the Armstrong team “used and trafficked in banned drugs and also used blood transfusions, and that Armstrong pressured others to do so.”
Even though the evidence was so strong, a USA Today poll said 60% still believed that Armstrong won the Tour de France seven times. How does that happen? Sixty percent is higher than the percentage of votes that elected President Obama! I guess it shouldn’t be surprising. In a web article at WebMD, Charles Yesalis, a professor of health and human development at Pennsylvania State University says, "We've got scientists and professors who cheat, journalists who cheat, lawyers who cheat, and CEOs who cheat." Yesalis studied the use of performance-enhancing drugs in athletes for more than 25 years and worked as a consultant for the U.S. Olympic Committee. "For the last 20 or 30 years, we've had this idea that there are only a few bad apples in the barrel,” says Yesalis, "But in reality, in many, many different sports, there are only a few good apples."
It will only get worse as medicine gets better. Often it is legitimate drugs that are misused, just like the HGH that Lance Armstrong is accused of using. One drug is Repoxygen, a gene therapy developed in Britain as a treatment for severe anemia. While the company that makes Repoxygen has stopped producing, the drug remains sought after. Repoxygen is an inactivated virus carrying the gene for EPO, which artificially boosts red blood cells and aerobic capacity.
According to some officials, the next big form of performance enhancement is going to be gene doping, which is genetic modification to advance sports performance. According to one source, “The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) is spending "significant" money and resources into research into finding ways to detect genetic enhancement of athletes.”
While researching potential ways to repair muscle growth in patients with muscular dystrophy, Lee Sweeney, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, has pioneered research into gene transfer technology. Sweeney and his colleagues genetically engineered mice by injecting with a virus containing the gene for insulin growth factor 1, or IGF-1. They were able to create “super mice” that could run twice as far as normal mice, continued to have huge muscles and significant strength into old age and stayed lean even when they were fed on a high-fat diet.
More disturbingly, a frequently-cited 1980s survey by Chicago-based Dr. Bob Goldman, founder of the US National Academy of Sports Medicine, asked elite athletes whether they “would take an enhancement which guaranteed them gold medals but would also kill them within five years.” “Out of 198 world-class athletes, 52 per cent would be willing to give up their life for five years of an undefeated run of wins," Goldman told Reuters during the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.
Dr. Goldman repeated the survey every two years since and the results were always the same - about half of the athletes polled were ready to die for gold. With that many athletes willing to sell their souls to the devil, it will be an uphill battle to keep the playing field level.