The Journal of Philosophy, Science & Law
Volume 10, November 8, 2010
The Modern Olympics
& Post-Modern Athletics: A Clash in Values
Science Writer / Technology Policy Analyst
Abstract: While the overwhelming majority of
professions do not regulate the use of performance enhancements, athletics has
become a lightning rod. Analysis of the current policies regulating athletic
enhancements reveals that drawing the line on what is permitted is an ethically
and politically arbitrary process, and sport governing bodies hold athletes to
a different standard. The World Anti-Doping Agency uses “the spirit of sport”
as criteria for banning enhancements while recent findings in genomics reveals the
spirit of being human is to take advantage of what is available for survival. These contradictions question the
reasoning and validity of the current regulations of athletic enhancements.
In 776 BCE,
the ancient Greek concept of the Olympics consisted of one event, a race
approximately 200m in the nude which honored deities. The Romans later took
over Greece, and in 393 AD, Roman Emperor Theodosius proclaimed Christianity
the religion of the Roman Empire. He perceived the Olympic Games as a pagan
festival and subsequently banned them.
International Olympic Committee (IOC) revived the Olympics in 1894, bringing
the games back to Athens in 1896. The main architect Baron Pierre de Coubertin contributed
the Olympic motto Citius —Altius —Fortius. Every four years the best
athletes in the world have the opportunity to train and achieve the necessary
qualifying standards and make their countries summer or winter Olympic teams.
As the Olympic motto states, the athletes that perform faster, higher, and
stronger than the other athletes, and these ends are symbolically rewarded with
coveted Olympic medals.
competitive athletes have used whatever is available at the time to gain an extra
edge in competition. Prior to biotechnology, athletes experimented with a
number of exotic methods including eating live bees  and cocoa leaves  to
increase stamina. In the late 1800s, cyclists used nitroglycerin which is used
by physicians to stimulate the heart after heart attacks to improve breathing.
revival of The Modern Olympics, athletes continued to seek innovative methods
to improve performance. Thomas Hicks, the winner of the 1904 Olympic marathon, drank
brandy and strychnine during the race. In the 1930s, athletes began using
amphetamines instead of strychnine to increase stamina. In the early 1900s,
several Tour de France cyclists ate bull testicles in order to boost their
testosterone levels and increase
Olympic Movement didn’t anticipate the future advances in biotechnology. At the
1954 World Weightlifting Championships in Vienna, American physician John Ziegler discovered the use of anabolic
steroids by Soviet athletes. These synthetic male hormones derived from
testosterone enabled Soviet athletes to dominate power lifting competitions.
Following the systematic use of male hormones in the Soviet Union and the death
of two cyclists from using amphetamines in the 1960s, the International Olympic
Committee (IOC) developed its first list of prohibited substances and drug
tests for the 1968 Mexico Olympics.
At the 1988
Seoul Olympics, Ben Johnson sprinted to a world record in the 100m and winning
the gold medal. A former skinny kid from Jamaica, he moved to Canada in 1976
and transformed into an intimidating mass of muscles. Three days later, the IOC
stripped him of the medal for taking Stanozolol, a synthetic anabolic steroid
In the early
1980s, Amgen genetically
engineered a synthetic version
of erythropoietin called Epogen more
commonly known as EPO to
increase the oxygen carrying capacity in anemia, cancer and dialysis
patients. Erythropoietin is produced
naturally in the kidneys then released
into the blood stream where it binds with receptors in the bone marrow to
produce red blood cells and hemoglobin. After successful clinical trials
for EPO; some cyclists, distance runners, and triathletes began injecting EPO
to boost their endurance.
At the 1998
Tour de France widespread doping took place. Doping officials caught a trainer
with the French cycling team Festina with vials of EPO, steroids, and syringes
in a team car; and asked the team to leave the event. After more raids, six
other teams and a number of individual riders dropped out as more banned
substances were found.
to these high profile international
incidents, at the World Conference on Doping in Sport Conference in 1999 the
IOC created the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) as an independent foundation to
create and enforce performance enhancement policies. According to former
President of WADA, Dick Pound, sports need rules and athletes need to respect
the rules as well as their opponents. WADA’s Prohibited List reflects Pound’s sentiments with numerous pages listing categories of banned
substances and methods.
considers a substance or method for inclusion on the prohibited list if it is a
masking agent or meets two of three criteria. Article 4.3 of the WADA World Anti-Doping Code states these criteria are they violate the spirit
of sport, are performance enhancing, or have health risks to athletes.
also discloses that WADA developed these three criteria based on the following
reasoning. The potential to enhance performance alone is not a satisfactory
enough since physical training, red meat, carbohydrate loading, and training at
altitude enhance performance. Requiring all three criteria is also not
acceptable as WADA believes the use of a gene transfer technology for sports
enhancement should be prohibited as contrary to the spirit of sport even if it
is not harmful.
