The Athlete Biological Passport

WADA’s best bet to monitor athletes and combat drugs cheats.

Illegal substances have always been present in sport but have become increasingly sophisticated in terms of both their chemistry and administration in recent years.

In the months following the Lance Armstrong and USPS case that has rocked cycling, the public appetite for fresh, controversial stories regarding doping in any sport will be heightened. So expect journalists to go digging and come up with the goods.

While opinion is still split on Armstrong the revelations are undoubtedly good for transparency across sport as a whole. However retrospective punishment shouldn’t be the first line of defence in the war on drugs. Continue reading

Lance Armstrong and the Science of Doping

While the methods of doping will continue to evolve, science is catching up fast. Blood boosting and doping look set for eradication due to new methods of detection.

Lance Armstrong and “the US Postal Service Pro Cycling Team ran the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.” – USADA

Fundamentally speaking, cycling is an endurance sport with competitors having to cycle hundreds of kilometres at an incredible intensity, often averaging around 40kph. This places huge demand on the body to transport sufficient oxygen from the lungs to the working muscles for energy production.

If oxygen delivery cannot be sustained at the level required, an athlete will either be forced to slow down, or risk switching from the aerobic to anaerobic energy pathway which can often lead to a cyclist “hitting the wall”.

Therefore from a performance enhancement perspective it would be logical to boost the body’s oxygen-carrying capacity and Lance Armstrong and the USPS cycling team did this to great effect. Continue reading

Active Ageing

The theory that muscle mass and strength decline as a function of ageing is under intense scrutiny. New research suggests a sedentary lifestyle may play a larger role than previously thought.

MRI quadricep cross-sections of a 40 year-old triathlete (top), a 74 year-old sedentary individual (middle) and a 70 year-old triathlete (bottom).

Getting old has long been associated with functional decline, a subjective feeling of weakness and eventually a loss of independence. This by and large is as a result of muscle wasting or atrophy.

This reduction in muscle mass and strength has major repercussions for the elderly. While modern medicine has come on in leaps and bounds, keeping us alive longer and longer, there has been little investigation into how we can make these extra years’ worth living.

The healthcare and social costs of caring for the elderly who are unable to look after themselves or are even classified as disabled are staggering and this is set to increase over the next 20 years.

Currently 1 in 6 of the UK population is over 65, that’s approximately 10 million people. It is estimated that by 2033 this figure will have risen to 15 million, potentially spiralling costs out of control. So far the government has no answer. Continue reading

Antioxidants, Free Radicals and Exercise

Food-products are forever being fortified with antioxidants to the point where they’re now synonymous with a healthy diet. But just how beneficial is supplementation to a training athlete?

Are blueberries and cranberries really “super” foods?

You’ve probably come across some of the supposed wonders of antioxidants. Anti-aging, disease prevention, lowering of blood pressure? But as usual there’s no explanation, no evidence, no real vindication of why they’re good for you just that they are.

This happens with all health-related fads as we the public demand that one wonder cure for everything. We’re spoon fed information, jump on the bandwagon and in next to no time we’re eating blueberries and cranberries by the dozen and drinking enough green tea to sink a ship.

So one would expect that a training athlete should consume more of these antioxidants because more usually means better, right?

Wrong. Well potentially anyway, and here’s why. Continue reading

Ramadan Observance and Athletic Performance

Eid-ul-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting. What problems did fasting during daylight hours pose for practising Muslim athletes at London 2012?

Double Gold medal winner Mo Farah decided to delay observing Ramadan until after the London Olympics had concluded.

Before the Olympics began, British long-distance runner Mo Farah went on record to confirm that despite being of Islamic faith he would observe Ramadan after London 2012 had finished. You would be forgiven for assuming that non-participation in one of the five pillars of Islam is a sin. Yet the Qur’an is remarkably flexible text.

In chapter 2, the Qur’an reads, “And whosoever of you is present, let him fast the month, and whosoever of you is sick or on a journey, a number of other days.” Continue reading

The Science of Sprinting: What makes Jamaicans so good?

The USA and Jamaica dominate the sprinting events, Usain Bolt undeniably the star of the show. So is it safe to assume that black athletes are naturally better at sprinting?

Usain Bolt will have a tough time defending his Olympic title with several other athletes including Yohan Blake posting blistering times in the diamond league this past year.

