"Doping to Win" Discusses Recent Doping Cases and USADA

This morning, I watched an interesting new documentary called Doping to Win on the Discovery Times Channel. The documentary debuted on August 10 and I recorded it on my TiVo.

This was an interesting program, explaining who the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) is and how they operate. It tells the story of how USADA reverse-engineered tetrahydrogestrinone (THG) from the remnants of an injection provided by a track coach. It also has segments where an anonymous body builder explained how and why he uses anabolic steroids in dosing cycles, and about the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative (BALCO) scandal.

Of greatest interest to pro cycling fans is the interview with Jesus Manzano, a Spanish cyclist who had ridden for the Kelme team. This interview occurs at about the half-way point of the one hour documentary. He has given evidence about his own use of banned substances to investigators in Spain and Italy. Manzano's whereabouts were unknown for part of July, but he was reportedly hiding from the press at that time.

The documentary says nothing of the controversy surrounding Manzano's statements to investigators, but TDFblog has pointed to a number of articles that question Manzano's truthfulness and motives for testifying as he has.

Another cycling-related person interviewed in the documentary is Antoine Vayer, an exercise physiologist. Several websites describe Vayer as a trainer of the Festina Pro Cycling Team from 1995 to 1998. Vayer compares the performance of Tour riders from year-to-year, apparently looking for dramatic performance improvements that he finds difficult to believe are achieved naturally. The narrator says:

In the 2003 Tour de France, 15 riders generated more than 400 watts each. The year before, only the winner, Lance Armstrong, was in that league. While some have raised questions, Armstrong denies using drugs and has never been sanctioned.

Antoine Vayer thinks the cyclists gaining on Armstrong couldn't be doing so without using drugs, and he believes that more riders will die from doping.

Toward the end of the documentary, it talks about technologies on the horizon such as gene doping where athletes would presumably use bio-engineering on their own bodies. Such techniques would be very difficult to detect, because they would result in changes at the sub-cellular level.

Near the end, the program discusses USADA's attempt to create a so-called non-analytical positive standard. USADA attempted to get Marion Jones and Tim Montgomery to confess to use of banned substances on the basis of circumstantial evidence obtained in the BALCO investigation. Lawers for these athletes are interviewed to provide some balance to these charges. Montgomery subsequently failed to make the U.S. Olympic Team. Jones qualified in the long jump and has not been charged with any violations by USADA.

"Doping to Win" doesn't treat illegal performance enhancement in Olympic-level and professional athletics as an open question. It presumes that the practice is wide spread. It provides little balance in that only two people who appear on camera (both lawyers for athletes under investigation) raise questions about the tactics that regulators are using in their investigations. If this was your only exposure to Olympic-level or professional sports, you could easily conclude that the people achieving victory today are quite likely to be taking illegal performance-enhancing drugs.

In the end, everyone who cares about this issue has to look at the information that's available to them and make their own judgement. This program would have me believe that performance-enhancing drugs are making substantial changes in the results that we could otherwise expect in many high level athletic competitions. I'm not prepared to jump to that conclusion.

However, I don't doubt that some athletes are engaging in doping and that USADA's testing techniques have uncovered some abuses. The information that "Doping to Win" provides about modern doping techniques and testing protocols is valuable and interesting.