Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Dara Torres is on PED's...Legally

NBC is pinning its ratings hopes for the Beijing Games on the momentum surrounding the unbelievable story of 41-year old swimmer Dara Torres. After her World Record performance at the Olympic Trials, it is now speculated that she will be the flag bearer at the Opening Ceremonies on 08.08.08.

Skeptics have questioned how it is possible that she swam faster this year than 20 years ago. Other recent athletes whose performance improved in their 40's were aided by PED's, most notably Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds.

This performance is made possible by the financial resources available to an ex-model and the daughter of the one-time owner of the Aladdin casino (along with Wayne Newton) combined with her Type A personality devotion to training, according to a piece in the New York Times. She reportedly spends over $100,000 a year on a bevy of coaches (head, sprint and strength) and receives additional support from two stretchers, two masseuses, a chiropractor and a nanny.

It turns out, this performance is possible in part (and what NBC and the rest of mainstream media fails to inform the public) by performance enhancing drugs. Torres' has a therapeutic use exemption (TUE) for Symbicort (active ingredient formoterol) and Proventil (active ingredient albuterol) to treat asthma which is on the World Anti-Doping Agency's 2008 Prohibited List under Beta - 2 Agonists. Unusual in Torres' case, her asthmatic condition was diagnosed only 18 months ago.

Amy Van Dyken, a former gold medalist swimmer, suffers from asthma. In a 1999 CNN online chat, Van Dyken admitted to using a "Ventilin (active ingredient albuterol) inhaler every day as needed. I'm on a Flovent (active ingredient fluticasone) inhaler twice a day; I'm on Serevent (active ingredient salmeterol) inhaler twice a day and a bunch of other stuff." She went on to win two Gold Medals in the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Two of the medications mentioned are beta 2 agonists, but these drugs were not banned until September 2001. Van Dyken was also forced to testify to the BALCO grand jury in 2003. Gary Hall Jr., a former teammate of Van Dyken, recently questioned the validity of her accomplishments by comparing her to Marion Jones. Hall also doubts that the sport is clean. He is aware that the dopers will always be in front of the testers. Hall said, "This sport has become entertainment and it has taken on the morals of the entertainment industry where you can cut corners - and cheaters do prosper." Van Dyken has never tested positive for any PED.

Asthma and sports is a topic that no one wants to address. Why do more Olympic athletes suffer from asthma than the general population? Among athletes surveyed in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, 10% took asthma medications yet only 1% of the general population suffers from asthma. The number of Australian Olympians calling themselves asthmatic jumped from 10% to 21% in 12 years. In the Winter Olympics the number of people using asthmatic drugs is much greater. According to the late International Olympic Committee (IOC) medical chief Alexander de Merode, 70 to 80 percent of the athletes are using asthmatic drugs. The question is why this abnormality when it comes to Olympic athletes and the logical answer is that the substances used to treat asthma improves performance.

Changes to the asthma assessment regarding the use of beta - 2 agonists were made in 2001 by the IOC after some disturbing trends were discovered at the 2000 Sydney Games. There was a large increase in the number of athletes notifying the panel of the need to inhale a beta-2-agonist at the 2000 Sydney Games and ironically enough the notifications were predominantly requested in endurance sports. It was at this time that TUE's would be granted for beta - 2 agonists.

Per the World Anti-Doping Authority (WADA) website, the criteria for granting a TUE include an athlete experiencing significant health problems without taking the prohibited substance and the use of the substance would not produce significant enhancement of performance. In Torres case, was she really experiencing "significant health problems without taking the prohibited substance" 18 months ago? What about two, five, ten and twenty years ago? Given her unlimited financial resources, one would think that a proper diagnosis of asthma would have been detected years ago. It would appear that the use of the substance did factor into her Olympic Trials performance. Now it is up to WADA to determine if the substance was a "significant enhancement of performance."

I raised both these issues with an official at WADA, but never received a response. In addition, I inquired whether WADA periodically reviews TUE's and has the ability to revoke a TUE during the year.

Everyone wants to believe in the unbelievable - that's entertainment. However, we are discussing international athletic competition, not entertainment. The public is under the impression that what it witnesses is pure and genuine. Lately, the public's trust in the pure and genuine of sport has crumbled with the fall from grace of Marion Jones, Barry Bonds and Floyd Landis. Before we get sucked into NBC and mainstream media's hype machine, let's analyze the facts: Torres admits to using banned substances, but has in essence a "doctor's note" by having a TUE saying that she needs the medication. In order to qualify for a TUE, one needs to demonstrate that significant health problems would occur without it and that her use of it is not performance enhancing. This condition developed 18 months ago despite having the financial resources to see the best doctors and receive the best treatment throughout her life.

If that's all she's using then legally she's clean, but morally is another story.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Has asthma diagnosed only 18 months ago. That's weird. At age 39, just had a baby, found out got asthma. Instead of resting and healing, decided to train for the Olympics. Dara, what is going on? need an explanation.