2. Drawing the Line
currently has four major categories of banned performing enhancing substances
and methods including anabolic agents and hormones, enhancement of oxygen
transfer, stimulants and beta-blockers, and gene doping.  In this section, I analyze the
regulatory policies of these four major
health risks is a fairly straight forward process determined by the medical
community. In the case of protecting athletes from health risks, paternalism is
appropriate. Unsupervised usage of
performance enhancing substances and methods has led to harmful side effects
- Unsupervised male hormone and
steroid usage has caused numerous side effects ranging from behavioral
problems, altered masculine traits, to fatality. In the US, laws
controlling narcotics and The Anabolic Steroid Control Act of 1990
criminalized their non-medicinal use.
- EPO can cause the over production
of red blood cells, thickening the blood to the point where the blood has
to be thinned or result in clogged blood vessels that can
lead to a stroke or heart attack.
- The unsupervised use of cognitive
enhancements can lead to psychological and physical dependence. Athlete usage of amphetamines has led to
a number of deaths.
- In clinical trials, gene therapy
to correct genetic abnormalities has a history ranging from positive
results to multiple problems including death. A number of Rhesus monkeys used as test subjects successfully
receiving the erythropoietin gene had red blood counts so high they
required blood thinners to prevent heart failure. Pleiotropy is
also a risk. If you alter a gene, because of alternative splicing, this
may have an effect on other traits. Gene doping is the use of this medical
treatment for enhancement purposes.
drawing the line on the various means to the desired ends of enhancement is a
less definitive process. According to Thomas Murray, a bio-ethicist with of the
Hastings Center, all lines drawn are arbitrary. But, he asks rhetorically, if a
runner wears running shoes with roller blades, do they deserve to win?  If
the answer is no, then not all enhancements are the same. So, how do WADA and
the governing bodies of each sport draw the line on enhancements?
a) Strength Athletes Playing Cat and Mouse
1968-1988, East Germany operated a state sponsored system of providing
performance enhancing drugs to thousands of athletes. East German women began
dominating swimming events and later developed side effects to male hormones.
John Ziegler later helped develop the anabolic steroid Dianabol that does not
have the side effects of testosterone.
At the 2000
Sydney Olympics, doping officials caught a Chinese swimmer with vials of hGH. Human growth hormone (hGH) a
naturally occurring hormone produced by the pituitary gland that accelerates
protein synthesis. Its role is to stimulate the liver to secrete insulin like
growth factor (IGF-1) which plays a role in muscle growth. In the 1980s, the
Cohen-Boyer patent for genetic engineering launched the biotech industry in
Silicon Valley. Genentech genetically engineered hGH as a treatment for dwarfism, muscle wasting in AIDs patients and the elderly,
and as a therapy for hormonal imbalances. Some baseball and football players,
bodybuilders, and sprinters have used hGH to provide
muscle mass, extra strength, trim body fat, and for faster muscle repair when
recovering from injuries.
