Toward Dope-Free Games

At one time in the sports world, "performance enhancement" meant dedicated, disciplined training to become a better athlete. Today, of course, it means chemically altering the human body.

Such cheating is especially hard to imagine in the modern Olympics, which were founded 104 years ago to foster clean, fair competition among world athletes. Yet concern about performance-enhancing drugs has long centered on the Olympics.

The US government just released a report calling for tougher drug testing of Olympic athletes and decrying how widespread doping has become.

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From the steroid-fed East German teams of the '70s and '80s to the well-known case of Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson, who was stripped of his gold medal in 1988, to disqualifications of Olympics-bound Chinese athletes this year for drug use, the pall of doping has hung over the Games.

This year, however, the Games organizers have promised to dispel that cloud - or at least make a credible start. The International Olympic Committee has formed a new World Anti-Doping Agency to help eliminate drug use. New testing has begun to detect one of the currently most popular enhancers, a drug called EPO that boosts oxygen circulation in the blood.

The IOC has its work cut out. Last week an official of the Uzbekistan Olympics team was caught trying to sneak another popular drug, a genetically engineered human growth hormone, off a plane in Sydney. There's no test yet for detecting whether athletes are taking this drug.

Modern drug technology has made chemically engineered athletic performance a temptation to contestants and coaches. But the potential penalties are great. Beyond detection and disqualification, they include undermining both the integrity of their sport and possibly athletes' own health. Not least, those who use dope sacrifice the inner satisfaction of competing, and perhaps winning, strictly through their own abilities - spiritual and mental, as well as physical.

Doping will cease as more athletes realize that what's lost outweighs any apparent short-term benefits.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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