It’s kind of hard to understand the justification for banning performance enhancing drugs but allowing all sorts of other performance enhancing technologies. If the major concern is the “integrity of the game,” then high tech swimsuits that reduce drag far more than was possible at previous competitions seems just as unfair as some drug that increases available oxygen. This is why, for example, Major League Baseball has so far resisted using aluminum bats, even though such bats can apparently be configured to have very close to the same properties as wooden bats.
The real kicker there are Nike’s non-goggles — lenses that are affixed to the eye sockets with medical adhesive, eliminating both the protruding nature of goggles as well as the band connecting them to the head. Why not make them permanent and have a Bruce Sterling Olympics?
One of the fascinating things I learned about traditional performance enhancement is how elite cyclists such as Lance Armstrong can actually alter their physiological reaction to lactic acid. As you exercise, lactic acid builds up in your muscles and eventually causes that pain you feel in muscles if you sustain an intense workout.
But using intensive training methods, you can actually raise your body’s tolerance for lactic acid. A number of web sites and news reports suggest that through training Lance Armstrong has an extremely high tolerance of lactic acid — apparently significantly higher than other cyclists (presumably there must be some sort of genetic component to one’s ultimate lactic acid tolerance).
Suppose that tomorrow I invented a completely safe compound whose only major side effect was that it increased your tolerance to lactic acid to the maximum that your genotype allows. Should such a compound be banned? What if I come up with a genetic modification that will push your or Lance Armstrong’s tolerance for lactic acid even further (though not into unsafe ranges)? Would that be cheating?
Perhaps the best answer is a compromise suggested by Gizmodo a few week ago — adding an enhanced category to competitions. So you’d keep the current regimen for non-enhanced athletes, but add an enhanced category without drug or genetic testing and anything goes.
Suit changes take swimmers to new heights. The Associated Press, August 2, 2004.