Sports doping: an extreme game of biology
Cheating athletes manipulate
As London gears up for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, cheating athletes and antidoping officials continue their game of hide-and-seek. Doping is as old as sports itself, but the past few decades have seen the phenomenon grow more sophisticated. As our understanding of molecular biology, biochemistry, pharmacology and medicine improves, athletes become even more cunning in their exploitation of advances in these fields.
Enhancing sporting prowess goes back to the ancient Greeks, who used special diets and concoctions to improve their athletic abilities. In the 19th century, cyclists and other endurance athletes dabbled in molecules like strychnine, caffeine and cocaine. But doping exploded in the 20th century with advances in molecular biology and pharmacology. The Danish cyclist Knud Enemark Jensen died during competition at the 1960 Rome Olympic Games after taking amphetamines. With the introduction of synthetic anabolic steroids for increasing muscle mass in the 1960s, sporting authorities knew they had to take action. Testing for stimulants began in 1967; in the 1970s, the International Olympics Committee started to test for anabolic steroids.
These days, testing for performance-enhancing substances and techniques is routine and has a unified front. The World Anti-Doping Agency, established in 1999, is an independent foundation of the IOC. It works with intergovernmental organizations, governments, public authorities and other public and private entities to stay at the forefront of the fight against sports doping. WADA has research programs to support investigations into ways molecular biology, biochemistry, analytical chemistry and pharmacology can be applied to fight doping. It also maintains an extensive list of prohibited substances and methods for performance enhancement.