Is there a better way?

I’ve been thinking a lot about the current debate in the doping discussion. DNA testing. While I think it will answer the questions of who’s blood is in Dr. Fuentes’ refrigerator, what else will it bring? Is this another sound bite answer to a complex problem?

I would like to start a discussion that moves away from the cat and mouse game currently going on. Athletes take drugs, officials develop a test, athletes find better drugs. If Balco has taught us anything is that testing will always be one step behind the chemist.

Let me explain by looking for a surrogate battle such as speeding. Police have spent millions on unmarked cars, radar, laser, and fuel for airplanes all for the purpose of deterring us from speeding and to catch us when we do.  Yet, speeding continues unabated. There is even a unwritten truce where you can be comfortable driving up to 10 miles over the legal limit without worry of punishment.

Instead of using the random testing approach, can we be a little more scientific? I think that testing at random and hoping to catch athletes making a mistake is the the wrong way to go. We have already seen that there is no “scared straight” byproduct of random testing.

I would suggest that we look for the effect of drugs as opposed to the presence of them. Here is my logic. Athletes who dope do so because they desire an effect from the drugs. They want to ride faster, longer, and stronger. It’s these effects that are impossible to hide. If you hide the effects, you negate the performance enhancement.

In recent years, there has been advances in the Electronic Medical Record. With this record, tremendous amounts of health, fitness, training data can be captured in one place. Over the course of time, a longitudinal record can be built on each athlete. This can provide a good profile on what is “normal” for a particular athlete. The data within the health record can be mined for two purposes:

1) Allow the athlete to focus his/her training based on scientific data. Many athletes still work under training assumptions that are borne out of folklore and are not evidence-based.

2) Identify the effects of drug use.

Once the effects of drug use are identified, then a focused testing response can be implemented. Think of it as the 50% hematocrit rule on steroids (sorry). Random testing should continue but as an adjunct not the sole weapon of the doping officials.

Privacy issues would need to be worked out but what is more private then my DNA?

To close on the earlier analogy. What if every morning before my commute, the police knew how my car was driven the previous day. If anything out of the ordinary started to show, I would find several police cars along my commute keeping an eye on things.

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