Dope fiends

John Tierney is suggesting that we abandon this fruitless attempt to keep athletes from doping:

Once upon a time, the lords of the Olympic Games believed that the only true champion was an amateur, a gentleman hobbyist untainted by commerce. Today they enforce a different ideal. The winners of the gold medals are supposed to be natural athletes, untainted by technology. After enough "scandals," the amateur myth eventually died of its own absurdity. The natural myth is still alive in Beijing, but it's becoming so far-fetched -- and potentially dangerous -- that some scientists and ethicists would like to abandon it, too.


I'm with those unnamed scientists and ethicists.  The absurdity of the amateur ideal is evident when you watch Chariots of Fire (still a good movie, btw)




One of the heroes, rich and Jewish, is upbraided for hiring a trainer and thereby making it hard for the others to compete.  Certainly, training for a race is not natural--particularly with the ever-finer-grained videotaping an so forth that perfects modern technique.  But we don't view it as unfair.

On a practical level, I don't think you can get doping out of the games.  It has been over a decade since a friend pointed out that every time they find a test for a new drug, you suddenly see a lot fewer world records being broken.  Which isn't surprising.  We're not genetically any different from the people twenty years before us, so if world records are constantly being broken, that's because something besides the athlete has gotten better.  Sometimes its training and equipment--modern tracks are faster, as are swimsuits.  But that's hardly enough to explain the constant smashing of records.

Athletes are crazy competitive.  They will do anything to win.  Why not acknowlege that, rather than making fruitless rules?  It's not "natural" or "fair", you say?  But is there anything less natural or fair than sport?  I will never be a good athlete because I don't have the genes for it--hours of practice would make me somewhat better than I am, but not good enough to compete with a decent JV athlete.  Hardly fair, that I am shut out by accidents of birth.  And as for natural, just imagine what our Homo Erectus ancestors would think if they could see us suiting up for a modern track circuit, swimming competition, or basketball game.

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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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