illegal doping isn’t always a simple process. In a game of a cat and mouse, synthetic chemist Patrick Arnold deliberately designed a drug
to evade testing. Using the anabolic steroid gestrinone purchased from China
off a website, Arnold created a steroid that disintegrates during lab testing
when the urine sample is heated. In 2003, Don Catlin of WADA’s Analytical Lab
at UCLA anonymously received a used syringe for injecting steroids, later
determined to be sent from track coach Trevor Graham. The lab was able to
establish the samples molecular fingerprint and replicate it. It turned out to
be tetrahydrogestrinone (THG), a designer steroid known as “the clear” that athletes obtained through Victor
Conte Jr. of BALCO, a supplement
distributor located near San Francisco. WADA has subsequently devised a test to
the subject of a federal investigation, resulting in an indictment of its
executives and the banning of track athletes from professional competition for
a minimum of two years. Following the money trail led to investigating American
sprinter and Olympic Gold Medalist Marion Jones who was once considered a role model to young athletes. She was imprisoned
for six months for perjury in the BALCO investigation and subsequently admitted
to lying about taking THG from 2000-2001 and also using EPO and hGH. The IOC also
took back her five medals from the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
FDA has since approved Sermorelin, an over the counter drug therapy to treat
children with stunted growth. Sermorelin stimulates the pituitary gland to
increase the production of human growth hormone which increases the production
of IGF-1 by the liver resulting in increased muscle growth. The therapy will also
reverse the effects of aging and it can provide a strength supplement to athletes that is difficult to detect.
bans the use of strength enhancements via male hormone supplements, surgery
that accomplishes the same goal is legal. An increasingly popular and approved
procedure among high school, collegiate, and professional baseball pitchers is
Tommy John surgery. This procedure is named after Tommy John, a Los Angeles
Dodgers pitcher, who underwent an experimental surgery in a 1974 to replace an
overused ligament in his elbow with a tendon from another part of his body. “This
surgical procedure has become controversial since some pitchers are over
exaggerating their symptoms in order to have the surgery.”  This is because the surgery is
intended to repair muscles, but athletes have more strength after the surgery which
will increase the pitcher’s velocity, similar to the use of steroids.
b) Endurance Athletes Sleeping Their Way
to the Top
At the 1968
Olympics, Kip Keino defeated the American favorite Jim Ryan in the 1500m. Held
in Mexico City at altitude, the effects of altitude on performance of endurance
athletes especially the Kenyan athletes received attention from the press and
Finnish athletes used blood doping in the 1970s to increase their endurance
capabilities. Then referred to as blood packing, blood was drawn usually by a
team physician, spun in a centrifuge, and then concentrated red blood cells
were replaced in the athlete after their body had already replaced those that
were withdrawn. Because no foreign substances were involved, in 1985 WADA’s
rules were revised to ban any artificial altering of blood. In addition to
blood doping to boost endurance, Finnish endurance athletes began living in
dormitories with the percentage of oxygen reduced from 21 to 15 percent to
increase the production of red blood cells.
to Finnish and African success, many of the top American marathoners
began living and training at altitude for several months before a competition
to obtain extra oxygen carrying capabilities. In order for Americans to remain
competitive at the world class level, Nike sponsored the Oregon Project. Based
on living high and training low, runners lived in a house located in Portland
with deoxygenated air pumped in to rooms simulating 9,000-12,000 feet altitude.
The runners living in the house have the benefit of living high and training at
low elevation with more oxygen available allowing more intense workouts.
including women’s marathon world record holder Paula Radcliffe, Lance
Armstrong, and David Beckham have purchased their own altitude tents directly
from Hypoxico and Colorado Altitude Training. These closet size tents which
sell for roughly $5,000-$7,000 fit over their beds and dilute the air with
nitrogen reducing the amount of available oxygen.
In 2000, the
IOC banned the use of hypoxic tents at the Olympic village in Sydney. The WADA
considered placing hypoxic tents on the 2007 List of Prohibited Substances and
Methods on the grounds they have the potential for performance enhancing and
they violate the spirit of sport. Because hypoxic tents involve the passive use
of technology which operates independent of any effort of the athlete, the
benefits are not an extension of athlete’s natural talents.
Reacting to the IOC investigation into banning hypoxic
tents, Paula Radcliffe responded, “I
don't really agree with the IOC investigation into it. All the altitude tent
does is stimulates the body to cope with conditions that can be found
naturally. If you say an altitude tent is unfair, you have to ban people living
Center for Sports Law & Policy issued a position paper arguing such a
determination is arbitrary and that passive use fails as a rule. Athletes using
ultrasound electronic stimulation to muscles and joints, massage equipment, and
ice and heat treatments which stimulate blood circulation and the healing
process, which are also passive, are not considered in violation of the spirit
of sport. Currently, WADA allows the use of
hypoxic tents during training.
