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Can Sport Ever Escape From Doping?

Once it's found, it throws doubt on every achievement before & after

21Mar

The sporting world has taken some considerable hits in the last few years from doping and it has become a constant unwanted narrative for many.

It has thrown some of the world's most popular athletes from their perches and tainted everything associated with them. Lance Armstrong did not only let down his team and sponsors, but all of the millions of fans who looked up to him. Although the full extent of Maria Sharapova's use of performance enhancing substances is yet to become clear, it has already damaged her image, those associated with her and all of the young tennis players who look up to her.

However, the damage done to fans, sponsors and friends is nothing compared to the damage that doping has done to sports and country reputations. Russian and Kenyan athletes are now looked at suspiciously if they perform well after the WADA findings about their widespread use of performing enhancing drugs, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Every time a cyclist performs amazing feats it is instantly put down to doping, you only have to look at the way that Chris Froome was abused for his performance at the Tour de France last year as a prime example.

This is where the real damage of doping lies, in the fact that once it has been found once or twice, it throws every performance before and after into question.

It is one thing that Tim Kerrison, Head of Athlete Performance at Team Sky, constantly needs to contend with as he attempts to drive the cyclists under his care to new levels of performance.

The major issue that comes with this is that the better he does his job without using doping products, the more accusations are thrown at the members of Team Sky about doping.

However, although this is, to some extent, detrimental to the riders on the road (Chris Froome has urine thrown at him, which is bound to be slightly off-putting) Tim, in a recent interview with the Telegraph, is clear in his belief that athletes have not yet reached peak performance. He says 'I think people out there putting limits on human performance are probably not the great visionary thinkers. One thing I am very sure of is that we are not yet close to reaching those limits.'

Tim even had an example of how limiting what could be achieved had impacted him in the past. When he was training the Swimmer Leisel Jones to break the 200m record he set time targets. These were achieved and the record broken in 2004, but this same record has since been broken 5 times, meaning that the time target, rather than a performance target, simply put a cap on what could have been achieved.

One of the key things that he talks about is how the use of doping may have actually hindered athletes from achieving what they potentially could have if they had been properly supported. 'In the doping era of cycling we didn’t necessarily see what the most talented riders were capable of in a well supported environment. The focus of supporting and developing riders was through doping. I expect performances in the post-doping era to progress faster than some might expect.'

Team Sky, under Tim's watchful eye, have even implemented a brand new training regime to help make further improvements to their already impressive training efforts. The details of this are currently unknown, but so far the results seem to be good. Geraint Thomas, Team Sky's second leader behind Chris Froome, won the Paris-Nice stage race ahead of many of the best riders in the world after using it.

To think that we are at the peak of athletic performance today is simple minded and verging on arrogant, but with the doping scandals that have engulfed so many sports, any major improvements threaten to be tainted. The world record for the 100m sprint has been broken 11 times in the past 20 years, the hour record in cycling was broken 8 times between 2014-2015 and the 200m breaststroke has been broken 10 times in 10 years. These show that there is always marginal gains to be found, which when combined, add to phenomenal performance improvements. However, unless doping in sport is eradicated, there will always be doubts of these performances, regardless of how squeaky clean athletes really are and how good drug detection becomes.

Sources

Image: Randy Miramontez / Shutterstock.com

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