Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Olympics, Doping and the Race for an Edge

Current doping charges against two American athletes, seven-time Tour De France champion Lance Armstrong and most recently Olympic track and field 400 meter runner Debbie Dunn , mark the latest chapters in a long running conflict over where to draw the line between training and illegal performance enhancement. A look at the history of athletes using all manner of substances to improve their performance reveals it has been happening as long as there has been sport. The first well documented use of drugs in the modern era of sports is credited to the 1960 Rome Olympics. Author David Maraniss in his 2009 book Rome 1960: The Summer Olympics that Stirred the World  offers a compelling story of Danish cyclist Knud Jensen and his teammates warned against taking a blood circulation enhancing drug Roniacol given the extreme hot temperatures in Rome (p. 138).   Jensen ignored warnings and succumbed to the heat during the competition, his condition exacerbated by the drug (p. 139).

In the current issue (July-August 2012) of Smithsonian, author Christie Aschwanden details today's inner battle between athletes who, despite the warnings and regulations and random testing of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), continue to use illegal substances. Although detection of illegal substances or medical practices is more sophisticated than ever, Aschwanden, in a second article in the same issue , reports future practices will envolve altering athlete's DNA.

The USADA case against Armstrong will be interesting to watch. Armstrong is strident in maintaining his innocence and USADA's case is built not on identifying a specific drug violation but on blood test results according to an article . Sprinter Dunn has left the Olympic team and is working through the process for appealing the test findings.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The non-standard world of concussions

The Sports Legacy Institute re-tweeted a New York Times blog discussing a study just released investigating whether or not athletes of the 70's and 80's are now showing cognitive impairment. The blog reports one study did find some minor differences in brain composition, however, the participants functioned normally. And, perhaps most fascinating, the effect of concussions varies by individual. The world of athletics is more proactive than ever in concussion treatment. It appears one challenge will be trying to diagnose a concussion when one fall or hit looks normal but is significant to the athlete while a ferocious hit or collision has little or no effect on another player. One thing is clear, coaches and players need to stay informed on best practices. Training plans, techniques and strategies will have to adapt to the realization that concussions do happen no matter the sport or equipment.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

L.A. Unified statistics link athletics, higher academic performance

Why are athletics a part of the high school experience? This research from the Los Angeles City schools documents the positive impact of sport with academics.
Check out this article from LA Times:
New statistics from the Los Angeles Unified School District, given to the City Section athletics office, indicate that participating in high school sports can have a huge effect on academic performance.
To read the full article, click on this link or copy and paste it into your browser:,0,7054680.column

"I don't travel, I coach."

Bob Keisser of the Long Beach Press-Telegram has a great story about USC Director of Track, Coach Ron Allice and his role in developing many olympians. Allice also offers important thought about the role of Title IX in developing women's track and field. He also reminds us about how the reduction of physical education in schools has impacted talent discovery and development. My favorite quote is Coach Allice's comment about traveling to the Olympic games to see his athletes compete. He remarks, "I don't travel, I coach." Coaches, no matter the sport, understand the passion and the thinking behind that quote. Helping athletes to discover and develop their talents is the calling of coaching - one practice at a time.