c) Shopping for a Sharkskin Suit
the Modern Olympic Movement’s goals, statistics indicate that it’s not always
the hardest working athlete that wins. According to Jon Entine, choosing one’s
parents is more important than choosing a coach. Although WADA banned gene doping in 2003, a
hot topic among athletes, journalists, and WADA officials is when athletes will
experiment with gene doping, the banned use of gene therapy for athletic
human genomes, researchers are attempting to pinpoint the genes and genetic
variations contributing to diseases phenotypes as well as physical traits,
including athletic ability. Researchers
developing gene therapies for diseases have also created potential athletic
enhancements. Researchers have compiled a list of 269 genes linked to
physical performance including 214 autosomal genes, 7 on the X chromosome, and
18 mitochondrial genes.
have discovered several genes that contribute to muscle mass. As we age,
muscles produce IGF-1 which is used in patients to recover from injury
by speeding up DNA repair so injuries heal faster. Lee Sweeney, a physiologist
at the University of Pennsylvania, found that inserting the insulin-like growth
factor gene (IGF-1) into the muscles of mice prevented muscle
deterioration from aging and muscular dystrophy. Injecting the IGF-1 gene into
mice produces 15-30 percent more muscle mass than typically found in sedentary
have also discovered mice lacking the myostatin gene tend to develop huge
muscles. By knocking out the gene, mice developed two to three times more
muscle than would occur naturally. Although myostatin inhibitors were developed
to combat muscular dystrophy, athletes will also benefit from their increased
muscle development, interference with fat deposition giving a leaner physique,
and faster recovery from injuries.
Jim Wilson of the University
of Pennsylvania has successfully
injected the erythropoietin gene into Rhesus monkeys. Soon after, a number of
coaches inquired about the potential use of the therapy on athletes. Anticipating
that some athletes may roll the dice presumably with EPO and strength genes, WADA has invested
millions of dollars in grants to researchers to develop tests to catch these
athletes. Detecting gene doping for muscle mass presents a challenge to since
it currently requires subjecting athletes to invasive muscle biopsies. Richard
Snyder of the University of Florida is developing a test that will detect
evidence of gene doping in bodily fluids.
athletes are unable to choose their parents, biotechnology has provided several
approved interventions to increase the odds of selecting a desired phenotype.
These include pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), artificial insemination,
egg donation, and even apparel imitating adaptive traits.
process referred to as in vitro fertilization (IVF), egg and sperm are mixed in a lab hopefully producing an
embryo. PGD is typically used to prevent transmitting inherited diseases to
children. When embryos reach the eight cell stage, they show signs of gene
expression. A physician can remove a single cell from an embryo which is
usually from 3-5 days old to analyze its genes to detect abnormalities. If the
embryo is healthy, the physician will introduce the embryo into a womb. PGD is
also used to select abnormal traits as is the case with a deaf couple that
selected an embryo for a deaf child.
process is legal in the United States and is frequently used for gender selection.
As more genes are identified for specific skills, parents will have a greater
probability of selecting specific traits for their children. Although a main argument against
positive eugenics is that selecting traits lacks consent of future generations.
However, this argument is based on the premise that in traditional breeding we
choose the genes we are born with. The IOC has not specifically addressed if an
embryo is selected for athletic ability, the so-called designer baby issue.
The sale of human
organs, tissues, and embryos is illegal; but, it is legal is for donors to
receive compensation for the inconveniences of time, travel, and discomfort. In
contrast, human sperm and eggs are a commodity in the United States. Nobel
Prize recipients have sold their sperm. Advertisements are placed in college
newspapers for bright female college students to help pay their tuition by
selling their eggs. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine recommends
limiting compensation to $5000 to egg donors. Females with high SAT scores and
models with certain physical features are offered from $10,000 - $100,000 for
Troy Duster notes, “In the late 1900s, with the increasing use of sperm banks
and in vitro fertilization, many prospective parents articulated
explicit eugenic agendas. Parents openly ordered up what they thought would be
preferred genes of race, height, intelligence, or musical ability. There has
not been a substantial eugenic concern generated by this development.”
scientists had the ability to inject genes to give athletes better vision or
give swimmers more water repellant skin and their bodies a more hydrodynamic
profile, or runners a more aerodynamic profile? Since gene doping is banned,
athletes have taken different routes to acquire these traits and gain an extra
edge in competition. Since sport federations are lenient towards surgeries that
improve athletic performance, golfer Tiger Woods had Lasik surgery to correct
his vision. With 20/10 vision after the surgery, Wood’s performance improved.
runners wear the lightest and most aerodynamic clothing on the market.