The last non-black athlete to take Olympic gold was Alan Wells of Great Britain. That was 32 years ago. Since then athletes with African heritage have claimed every single 100m medal contested at the Olympic Games.

Heading into the London Olympics the only realistic non-black competitor is Christophe Lemaitre of France. He is currently the only white athlete in history to run sub 10 seconds. Despite this he is currently ranked 10th in the world meaning that on current form he would not even make the 100m final.

On the day of the opening ceremony, Lemaitre’s coach Pierre Carraz revealed that they “have put a definitive cross” against the 100m and will not compete unless there are significant withdrawals, a tactic they employed at the World Championships in Daegu. He will instead arrive on August 4th, the day the first 100m heat is held. Continue reading

Are Spain’s Tiki-Taka Days Numbered?

The Spanish Olympic squad was less than impressive at Hampden Park on July 26th. With Brazil‘s burgeoning new crop and the World Cup being held in Rio in 2014, could we see a shift of power back in favour of the 5-time winners?

Inigo Martinez is shown a red card for this challenge on Kensuke Nagai after a poor back-pass.

In an unfamiliar sky blue shirt, white short combination, Spain began as many would expect, dominating possession with patient, simple, confident football. Their first real opportunity came from an uncharacteristic burst forward, cut inside and 20 yard effort from Juan Mata, forcing a save out of Japan’s goalkeeper.

Clearly lacking experience and leadership in defence, Spain conceded a poor goal on 33 minutes; a flat, Continue reading

Why Hodgson was wrong to keep Capello’s camp in Krakow

The sweltering heat took its toll on England particularly in Ukraine at Euro 2012. What can England learn from this experience?

Joe Hart signals for a one man wall, an appropriate nickname for England’s now established number one.

The dust has now settled after an enthralling Euro 2012. England met most people’s expectations and are sitting pretty in fourth in FIFA’s world rankings. Irrespective of this the manner in which England bowed out is a major cause for concern.
Despite having relatively little to do against France in their opening game, England’s number one Joe Hart looked physically exhausted in his post-match interview.
“It’s hot out there; I’m not going to bore anyone with excuses because we were both tired, both from countries that aren’t used to that heat.

“I don’t think anyone really expected that when the Ukraine and Poland were announced for the Euro’s.”

Whilst Hart’s words were an honest admission, his expression was more of disbelief. Continue reading

An apple a day keeps the doctor away

Scientists from the University of Iowa have discovered a natural compound (Ursolic Acid) that increases muscle mass.

The proverb may have changed, but the benefits of apples haven’t.

The Pembrokeshire proverb, written by John Pavin Phillips in 1866, “Eat an apple on going to bed, And you’ll keep the doctor from earning his bread.” A very simple principle to live by. At the same time, it was a claim with no scientific foundation. Well over a century later, there exists substantial evidence to support his philosophy.

Apples (or pure apple juice) are one of the most common fruits consumed as part of a balanced diet and to contribute towards our “5 a day”. They come in a number of different types from the relatively mild Gala apple, to the sweet Pink Lady and even the slightly sour Granny Smiths variety. They all however include the natural compound ursolic acid which is found in abundance just under the skin (don’t discard the peel). Continue reading

Amir Khan: Dreams on hold for the Bolton boxer

Following his second successive defeat at the hands of Danny Garcia does Khan lack the class of a true great?

Khan impressed in the first two rounds unleashing a furore of combinations whilst keeping Garcia at bay.

Amir Khan seemingly dominated the first two rounds against Danny Garcia, dancing around his opponent, his lightning fast punches and flashy footwork appearing to mesmerise the American, constantly putting him on the back foot and not allowing him to settle without landing any telling blows of his own.

Khan’s two punch combinations climbed to three and four as he grew in confidence, eventually drawing blood above the Philadelphia man’s right eye which was clearly visible at the end of round two. Continue reading

Another Italian Football Scandal

After the high-profile Totonero scandals of the 80′s and the more recent Calciopoli affair, why has match-fixing reared its ugly head in Italy once more?

Italian coach Cesare Prandelli would wave goodbye to Euro 2012 “for the good of football.”

