Winning, more especially in sports come with financial boosts in the form of bonuses and sponsorships. Following the recent confessions of Lance Armstrong (7 times Tour de France winner) on Oprah Winfrey, one may wonder how do these athletes use to enhance their performance, and how did Armstrong manage to avoid a positive test for more than a decade of pro-cycling?
The answer is not as simple as you may think, because some of the methods involve detailed scientific procedures that can only be performed with the help of scientists or doctors. Below are the 7 ways of doping that USADA (United States Anti-Doping Agency) alleges that Lance Armstrong used when he was at the peak of his cycling career.
1. Blood Doping
Blood doping is when an athlete illegally boosts the number of red blood cells (RBCs) in his or her body in order to enhance athletic performance by a blood transfusion. Red blood cells carry oxygen to the muscles and therefore the more oxygen, the more stamina an athlete will have.
There are currently two types of blood doping.
- Autologous blood transfusion- This is when an athlete has healthy blood ‘removed’ during periods when the body is at its freshest (e.g. after a period of rest from competitions), which blood is stored and transfused ‘back’ into the rider at the beginning of a competition. The benefit of a transfusion of half a litre of blood can provide the athlete with an additional half litre of oxygen to muscles per minute, at the same time increasing the capacity of the muscles to use oxygen by up to five percent
- Homologous blood transfusion-This is when an athlete uses blood from a donor that matches his/her blood type.
The USADA (United States Anti-Doping Agency) alleges Armstrong and his team-mates used EPO to cover up blood transfusions.
2. EPO (erythropoietin)
EPO is a hormone produced by the kidneys that stimulates production of red blood cells. A synthetic version of this naturally occurring hormone is used by cheating athletes to boost red blood cell counts, a change that temporarily supercharges endurance by increasing muscles’ oxygen-carrying capacity.
A report from the United States Anti-Doping Agency alleges that Armstrong’s pre-2000 team did just that, fueling its 1999 Tour de France win. But the USADA also claims that Armstrong’s abuse of EPO didn’t stop after the introduction of a urine test capable of detecting the drug in 2000.
The report also alleges that Lance Armstrong doctors instructed Armstrong and his team-mates to inject EPO intravenously (as opposed to subcutaneously, or into an inner layer of skin) and at night, when surprise tests were unlikely. These measures would make it possible for low doses of synthetic EPO to be cleared from a rider’s system by the time he woke.
3. Saline and plasma transfusions
Injections of plasma (a pale, yellow liquid that makes up a large part of blood) and saline are banned because of their usefulness in masking blood transfusions and EPO violations. Armstrong’s doctors are alleged to have closely monitored his hematocrit (red blood cells) levels to stay a step ahead of testing.
Jonathan Vaughters, a former Armstrong teammate, alleges that a team doctor once smuggled a bag of saline directly past an International Cycling Union tester, inside his raincoat, and delivered it to Armstrong just in time to fool an EPO test.
4. Human Growth Hormone (HGH)
This isanother naturally occurring hormone that is used by athletes to promote muscle growth and recovery. Typically it is injected prior to a period of training (to aid muscle development during training), but can be used during competition to speed up recovery from fatigue.
HGH is currently not tested for efficiently and according to Larry Bowers, the science director of the USADA, there were no available tests for HGH at the time of Armstrong’s first retirement in 2005, so if Armstrong and his team-mates consistently used them before that year, as the USADA claims, they could have avoided detection.
These chemicals, also natural hormones with synthetic analogues, can be used by athletes to ease inflammation and promote muscle recovery. Armstrong tested positive for a corticosteroid, cortisone, in 1999, the year of his first Tour de France win. The USADA says a team doctor then fabricated and backdated a prescription for the cortisone to excuse the positive result, claiming that Armstrong had been using cortisone to treat a “saddle sore.” Because cortisone is only outlawed among cyclists who don’t have a medical need for it, dishonest doctors can easily give cheaters cover under a phony prescription.
Used by athletes to improve muscle mass, muscle recovery and endurance, testosterone occurs naturally in the body. Baseline levels of the hormone vary widely among different people, and one person’s levels can vary widely from day to day.
The USADA alleges Armstrong and his team used a low-dose testosterone that wasn’t considered unlawful at that time. The report also claims that a doctor associated with Armstrong created a unique method of testosterone delivery, via an olive oil formulation that riders dribbled under their tongues, specifically designed to narrow the window of detection.
REPORT ON PROCEEDINGS UNDER THE WORLD ANTI-DOPING CODE
AND THE USADA PROTOCOL.UNITED STATES ANTI-DOPING AGENCY(Claimant) vs. LANCE ARMSTRONG,
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Erythropoietin. (2013, January 19). Retrieved from Wikipedia.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erythropoietin
Daniel Schwartz. (2012, August 24). Tricks of the trade: How athletes blood dope-The science and history of an illicit process. Retrieved from CBC News.http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/story/2012/08/24/f-blood-doping.html
Life’s Little Mysteries Staff. (2012, October 12). How Did Lance Armstrong Avoid a Positive Doping Test? Retrieved from Life’s Little Mysteries .http://www.lifeslittlemysteries.com/2998-lance-armstrong-doping-tests.html
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