Synthetic running gear including Coolmax running shorts, singlets, and socks
wick away water and provide less wind resistance than cotton clothing. American
sprinter Marion Jones once competed wearing the aerodynamic Nike windsock, a
one piece suit covering her limbs and head.
swimmers want the most hydrodynamic profile. Although no operation is available
to make our skin more hydrodynamic, swimmers can shave their body hair and wear caps. In addition, a number of
manufacturers have responded with performance enhancing swimsuits.
Speedo created the LZR Racer swimsuit. Using computational fluid dynamics,
Speedo created panels that compress the body providing a hydrodynamic shape
requiring less energy and less oxygen from the swimmer. Testing in a NASA wind
tunnel reveals the LZR Racer has significantly less drag than other suits.
Besides being lightweight and water repellent, its panels are ultrasonically
woven making them seamless which further reduce friction in the water.
The high tech
suit requires twenty minutes changing time because it retains the shape of the
human body. The lengthy changing time is worthwhile to the athletes. Since the debut
of the Speedo LZR and similar suits from other brands at the 2008 Olympic
trials, an unprecedented number of world record times were set with 43 of those set at the 2009 Summer
World Championships in Rome.
Internationale de Natation (FINA), the international governing body for
swimming, approved the suit, although the performance enhancing qualities
provided by the LZR Racer swimsuit are not the result of hard work by an
athlete. FINA has subsequently banned the use of the Speedo LZR Racer hydrodynamic
full body suits as well as other brands effective January 1, 2010. The top
professional swimmers now must race against these world records without the
benefit of the full body swimsuits that the record holders were able to legally
use at the time.
Hard, Not Smart
athletic performance requires mental as well as physical components which
contribute to what sport psychologists refer to as flow. After the 1986
Olympics, the IOC banned beta-blockers, medication prescribed to patients for
anti-tremor and anti-anxiety, when they discovered that usage by marksmen
improved pistol shooting scores. Similarly, the IOC banned narcotics,
cannabinoids, large quantities of caffeine, and stimulants for some Olympic
events due to their boosting effects.
Discoveries in epigenetics over the last decade have implications for the
medical community through epigenetic therapies and also for performance
enhancement. Research reveals that our environment and even diet alter our gene
expression by turning genes on and off. DNA is packaged around bundles of
proteins called histones. Methyl
donors can alter these chromatin proteins and also silence genes via enzymes that bind methyl groups onto DNA. Researchers
are just beginning to understand the epigenome, the hot spots in the human genome that are affected by on and off switches that
regulate our genes.
A medical application of epigenetics is to provide an alternative to
regular EPO injections. In 2002, Oxford Biomedica began developing Repoxygen to
provide the controlled release of erythropoietin. Repoxygen switches the
erythropoietin gene on in response to low oxygen levels and then off when the
oxygen level is raised. Although intended for anemia patients, this gene
therapy injected directly into muscles rather than the kidneys will also
benefit endurance athletes. Similarly, Roche Pharmaceuticals developed
Continuous Erythropoiesis Receptor Activator (CERA) for dialysis patients that
help the kidneys produce a sustained release of erythropoietin
An application for performance enhancement is the
discovery that cognitive development begins earlier than we ever imagined.
Researchers Randy Jirtle
and Robert Waterland have shown that what
our mothers and grandmothers ate can
boost intelligence and provide an advantage in life by making children
better in school, jobs, and athletic events. Vitamin
B9 or folic acid is a methyl donor and is crucial in neural
tube formation in an embryo that later becomes the spinal cord and brain.
increase inner strength are routinely used as part of professional athletic and
Olympic training. Sport psychologists prescribe therapies such as
visualization, stress reduction, and self talk. Using high-tech gadgets, former
elite runner and now coach for endurance runners Alberto Salazar monitors
runner’s blood chemistry and brainwaves to provide biofeedback in order to
achieve peak performance.
