Feb 122002

Please, consider the following: Seven athletes have been banned from the Winter Olympics this year because of performance enhancing drugs. In the last Winter Olympics, 16 records were broken, many which can be attributed to new technologies – wind resistant suits, slippery skies, high-tech bobsleds, etc. One rarely sees figure skaters coming from poor families or poor countries out competing rich countries.

University of Pennsylvania scientists have recently unveiled a new growth hormone gene, the IGF-1 (Insulin-like Growth Factor-One). Okay, they didn’t make it themselves, nature did that, but it is in essence a gene that regulates muscle development. But what these researchers did do was test enhancers of this gene in mice. The idea of the research was to delay muscle decay in the elderly though gene therapy so that instead of growing old and weak, they could simply grow old. Additionally, such therapy could slow down the detrimental effects of muscular dystrophy.

The research looked promising, but there was a side effect when young mice were tested with the gene enhancers – they became SUPER MICE! Able to leap tall mazes in a single bound and stop a speeding Lionel locomotive, these mice are 15-45% stronger than ordinary mice, are faster and have increased regenerative abilities. Should this gene therapy work in humans, it would mean we might gain the ability to help out the elderly and sufferers of muscle illness. Additionally, though, we could make SUPER ATHLETES! One of the gene researchers, Lee Sweeny, told CNN that, had a country the money and ambition, such technology could be implemented tomorrow. He also said, “We’re going to have competitions essentially with people who have re-engineered their muscles. … It’s a terrible thing, because it will make a mockery of all the competition of the past.”

The Olympics of old, even just a century ago, were about talent, dedication, and discipline. It’s still true – Olympic athletes must front unimaginable amounts of sacrifice and dedication to achieve their goals. Still, there are those who definitely use unfair outside forces to their advantage. Money for training is certainly a factor. Technology, such as being lucky enough to get this year’s ultra-mega-giga-speed helmet with optional infrared targeting, for example, is another. For many, acquiring a new body-enhancing drug not detectable this year is great edge.

And speaking of detection, what are we going to have to do soon – test muscle DNA for IGF-1 enhancers? Probably.

As both of my regular readers know, I’m a big fan of consistency, and I wish the Olympics shared that sentiment. We have a ban on body enhancing drugs and that’s great. But what about financial backing and technology balance? These clearly are not equal and already make the Olympics the mockery Sweeny fears. It would be nice if the Olympics would force athletes to use identical pieces of equipment and only have “X” amount of dollars in sponsorship allowed, but I guess that’s asking too much.

The solution? Screw all pretense of equality. I would like to see and advocate the Extreme Extreme Extreme Games. That’s right, the XXX-Games (we might have to change the name a little) would be extreme in every way. You want drugs? Take all the drugs you want. Equipment? I hear a rocket-powered bobsled is in the works. Genetics? Have all the IGF-1 you can handle. Money? An IGF-1 superman could rob plenty of banks, I’d imagine. Excessive training and dedication? I would hope so. Because even Michael Jordan, the King of Basketball, sucked royally at baseball, proving it still takes dedication and even a mind to succeed in sports, no matter who you are (kind of like life, too).

So let’s do it, my friends. Let’s start up the XXX-Games and see present records fade into oblivion.

Ken Hamner is a cynical graduate student.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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