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2/14/18blog post

jeopardizing the gold

I love watching the Olympics. There is something amazing about watching someone who puts all of their physical, mental, and emotional energy into a lifetime of training, all for the chance to compete for a brief moment at the elite level. Some are veterans who you expect to see for many years. Others are no-names who are happy just to be there. Unfortunately, every year, someone gets caught taking extreme, illegal measures to gain the extra edge they think it takes to win.

The doping saga continues as the International Olympic Committee (IOC) just denied 15 Russian athletes and coaches’ requests to participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics. These former Olympians were among the 28 Russians who were given lifetime bans for doping by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). However, any of these Russian athletes will be able to participate under a neutral flag if they can prove they are clean. They will be known as Olympic Athletes from Russia (OAR).

On anonymous surveys, many Olympic athletes confess they would use banned practices or substances to gain an edge if they knew they would not be caught. Many athletes have special rituals which they think help their training. There is nothing wrong with this provided those practices are legal. I used to be a very competitive athlete, and I had silly superstitions because I thought they helped. But I don’t think I could enjoy a victory if I got there illegally.

Every Olympiad, athletes are caught doping and banned from competition. Years of their lives are wasted because they wanted to get ahead. I am not surprised to see this at the elite level. The world’s most talented athletes are pushing their bodies to the maximum we know how. There is nothing more they can do except take that extra pill, inject that extra hormone, transfuse some extra blood, or use the next cutting-edge technology to push them the tiniest little bit, to shave off that hundredth of a second it will take to win. I am not condoning the practice, but simply saying that I understand the temptation when there is nothing else you can do personally to gain an edge.

What saddens me is when I see younger, less-elite athletes following in their footsteps. These illegal practices are equally harmful, but much less helpful, in the less-experienced athletes. Young athletes who want to gain an edge will see much more improvement from proper diet, adequate rest, good technique, and a good training regimen, than they will get from any internet wonder-drug they can purchase. They are throwing away money and jeopardizing their future in sports, all to cut a few corners. Some of the supplements are safe and legal, but they are still not helpful, and not worth the expense, if the athletes are not practicing and training correctly.

When – not if – young athletes ask me about a new supplement, I answer by asking them what they’re currently doing for training. There are usually things they can fix, which are free, and will help more than anything else which claims to give them an edge. Do not teach them that cutting corners gets them ahead. Doing things the right way might take longer, but it will give them a bigger edge over the competition if they’re willing to dedicate the time and effort to do things the right way. Plus the satisfaction of winning using nothing but your own effort is much sweeter!

 

 

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Lora Scott, MD

program director sports medicine
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