professions, it is the norm to use mood and intelligence enhancements. Edgar Allan Poe died at 40 years of age after a life of alcohol and
opiate abuse. Although these drugs boosted his creativity, he is regarded as a
great writer. School systems throughout
the United States routinely chose his writings as part of their curriculums.
of Maryland study estimates that 18 percent of college students have taken
attention deficit disorder medications such as Ritalin, Adderall, or Modafinil
without a prescription to help with studying. These cognitive enhancers are more potent than caffeine, but less potent than amphetamines. They
stimulate proteins in the brain increasing dopamine levels and boost memory. It is probable
that a similar percentage of students taking the SATs or in music competitions
take similar medications in order to perform better.
reporters make the trip to the Olympics representing their publishers. When
they need an extra edge, coffee and Red Bull are their best friends. Modern
journalists also depend on the internet, especially Google for data mining and spell check software for editing.
In biological terms, reporting is the result of an extended phenotype. In the
competitive field of journalism, if reporters were not allowed to use Google
for data mining, writing a marketable product would become almost impossible.
Pulitzer Prize Committees, the publisher, and readers are concerned with the
quality of the product, not if it is derived from a natural or enhanced state.
each of the Nobel Prize winners whose work helped develop the scientific
discoveries that were instrumental in producing athletic enhancements or the
technologies that labs use to catch the athletes were equally performance
enhanced. It’s unlikely that the Nobel Laureates were not tested for performance
athletes are subjugated to working hard, not smart by utilizing what is
available in developing their talents based on the WADA Anti-Doping Code; who
objects to a surgeon taking medication to prevent trembling before performing surgery
or their child’s school bus driver taking medications to drive more safely?
Even The United States Department of Defense has investigated the use of
cognitive enhancements to create super soldiers. Given the regular use of mood and intelligence enhancements in other
professions, the current policy to ban performance enhancements holds athletes
to a different standard.
3. The Great Leap Backwards
version of the World Anti Doping Code includes a section titled Fundamental
Rationale for the World Anti Doping Code. It states that the goal of the Modern
Olympic Movement, comprised of athletes and federations representing each sport
and country, is to preserve the Olympic spirit which includes values such as
respect for rules, dedication, and community. 
In the early 1800s, Jean Baptiste Pierre Lamarck proposed two laws to explain inheritance and adaptations. First, the inheritance of acquired traits through environmental cues that
creates germ line changes in humans that are transmittable to offspring, and second the use and disuse theory. In 1887, August
Weismann proposed the germ plasm contained in human chromosomes is isolated
from somatic cells providing a barrier from environmental influences. Evelyn
Fox Keller notes, “When Weismann’s concept was incorporated into Mendelian
genetics, geneticists succeeded in purging Lamarckism from science.”  Although the scientific
community has disputed Lamarckian inheritance in humans for over a century, recent
findings in genomics have caused a resurgence in Lamarckism through cultural
geneticist Spencer Wells describes
our DNA as the greatest of all history books. As part of a five year study
which began in 2005 called the Human
Genographic Project, Wells and other specialists from the fields of
linguistics, climatology, anthropology, and archaeology became detectives to
provide a more complete picture of our past by attempting to decode that
history book.  What is coded is the story of human
history, migrations, and evolution.
50,000 years ago, early modern humans migrated out of southeast Africa in
response to environmental changes. Unlike most plants and animals
which have a narrow environmental range in which they can survive, our
species has proceeded to inhabit almost every portion of the earth. In order to
adapt humans developed innovative survival techniques. Jared Diamond refers to this development of our increased
intelligence and brain size as The Great
migrations subsequently led to tremendous genetic diversity. Genomics
researcher Craig Venter estimates a
99.5 percent similarity in human DNA. Among the 0.5 percent differences are
roughly 10,000,000 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) which are nucleotide
variations that make humans and populations unique. The distribution of
polymorphisms across populations also reflects our human history.