Italy should have entered EURO 2012 with a spring in its step. A rejuvenated Andrea Pirlo inspiring Juventus to a record-breaking unbeaten season in Serie A, with 13 assists to his name. All this just 6 years after The Old Lady were deducted 9 points; stripped of their 2005 and 2006 Scudetto’s and relegated to Serie B for their involvement in the Calciopoli scandal.

You would be forgiven for thinking such harsh punishment would be enough to discourage more criminal activity in the higher echelons of Italian football. But you’d be wrong. Continue reading

Goal-Line Technology

Where do we draw the line?

Hawk-Eye not only calculates the trajectory of the ball, but its speed and potentially a goalkeepers reaction times.

Hawk-Eye had a rather low key affair in England’s recent friendly victory over Belgium on June 2nd. Whilst the data gathered was only for an exclusive panel of senior FIFA officials, there were no contentious moments at either end which perhaps has culminated in little attention for the highly decorated technology.

Back in January 2007 the English Premier League first contracted Hawk-Eye Innovations (amongst others) to develop goal-line technology. Since then the footballing world has seen Sepp Blatter (President of FIFA) go from fervently slating its inclusion to supporting it. Continue reading

Fabrice Muamba

After suffering a cardiac arrest on March 17th, will Bolton’s Zaire-born midfielder ever play football at the top again?

What we witnessed that day was horrific. A young, seemingly healthy, standout role model for football and sport in general was taken away from us. For 78 minutes.

Continue reading

Jack Wilshere

Problems afoot for England’s young playmaker?

Wilshere played 49 games in 2010/11, more than any other Arsenal player.

Arsenal’s former player of the season has suffered a frustrating year, being side-lined with a string of ankle, heel and knee problems. The lack of competitive games for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain this season is perhaps admission from Arsene Wenger himself that focusing on developing young talent can be a delicate process.

The mixed messages given by the club doctors and Arsenal’s press team have no doubt infuriated Gunners fans. One minute Wilshere is a ‘medical miracle’, the next his rehabilitation has suffered a major setback.

Continue reading

Exercise-induced Asthma

Are athletes at greater risk of developing asthma than their non-athletic counterparts?

Approximately 19% of elite athletes suffer from asthma.

Asthma is the most common respiratory disease in the UK, with a prevalence of approximately 10-15%. The development of asthma can be impacted by immunological, genetic, hygiene and environmental factors. The exact reasons for the high number of asthma sufferers are unclear, although many speculate in the western world that it is due to aero-allergens (such as pollen and dust) and the ever increasing amount of pollutants being pumped into our atmosphere. Continue reading

A brief history of Anabolic Steroids

  • Testosterone first identified in May 1935 by German Scientists.
  • Rumours of German soldiers being given steroids to increase aggression and stamina in World War 2.
  • Synthetic development of anabolic steroids began in the 1940’s by Eastern Bloc countries such as East Germany and the soviet Union.
  • Anabolic steroids believed to have debuted in the Olympic Games of 1952, held in Helsinki, Finland.
  • The then Soviet Union amassed a total of 71 medals, 22 of them gold.
  • Soviet Union dominates weightlifting championships in Vienna 2 years later.
  • Dianabol approved by the FDA (Food and Drug administration) in 1958.
  • Anabolic steroids placed on the list of banned substances by the IOC in 1976.
  • In 1984 and 1985 the US Olympic Committee conducted unannounced, non-punitive drug trials and found approximately 50% of their athletes were using anabolic steroids.
  • In 1986 the IOC introduces out of competition doping tests as athletes periodised their usage to avoid detection.
  • WADA established in 1999 to protect athlete’s rights to doping-free sport and ensure effective anti-doping programs were administered.
  • Prevalence of drugs in sport currently sits at around 2%.

The War on Drugs

Scientists in Sweden have discovered that the effects of anabolic steroids linger long after their use is discontinued.

Drug controversies have become a staple in athletics.

The BOA (British Olympic Association) confirmed they have rescinded their eligibility bye-law that was first introduced 20 years ago, banning athlete’s convicted of doping from Olympic events, paving the way for Dwain Chambers to race at the Olympics, 50 days from now.

Last month the CAS (Court of Arbitration for Sport) ruled the BOA had to fall in line with WADA’s (The World Anti-Doping Agency[1] policy on drug taking athletes. Continue reading