Lance and the new doping tests
Published: Tuesday, February 26, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, February 25, 2013 at 4:41 p.m.
Q: So Lance Armstrong finally came clean. But he never tested positive for drugs. How did he get away with doping all those years? And can we ever trust athletes not to be dopers?
— Mike C., Dunedin
A: Armstrong had a lot of help along the way. He said he would get clean weeks before his races, and he was tipped-off ahead of time before "random" testing was going to happen. But he wouldn't be so successful at dodging detection today. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) now uses a protocol called the Athlete Biological Passport. By Lance's own admission, it would have identified him for sure.
The Athlete's Biological Passport is a snapshot of an athlete's base physiology. Using a set of selected biological markers, it shows screeners exactly what the athlete's biochemistry looks like when it is unaltered. That profile is good for a few decades.
So even if a before-race screening doesn't detect a doping substance, like human growth hormone (HGH), if it shows there's an enhancement of oxygen transfer to the muscles, then officials know for sure that doping has gone on.
Several top cyclists have already been sanctioned because their biological profile showed they had been doping. Another benefit? Clean athletes who get a false positive result on a drug test can present the Biological Passport to prove they haven't been doping.
This is a big step forward for the integrity of competitive sports. Now we'd like to see every Olympic and professional athlete get a Biological Passport before they sign with any team. Maybe then we can go back to inducting players into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown (no players from the era of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were selected in 2013; although those two have never been convicted of doping, they have never had a Biological Passport to prove their innocence, either) and pro-level sports can rediscover integrity in competition.
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