ancestors are an important factor for success in some sports. Athletes from
several ethnic backgrounds dominate in specific events. Chinese athletes
possess quick reaction time and neuromotor skills. Representing numerous
countries, they sweep the ping pong medals. Athletes with West African ancestry have a high percentage of fast twitch
muscles and hold the fastest times and win virtually all 100m-400m running
athletes with East African ancestry inherit a high percentage of slow twitch
muscle fibers that are thin and metabolize fuel in a manner that is conducive
to distance running. East Africans living at medium altitude possess greater
oxygen carrying capabilities. Living near the equator, their height to surface
area ratio is maximized to dissipate heat which is also useful for distance
modify their environment creating the selection pressures to which they are
exposed. For example, bird’s nests and spider’s webs are the result of the
organism’s own niche construction. A group of Oxford University researchers
observed that beavers and humans manipulate their environment considerably more
than any other species. A beaver's dam modifies many selection pressures in the
beaver environment, some of which are likely to affect the fitness of genes
that are expressed in quite different traits, such as their teeth, tails,
feeding behavior, and susceptibility to predation, diseases, and social systems.
14,000 years ago, global warming occurred at the end of the Pleistocene Ice
Age. This period was followed by The Stone Age which is characterized
by humans manufacturing tools. Genomics
researchers have linked positive selection to adaptations to lifestyle changes
during the Late Pleistocene and Holocene. Positive selection favors the fixation of an allele that increases fitness.
Finding uninterrupted DNA segments is strong evidence of a recent adaptation.
Using 1.6 million SNPs, researchers have found approximately 1800 genes are the
result of recent selection.
discovered these nucleotide variations are sometimes found in blocks called
haplotypes. Haplotypes that are long and common are signs of selection. These
haplotypes are SNPs that travel together and are unique to individuals and
populations. Using the HapMap, a database of known haplotypes, University of
Wisconsin Anthropologist John Hawks estimates that in the past 5,000 years,
positive selection has occurred at a rate roughly 100 times higher than any other
period of human evolution. These adaptations
coincided with a cultural revolution spurred by greater human intelligence and
characterized by the use of tools.
10,000-12,000 years ago hunter-gathers began to practice agriculture and
domesticated farm animals. This led to increased population density and greater
exposure to animal pathogens increasing the spread of infectious diseases.
Several hundred thousand susceptible people are necessary to sustain endemic
diseases such as small pox, typhoid, yellow fever, measles and tuberculosis.
Comparing the recent changes in genomes, measles and small pox coincided with
the domestication of farm animals.
also changed our susceptibility to diseases. In West Africa, the frequency of
the allele of sickle cell anemia increased due to the effects of yam
cultivation. Similarly, East Africans cleared the rain forest creating more
standing water which increased the breeding grounds for malaria carrying
mosquitoes. Humans exposed to
malaria evolve traits that for resistance such as sickle cell. The mutation
that causes sickle cell, an anemic blood disorder, is caused by one nucleotide
found frequently with those of African ancestry.
have also found evidence of strong selection in the lactase gene coinciding
with the domestication of cattle 5,000-10,000 years ago in parts of Africa.
Humans do not naturally produce lactase, the enzyme produced in the small
intestines to digest lactose or milk sugar, after nursing. Cattle domestication
led to mutations disabling the molecular switch that turns off the production
of lactase. Those with the mutation are able to drink milk their whole life,
while others are lactose intolerant.
ancestor’s lifestyles have led to adaptive mutations that contributed to the
unique human populations that inhabit the earth today. Genetic variations in
organisms result not only from their environments, but from culture and the use
of technologies changing the evolutionary process via Lamarckian and cultural inheritance.
humans are not pastoral; rather use cutting edge technology to create smart environments. Temperature controlled
smart offices, boats, homes, and cars not only make our lives more comfortable,
but also enable us to occupy a broader range of ecological niches. Human
ingenuity has led to clothing for various climates. Modern athletes wear smart
clothing to wick away water.
creates a masking effect by suppressing environmental pressures. Rather than
developing specialized beaks similar to Darwin’s finches, humans develop tools
to alter food sources and refrigerators
to preserve food. In humans, the sizes of our jaws, mouth muscles, and teeth have reduced as a result of technology.
developing venom or fangs, humans utilize technology to create sophisticated
weapons. Rather than succumbing to plagues, humans build hospitals and create vaccines
in hopes of eradicating them. Humans will not develop wings; rather build
helicopters, Air Force One, and the Space Shuttle. Humans will not develop gills; rather build diving tanks and
The Kenyan running tribes, the Kikuyu and Kalenjin, have adapted to
modern technology through Westernization,
modernization, and globalization. The
Maasai tribe dominated running events in tribal competitions during the 1950s
under British occupation. They have not used
running as a means to modernization, because money is less important in a
cattle based economy.
