You Wearing The Right (Wrong) Suit And Genes?
Craig Lord
Gary Hall Jr speaks out on how the gain to be had in the latest generation of bodysuits could be used to mask doping; and the NYT reports on how nature made some athletes more able to cheat than others

Gary Hall Jr spoke as he found earlier this year and was clobbered for doing so, even though nothing he said was untrue. None of the heat has taken the sting of honesty out of the Olympic 50m freestyle champion, however. When asked by a reporter about the issue of fast suits and fast times, Hall repeats what we here at SwimNews noted back in February: the fast-suit technology is likely to be used as a cover and explanation for fast times from those who have chosen to take the dark road of doping to enhance their performance and rob others of their rightful place in history.

Before anyone sighs too heavily: that's what cheats are like. We all have to live with it.

Often accused of being something of a showboating opportunist by critics who would rather he did not employ his right to freedom of speech, Hall, winner of five Olympic gold medals, two of them on his own in the 50m freestyle, and two silver behind Alex Popov in 1996, said that the recent spate of very fast times around the globe should be viewed with scepticism.

'There's obviously something there besides technology,' Hall told Reuters and confirmed to SwimNews. 'I don't want it to take the attention away from the performances but there's doping going on in sports. It's a convenient distraction for the people who dope and those who aren't cracking down on it.'

The latest generation of bodysuits, and two models in particular, appear to be cutting around 2% off the personal bests - on average - of hundreds of swimmers around the globe. Hall acknowledges that but cautions against accepting that as an explanation for unusual progress in all cases.

'I think there really is something with the suit. But if people don't think there's doping in their sport, then they're fools,' said Hall Jr, 33. The seize of HGH by Australian customs officials in Sydney in 1998 had done more to stamp out doping than responsible authorities had, he believed. 'I see swimming making the same mistakes as cycling and baseball. They're more interested in testing someone for taking cold remedies than they are those taking designer drugs.'

That criticism is more appropriately aimed at WADA these days than international federations. WADA's code is in some respects softer than the rules that FINA did impose (and others it would have imposed in its pursuit of delivering on promises made to coaches and others) and was forced to weaken in the wake of WADA's birth.

WADA has, of late, been accused by some leading doping experts of failing to admit that it is still running behind, not alongside or ahead of, cheats who are turning to designer drugs at the start of a new frontline in the battle against deceipt: gene doping.

And some have a natural advantage when it comes to avoiding detection when they cheat. The New York Times has the details of that little number, which is doubtless being exploited for everything its worth by those who devalue sport with every move they make to win by foul means.

Among some there is an attitude of resignation and self-justification that drugs are just part of sport. They're not. They are part of cheating, part of dirty sport, part of everything that the Olympic spirit is not. When next you get approached with an offer of help, take down the details and send them to your parents, your lawyer, your federation, FINA, the media, put them on an internet blog. Only through widespread naming and shaming, coupled with a more rigorous and demanding testing regime that is determined enough to call for lifelong bans for athletes, coaches, doctors, parents and anyone else who dabbles in dark substances to the ruination of sport, can sport be viable in the long-term.

As things stand, the more the public take hold of the idea that Marion Jones was the tip of the iceberg, the less faith they will have in Olympic sports, the less keen they will be to send their kids to the pool, the smaller the audience will become. There is a tipping point to all things and that point often arrives with far too few of those who will be most affected ready to see the writing on the wall. A sport is as good as the authenticity of its assets. Bring too many false diamonds to the stall, give the impression (and it need only be an impression) that the stall is stocked with fakery, and the market collapses.

After reading the NYT article and bringing it to wider attention, Hall Jr told SwimNews: 'It makes you realize that things aren't looking good for the clean athletes that want a level playing field. Anyone with access to testosterone and $300 US can take the drug test that FINA and WADA use to find out if they are missing the gene, and if they are part of the considerably large percentage, they can dope as much as they want.'

Much research time, energy and money are being spent these days on trying to find ways to cure cancer and to get old Ma Smith in Oklahoma to live beyond her six score years and 40 by tweaking a gene here and there. All very laudable. Is the same effort being made by the IOC, WADA and others to get one step ahead of the game for once? Now that would be worth letting NBC have their morning finals for.

The World Anti-Doping Agency is studying the use of athlete passports in order to keep track of each athlete’s drug tests to see if any results suddenly change compared to before. 'You are in a situation where you monitor the athlete and you can see right away if there are modification,' in test results, Olivier Rabin, the science director of the agency told the NYT. Longtitudinal profiling has been around for more than 10 years. Works to a point. But what next? Dr. Rabin told the NYT that he is less enthusiastic about genetic testing because, he said, it raises ethical questions. Right. Same as cheating with drugs. WADA needs to fight fire with fire, brimstone and all the waters of heaven to have a hope of getting a pace ahead of cheats who don't give a flying genome for ethical questions.