Thursday, 22 March 2012

The Biomedical Basis of Elite Performance


"Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0"

I’ve just come back from a great Physiology Society meeting at the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre (by the way a great conference venue right opposite Big Ben). There was a really interesting session on “Drugs in Sport”.  Speakers included: David Cowan from King’s College London who is heading up the London 2012 drug testing program; Carsten Lundby from the University of Zurich on ‘Blood Doping’; Martial Saugy from the Swiss Laboratory for Doping Analysis on ‘The Athlete Biological Passport’ and Fawzi Kadi from Prebro University Sweden on ‘Testosterone in Sport’. I learnt a lot - though thankfully not anything that contradicted my book. I suppose the most dramatic was the blood doping diary that Carsten showed – it seems that rest days of the Tour de France are just perfect for taking time off to dope. He also showed some data about a HIF inhibitor that you can take as a pill and acts as well as EPO in increasing the red blood cell number. The idea is in my book, but I wasn’t aware how close it was to being ready for action. I am assuming it is being tested for in anti doping laboratories worldwide, but of course no one would tell me.

The most telling contribution was Carsten’s view - in public and private - that autologous blood doping (doping with your own blood) is still essentially undetectable. Martial was less negative and suggested that the biological passport could identify dopers. Yet, as Carsten suggested, why risk a fancy new drug when the old fashioned tricks work just as well? It seems to me that at present testing needs to be linked to techniques more akin to police work. A couple of undercover cops or double agents should do the trick …..

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