In spite of
pressure from the Kenyan government to modernize, the Maasai tribe in Kenya is slow to adopt education and acquire modern
technologies in their culture. As one of the few remaining pastoral ethnic
groups, severe droughts and bovine diseases could lead to their extinction. By
refusing to blend their culture with modern technology, the consequences
are potentially disastrous.
findings have a created a scientific revolution by changing the concept of a
gene and a cultural revolution in terms of the way we see ourselves as humans. The
spirit of being human is to take advantage of whatever is available to survive,
whereas the Olympic Movement’s ideal athletes
have talents that result from drive, effort, training, and perseverance.
4. Democracy in the Cyborgification
enhancement remains a divisive public policy issue. Some advocate governing bodies should regulate how
humans live. In contrast, transhumanists prefer autonomy. Athletes will
continue to use performance enhancements via innovative substances and methods,
and acquire the necessary traits to compete in the world of professional
scholars have used the argument that performance enhancements provide the
opportunity of leveling the playing field in athletics. I do not agree with the
premise of this argument because it is based on the notion that we have an
entitlement to a phenotype.
do not rebut arguments for banning performance enhancements. This is because I
am not questioning WADA’s right to ban performance enhancements at the Olympic
events, rather their reasoning and alienation to those who prefer autonomy. I
am opposed to a global entity legislating values such as what humans can do
with their own bodies since this is contrary to my beliefs which advocate less
government intervention in our lives. This type of governance sets a precedent
and may influence broader regulation for physical, cognitive, and mood enhancements in other aspects
of our lives.
the strengths and weaknesses of the multiple arguments for and against
performance enhancements is not the purpose of this article. For more
discussion of these arguments, see the work of Andy Miah, Jon Entine, Julian Savulescu,
and Nick Bostrom.
propose a policy option used in other human endeavors, holding separate events.
However, in order for enhanced athletes to receive legal status in the
Olympics, it will require a more accurate and accepted worldview of what it
actually means to be human.
before the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Leon Kass, the former head of the
President’s Council on Bioethics said, “I want to be sure when I cheer that I’m
cheering for the athlete and not their chemist.” In this article, I argue when we cheer at the Olympics, we are
cheering not only for the athlete’s medical staff, parents and grandparents;
but their ancestor’s environment, culture, and the technologies, however
primitive, that have directed their evolution. In my forthcoming book, Revolutions:
Paving the Way for the Bioeconomy (Logos Press 2012), I discuss in more
detail how genomics can inform public policy decisions including those for
If sport federations legalized athletic enhancements,
physician consultation with athletes would minimize health risks. Because the
Anabolic Steroid Control Act of 1990 criminalized the non-medicinal use of
steroids in the United States, some American athletes purchase these banned
substances on the black market from companies such as BALCO and may administer
the drugs themselves.
athletes have fought for equality in the Olympics. Disabled athletes were
forced to fight for their right to compete, and the IOC now holds the Paralympics. At one time, sport
regulatory bodies thought women were too frail to compete in the marathon
event. As a result of pressure from women’s rights groups, the IOC held the
first ever women’s Olympic Marathon event at the 1984 Summer Games in Los
Angeles. Annually, thousands of women run in competitive marathons and
participate in charity marathon events. Without
restrictions on athletic enhancements, organizers can
hold a separate set of events for enhanced competitors.
types of competitions such as beauty pageants, officials have held separate events for enhanced
contestants. In China, the Miss Artificial Beauty contest is exclusively for
women, including transsexuals, who have had cosmetic surgery. All contestants
must provide a doctor’s certificate to prove that they have had surgical
alterations. According to Paula Shugart, the President of the Miss Universe
Organization, her organization allows padding and surgical enhancements to make the Miss Universe Pageant a reflection
of the world we currently live in.
several anonymous reviewers and also to Seymour Mauskopf, Paul Haagen, and Jon
Entine who provided constructive feedback to this article. Thanks also to the
American Enterprise Institute for their support of The Coming Age of the Uber-Athlete
Conference where I was a co-organizer
and co-moderator and to the scholars who attended and generated the ideas that
led to this article.
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