Come August, one of the more popular activities worldwide will be watching,directly or indirectly, the greatest sports event in the world. Already, concerns have been raised about the air pollution in Beijing, with the Australian contingent reportedly delaying their arrival till just before their respective events, thereby giving the opening ceremony a miss.
To their credit, the Chinese authorites have spared no effort in ensuring that the skies will be clear. Some of the measures include allowing cars ending with even numbers on their registration plate to be permitted on the roads on even dates. This enables 1 million vehicles to be off the road at any given day!
One of the potentially explosive health issues which will involve the athletes is the question of doping. Already, during the Sydney 2000 Olympics, some high-profile athletes were caught using prohibited performance-enhancing drugs.
The most highly-publicised case was that of sprinter Marion Jones who was finally banned, jailed for 6 months (she is currently serving her term) and asked to return the 5 Olympic medals which she won in 2000.
Usage of performance-enhancing drugs is by no means confined to the Olympics as professional athletes have been caught in other sports as well.
However, I predict the Olympics will be a real testing-ground for two drugs whose usage is steeped in controversy on many counts.
The first is HGH (human growth hormone) which builds strength, bone density and endurance, minus the side-effects of steroids like what was used by Marion Jones. It is difficult to detect by conventional doping tests because it is a naturally-occuring substance in the body and, more important, can be withdrawn well before the event without any apparent untoward effects and therefore avoid detection.
The other performance-enhancer is EPO (erythropoietin) which is also a naturally occuring hormone that causes increased production of red blood cells in the body, thereby increasing the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood to the muscle tissues. Its like using high-octane petrol to boost your engine. The detection of EPO is complicated by the lack of accuracy of the current test methods. Marion Jones was tested positive at the Sydney Olympics but subsequently declared negative on the second test.