Athlete: Hey, do you have anything new that will give me an edge over the competition in the upcoming Olympics next year? I need something different, better than what everyone else is using to catch up.
Scientist: Well…there is this DNA manipulating IGF-1 stuff that has been known to increase strength threefold in mice. It has not really been tested on humans yet and we do not know any of the possible negative side effects of this substance, but I still could probably get some it if you wanted.
Athlete: It increases strength in mice by three times!!!
Scientist: Yes, but there is speculation that it can really increase your risk of “several cancers,” and several people who have tried gene-type therapies have died.
Athlete: Really, three times their strength? That would increase my chances of winning Gold by a whole heck of a lot. I want some of that stuff and I don’t care what it costs.
As fictional as the above conversation is, it represents a picture of how I view the “cheating” mind-set of some elite level athletes with regard to newer possibilities of illegal performance enhancement; practices that are very likely right around the corner, if not already in use.
A recent story in UK’s Metro," Is DNA manipulation the new athletics drug? Testers are already on the case", details the likelihood of manipulating one’s own DNA for the sole purpose of improving performance, regardless of the risk.
Using a virus to transport “Insulin-like growth factor one (IGF-1)” into mice, researchers found that this substance gave the mice a boost in muscle strength by a multiple of three. In tests, this allowed these DNA-manipulated mice to swim “three times longer than those without IGF-1 before reaching exhaustion.” And, according to the piece, this “gene therapy” is not currently “detectable by blood or urine tests.”
The article goes on to discuss WADA’s biological passport as a means to help in the battle against new forms of performance enhancement, like the one discussed here, along with other interesting bits and pieces. However, rather than continue to detail information you could get from the article yourself, I would like to shift gears a little and talk about “the line.”
What I mean here by my terminology the line is characterized by the following question:
Where should the line be drawn that represents when athletes cross over from proper enhancement of athletic performance to illegal forms of the same?
It is obvious to me, based on the article referenced for this piece (and based upon what has occurred with PED’s over the last couple of decades), that science is moving very quickly. Unethical athletes are taking every advantage and using any means to win; that winning-at-all-costs mentality.
Even we, as a society, are not exactly sure where proper performance enhancement ends and illegal performance enhancement begins. For some the distinction is difficult to make and as time passes, this will only become more difficult.
What will sports look like in the future—will athletes become mere facsimiles of their former selves if they wish to travel the path of elite and/or professional sports?
One hundred years from now will it be commonplace for an athlete to have their arms and legs replaced with mechanical parts, or even biological pieces of genetic code, that make them more effective and efficient at athletic movement? A combination of things that is only slightly familiar to the original. A human hulk if you will?
What will happen to all the positive, intrinsic values and life lessons so many preach that youth sports participation offers to young participants? Do we really believe that once an athlete reaches the elite levels of high school, college, Olympic and/or professional sports that everything changes and all those intrinsic values and life lessons don’t apply anymore?
Will society accept all of this as being OK, tolerating the apparent inevitability that all these questions imply?
Really, where should we draw that line?
It is these questions that prompts a reference to a former post I wrote back in March of 2010 titled, A-Rod, McGwire, Bonds, Baseball, and Performance Enhancement: Where Do We Draw the Line? Part II - The Guidelines. It was in this second part that I identified a skeleton or foundation of what that line in the sand between proper and improper performance enhancement might look like.
I encourage you to take a good look at that piece above as my feelings on where that line is crossed are very clear. For, in my mind, the future of ethical athletic competition is very much at risk based on the current path too many athletes, at many levels, are electing to travel.
And from my perspective, that is sad.