Doping tests, Rio 2016 and WADA updates

Breakthrough in Doping Tests, But Still Behind?

Today’s news begins with some breaking research in doping tests. The  BBC reported on U.S. scientists’ discovery of an inexpensive way to detect performance-enhancing drugs which are “1,000 times more sensitive than current tests.” The scientists who discovered the new testing procedure recently presented its findings at an American Chemical Society (ACS) meeting. The current testing method uses a mass spectrometer, which zaps a urine sample with a beam of electrons. The electrons “turn atoms into charged particles.” The charged particles then enter the mass spectrometer, which essentially is a scale that weighs particles. From there, scientists can determine whether an athlete has used steroids based on the weight of the particles. Generally, scientists know how much certain steroids weigh, so if it matches, then the athlete took the steroid. However, a problem with this technique is that some of the “doping substances are so small and have a negative electrical charge that they may not produce a strong enough signal for detection.”

U.S. researchers found a way to test even the smallest metabolites. They call their process “Paired Ion Electrospray Ionisation (PIESI).” The system (the mass spectrometer) adds a chemical agent to the sample. The chemical agent binds “minute pieces of steroid or amphetamine” which makes it more visible to the detector. Lead chemist Dr. Daniel Armstrong praised the simplicity and effectiveness of the process: “”We’re talking about parts per trillion, sub-parts per trillion – and the amazing thing is that it is so simple.” Fortunately, the testing is inexpensive, and their results derive mainly from machines already in use; adding the key binding agent is a low cost, as it is commercially available. However, concerns regarding the method may raise doubts about its application. First, the testing seems to work only for urine samples – it doesn’t work for blood doping, nor does it detect human growth hormone. Second, while many reporters work furiously to learn about this new development, no major anti-doping agencies reached out to learn more about this technique (World Anti-Doping Agency, IOC, or USADA). However, if later approval of the testing occurs, there’s a chance doping agencies will adopt it. Thus far, their results fair better than the current testing out there, making the chemists’ futures look bright.

Note: Sky Sports news reported that a number of performance-enhancing drugs exist that continue to evade current testing methods. Athletes have easy access to these drugs, as they are readily available online. The article mentions a drug called MGF, or Mechano Growth Factor. MGF is said to increase muscle growth, yet is undetectable by current tests. Anti-doping agencies are working hard to combat this and similar drugs, but they remain behind the ability to detect them.

2016 Rio Construction: We’re Behind

While U.S. researchers are making strides in the battle against anti-doping, preparations for Rio 2016 continue to worsen. The biggest concern for Rio organizers is the northern, run down region of Rio – specifically, Deodoro. The plan is to have Deodoro host the “second-largest cluster of venues.” The proposed plan includes the following events: “shooting, field hockey, equestrian, canoeing and BMX,” as well as some basketball games. Despite the plan to create these venues to hold the events, construction for that region has yet to begin, and the Games are only 2.5 years away. Rio organizers attribute the lack of construction problem to the dispute “over what level of government was responsible for the project.” I think it’s about time someone takes responsibility for the job and start building, or Rio 2016 will look much like the complaints journalists at Sochi 2016 relayed to the public. Arguably, Rio would be worse – if the construction fails to finish, those events cannot occur.

Environmental concerns also plague the Games. According to scientists and Olympic sailors, Guanabara Bay is notorious for its high pollution of fecal matter (where sailing will be held), as well as floating debris that will inevitably affect the competitions. Rio organizers will address the problem by holding test sailing events in August, as well as others in July 2015 and May 2016 to ensure that operations proceed smoothly. What is interesting (and troublesome) is that the article omits any information or plans Rio organizers have made to clean up the fecal matter.

Whomever thought hosting the World Cup and the Summer Olympics within two years of each other should have seriously reconsidered its position. As it stands, Brazil is spending $11 billion on the World Cup, as well as spending $15 billion (public and private money) for the Summer Olympics. Rio organizers assure the public that it will achieve its goals and finish construction in a timely manner, but it is hard to finish projects when they have yet to begin. $26 billion is a substantial sum to sink into two events so close to one another, yet the article misses out on the conspicuous problem other Olympic host cities faced: will this event damage the city, perhaps the whole country?

While Rio is behind in construction, it is ahead in aggregating sponsorship commitments. Recently, the IOC Coordination Commission visited Rio, and discovered that 80 percent of Rio’s targeted sponsorship commitments will be attained by the time the agreements are finalized. Rio named no sponsors specifically, but it assured the IOC that it will make an announcement in the near future. At least Rio has something on which to hang its hat.

WADA: Jamaica’s Back on Track

WADA executive director David Howman was pleased to announce yesterday that “Jamaican officials have done ”exactly what we’ve asked” to get their anti-doping program back in order after failing to test their world-beating sprinters in the months ahead of the London Olympics.” It helped their program when all twelve members of the Jamaica Anti-Doping Commission (JADCO) board resigned in November 2013. JADCO continues to face problems from the previous regime, but it is working hard to overcome those battles to reach a point of homeostasis. Unfortunately, Renee-Anne Shirley, the Jamaican woman who exposed JADCO’s failure to conduct enough doping tests leading up to the London Olympics, has been ostracized by her country and forced to flee. While her actions cost her the ability to remain in her country and an entire culture against her, she did help to correct JADCO and put it on the correct path.

In other WADA news, Union Cycliste Internationale president Brian Cookson created a “Union Cycliste Internationale.” He charged the committee with the task of “discovering the full extent of the historical doping problems the sport has faced, including whether the world governing body was complicit in covering up drug cheats, as Lance Armstrong has alleged.” The efforts to discover more about the prevalent doping in cycling over the past decade inspired the independent commission. Cookson’s goal is to figure out the doping problems within cycling so that WADA has fewer questions to field on the use of performance-enhancing drugs in cycling.

There are some rumors that WADA may ban the use of xenon gas, but there’s no official word on its permissive use yet. If you recall that many of Russia’s athletes who competed in Sochi were said to have used xenon gas, you’ll understand how big of an issue this is. If it is banned and it is retroactive, expect to see many of Russia’s medals disappear.

Finally, here’s a short article on the ballistics of how Reeva Steenkamp was shot during yesterday’s trial phase of Oscar Pistorius.




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