Of course we speculate about the spate of record-breaking performances at the Beijing Olympics. We've become conditioned over the past several years to question openly the possible chemical enhancement of athletic accomplishment, especially in major league baseball and in track and field. Now swimming performances are being doubted as well.
But we should put these concerns to rest. This is simply another of those transitory periods in human affairs, during which the new concepts still have the power to disturb. After all, it was once considered shocking if a woman permitted a public view of a bare ankle. And early scientists were punished for speculating that the sun was at the center of the solar system.
The International Olympic Committee should abandon all its efforts to prevent artificial enhancement of physical ability, and the sooner the better.
There are compelling arguments to support such modification of IOC policy. One has to do with the long history of permitting performances to be enhanced by the use of improved equipment. Why not allow the human equipment to be improved also?
The fiberglass pole has permitted latter-day vaulters to shatter records set with the earlier poles of bamboo and steel. The friction-reducing swimsuit has allowed similar results in aquatic events. And the vaulters, the swimmers, and all the other athletes have benefited from improved nutrition and conditioning
It is appropriate and logical to permit the athletes to take the next step along this path, if they so choose, and use performance-enhancing chemicals. Any physical penalty that might be suffered in later life is a factor to be weighed by the individual, not by the IOC or any other governing body.
A second argument, perhaps even more convincing, is based on the widespread acceptance of performance-enhancing substances in the venues of everyday life, from the coffee shops of the morning to the boudoirs of the evening.
Geronimo chewed peyote. Churchill smoked cigars. Professor Leary relied on LSD. Soccer moms unwind with wine. Sports writers require Viagra. Why should we deny our athletes access to anabolic steroids or human growth hormone?