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Friday 22, Aug 2008

  Which plays a bigger role in sports – genetics or steroids?

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Victor Conte steroidsFormer BALCO boss Victor Conte has hinted in his letter to the New York Daily News that the sporting world should take a closer look on athletes originating from the Caribbean. Conte says that countries like Jamaica and other Caribbean nations do not have independent anti-doping federations and practice “minimal offseason testing” and, therefore, are of suspect of using steroids. An excerpt from Conte’s letter:

I have no evidence of doping by any of the winners of medals in Beijing, but when times begin falling like rain, questions arise, especially when the record-setters are from countries such as Jamaica and other Caribbean nations….

Conte mentions that in the women’s 100-meter event four of the eight finalists were from the region and Jamaican athletes took the 1-2-3 places in said event with Shelly-Ann Fraser taking home the gold.

He also mentions Jamaica’s Usain Bolt and Trinidad and Tobago’s Richard Thompson who won the gold and silver medal in the 100 meters respectively. Conte describes Bolt’s victory as “a shocking world-record time of 9.69, which is almost unbelievable since he shut it down before the finish line.”

Conte might know the top-secret protocol of doping; however, could he be totally right to hint that these personalities should be under a cloud of suspicion, as he puts it, because of possible use of performance-enhancing drugs?

In the ongoing Olympics, it’s obvious that the track is being dominated by athletes of African ancestry. And if you’re going to mention preeminent figures in Olympic sprinting and running events you’re going to come up with names like Marion Jones, Michael Johnson, Khalid Khannouchi, Donovan Bailey and Maurice Greene. These athletes have one common denominator – their ancestral origin is Africa.

Jon Entine in his The Story Behind the Amazing Success of Black Athletes offers an explanation to this phenomenon and it is not, in any way, connected with steroids.

Genetically linked, highly heritable characteristics such as skeletal structure, the distribution of muscle fiber types, reflex capabilities, metabolic efficiency, lung capacity, and the ability to use energy more efficiently are not evenly distributed among populations and cannot be explained by known environmental factors.

Although scientists are just beginning to isolate the genetic links to those biologically-based differences, it is indisputable that they exist. Each sport demands a slightly different mix of biomechanical, anaerobic, and aerobic abilities. Athletes from each region of the world tend to excel in specific events as a result of evolutionary adaptations to extremely different environments that became encoded in the genes.

Genes, it seems, play major role in on one’s athletic performance. This is why, the article says, whites of European ancestry dominate sports like weightlifting, wrestling, shot-put and hammer. People of this race have “on average, more natural upper-body strength” because they have the mesomorphic body type which such events require – large and muscular, particularly in the upper of the body, with relatively short arms and legs and thick torsos.

This body structure is proving to be an advantage in sports where strength rather than speed is the winning asset.”

East Asians, on the other hand, are a presence in diving, gymnastics and figure skating because they tend to be small and more flexible.

On black athletes Entine says that “there are a range of structural traits shared by genetically-diverse African athletes: low body fat, longer legs in comparison to the rest of their bodies, and narrow hips.”

Here are some of the characteristics enumerated by Entine that explain why black athletes, particularly of West African descent, monopolize the Olympic track today.

•    relatively less subcutaneous fat on arms and legs and proportionately more lean body and muscle mass, broader shoulders, larger quadriceps, and bigger, more developed musculature in general;
•    denser, shallower chests;
•    higher center of gravity, generally shorter sitting height, narrower hips, and lighter calves;
•    longer arm span and “distal elongation of segments” – the hand is relatively longer than the forearm, which in turn is relatively longer than the upper arm; the foot is relatively longer than the tibia (leg), which is relatively longer than the thigh;
•    a higher percentage of fast-twitch muscles and more anaerobic enzymes, which can translate into more explosive energy.

Thursday 21, Aug 2008

  Victor Conte offers some advice to WADA on steroid testing

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Victor Conte steroidsTo Victor Conte, the Caribbean is not only great for doing some R and R, but for doping as well.

In his letter to the New York Daily News, the former big boss of BALCO is giving out unsolicited advice for anti-doping organizations to step up their testing policies. And we’re sure Conte meant well and definitely knows what he’s talking about. He is a reformed man since he has spent some time in prison and then some more time on house arrest, we think any man would have the opportunity to turn over a new leaf under those circumstances. And for masterminding the biggest steroid scandal in history, we are sure he knows the ins and outs of steroid use.

Apparently, Mr. Conte is so concerned with the problem of doping in sports that he met with the former WADA boss Dick Pound in December 2007. Then, Conte has stressed the importance of implementing more out-of-competition testing to curb the use of illegal performance-enhancing drugs.

On said meeting, Conte said he advised Pound to deploy “disguised testers” to Jamaica, providing WADA with details about a certain drug supplier there. Conte pointed out to Pound the futility of undertaking testing at competitions saying that it is during the offseason period that PEDs are widely used “when athletes use anabolic steroids in conjunction with intensive weight training and develop the explosive strength base that serves them throughout the competitive season”.

Pound, however, stepped down two weeks after the meeting, according to Conte, and the organization “failed to act upon the information.”

As for the ongoing Games in Beijing, Conte has this to say:

I have no evidence of doping by any of the winners of medals in Beijing, but when times begin falling like rain, questions arise, especially when the record-setters are from countries such as Jamaica and other Caribbean nations where there is no independent anti-doping federation. In the women’s 100 meters, for instance, four of the eight finalists in the event were from such countries. Jamaican women swept all three Olympic medals: Shelly-Ann Frasier’s winning time of 10.78 seconds is blazing fast, and reflects a drop from a best of 11.31 in 2007 to 10.78 in 2008, an improvement of more than five-tenths of a second in a single year and about five meters faster than before.

In the letter, Conte also talks about Usain Bolt, who won the men’s 100-meter gold medal and whose triumph Conte considers as “a shocking world-record time of 9.69.” Trinidad and Tobago’s Richard Thompson also merited a special mention in Conte’s letter.  Thompson won the silver in same event in a personal best time of 9.89.

Conte says that that something is going on considering that five out eight finalists in the men’s 100-m race were from an area “where there is minimal out-of-season testing and five-of-six 100-meter medals were won by athletes from Caribbean countries without independent anti-doping federations”. Conte, however, reiterates that he has no knowledge that said athletes were involved in illegal activity. He says: “All I know is that they and other athletes come from regions where minimal offseason testing is administered.”

Conte’s ends his appeal with these statements:

There is a desperate need for each of the Caribbean countries to have an independent and fully functioning anti-doping federation. Until that is the case, the sprinters from these countries are going to continue to be under a cloud of suspicion.

I believe that these athletes need to be frequently drug tested on a random basis during the offseason, so that the cloud of suspicion can begin to move on. It’s my opinion that more effective drug testing in the Caribbean will help to restore the credibility of entire sport of track and field.