The country is still in the midst of the post Brexit blues but thankfully the Olympics are here to boost the nation’s mood. There’s nothing like a string of gold medals to make us all feel proud to be British. From a purely selfish point of view lots of gold medals coupled with a lovely hot summer means that most people will feel too well to need to see their doctor!
The Olympics are a conundrum – they represent the peak of what human beings can physically achieve but they are also shrouded in curious rules which are difficult to really comprehend.
In my childhood I remember there were Olympians and Professional athletes / sportsmen (in those unenlightened days the term sportsmen covered women as well). You could only complete in the Olympics if you were truly amateur. People believed in the real Olympic ethos that competing was more important than winning, the true Chariots of Fire ideals.
I remember athletes all being like Roger Bannister, trying to hold down a full time job/ medical studies and compete at the highest level. If you received any money for your sport then you forfeited your right to compete. Somewhere along the line the desire to win trumped the desire to compete. This may have been due to the determination of communist regimes to prove their systems superiority or it may simply be that the fruits of success are now so great that any price is worth paying.
Sporting heroes from one generation ago received gold medals and no financial reward. Today’s sporting superheroes are set up for life. It is hardly surprising that many choose to enhance their sporting abilities in any way possible. Risking the long term effects of doping seems a small price to pay when the prize is so big. It is confusing as to what constitutes cheating and what doesn’t.
I performance enhance my running with food – no carbohydrates and I’m absolutely spent. I don’t think anyone will quibble that as a human being taking carbohydrates is ok, the problem is where do you draw the line. I also drink a lot of beetroot juice – if WADA were to come knocking on our door I’m sure they would be asking a lot of questions about the quantity of beetroot amassed in our fridge. And you don’t need any expensive drugs tests when checking my urine, purple coloured pee is a bit of a dead giveaway.
Research shows that beetroot has a significant effect on exercise tolerance. Because beetroot is naturally occurring I think I’m probably safe, but if the same purple juice were instead manufactured in some clandestine meth lab, I’d be breaking the rules for sure. The fact that beetroot also help to drop your blood pressure and probably helps you to live longer would be an irrelevance because I would be so obviously cheating. When your supplier is Sainsburys and not Walter White then you’re probably safe. That is, of course, unless it’s a cough mixture or any one of the other 200 banned substances.
Its bad news for half of my patients over 65 years, because a lot of their medications are also banned. So anyone who thinks that substances are forbidden because they’re bad for your is wrong. They’re not allowed because you are deemed to be cheating. So it is ok to live at altitude or to sleep in an altitude tent, but it is not ok to take erythropoietin, but physiologically there is no difference between the two.
My other drug that I also take to maximise my performance is caffeine. This ticks all the boxes for cheating. The only problem is that like carbohydrates, it is so universal that it is nigh on impossible to exclude from your diet.
So what should we do? I think the issue here is not performance enhancement, after all why do people train if not to enhance their performance, but is their ‘doping’ going to adversely affect their lives? Doping like taking heroin and cocaine is fuelled by the black-market and a murky underground world without any chance of regulation.
We need to allow sportsmen to take performance enhancing medication under the auspices of medical professionals to ensure that it is done safely. I am alarmed that amateur athletes regularly inject themselves with a variety of hormones without any medical supervision – this is simply not safe.
In the meantime I’m going to enjoy watching the Olympics whilst drinking a glass of beetroot juice.