Getting the Dope On

I am not new to international sport competition. I have a medical background (PhD). I am fairly new to archery.

For decades I competed as a junior, senior and an age grouper in running, cycling and triathlon. I was pretty good on a local and regional level in the US. I’ve gotten on the podium a few times at National events and earned a place on the USA Team for the World Championship Long Course Duathlon.

I did okay racing in the smaller events in Europe. I have trained or raced in: England, Germany, France, Sweden, Switzerland, Spain, Belgium, Italy, Israel, Australia, and Japan. Racing, however, is not the sole area my interest in sports and health.

I have published a good many peer-reviewed medical manuscripts most on medical aliments, some on sports physiology. I was on faculty at a major medical school where I did much of my research. I’ve also given medical presentations of my academic work in those same countries where I’ve trained or raced. After over four decades of sports competition and medical research I have gotten pretty good at spotting dopers. (I have never pointed anyone out I suspected. Although, some I suspected in cycling and triathlon did get caught.)

In age group competition, the doping is bad. In archery is seems worse than other sports among age groupers. I understand that banned substances may be necessary for the well being of many age groupers. However, it does give them, what I consider, an unfair edge in archery.

Being athletic is good. Shooting a bow isn’t all that phyically demanding compared to competing in an Ironman or running a marathon.  Archery requires a different kind of skill.  Still, archery practice combined with a program to improve physical fitness will benefit an athlete.

It isn’t easy to remain fit for a lifetime.  It is less easy to be an athlete.  It becomes increasing hard for amateur athletes and professionals where income from sport do not provide a living wage.  For them work gets in the middle of the day meaning training becomes more of a scheduling trick. It is possible.  Athletes that take on the extra effort to remain fit enough to reach a podium without banned supplements shouldn’t be, in addition to their work, put into a position where they must surpass other athletes unwilling or unable to adapt a total fitness program.

Some age group archers that are not physically fit yet practice consistently have an advantage over athletes who shoot and combine healthy life choices with competition. The poorly conditioned archery age grouper that is able to consistently practice shooting can have the competitive advantage of drugs used to compensate for high blood pressure and abnormal heart rhythms.  Those drugs assist both the patient’s condition and shooter’s ability. As such they do not need to approach archery as a complete athletic process. Rather, they can practice with their bow, be in miserable overall fitness (non-athletic) and have the advantage during competition of their prescribed drugs.

Individuals that are on beta-blockers may be able to receive a therapeutic use exemption (TUE).  In many cases, beta-blocker use might be reduced or eliminated through healthy choices and exercise.

Dr. Sheps of the Mayo Clinic writes:

If you’re overweight, losing even 5 pounds (2.3 kilograms) can lower your blood pressure. As you slim down, it may be possible to reduce your dose of blood pressure medication — or stop taking your blood pressure medication completely. Don’t make changes to your blood pressure medication on your own, however. Do so only after getting your doctor’s OK.

Remember, high blood pressure isn’t a problem you can treat and then ignore. Even if you’re able to stop taking blood pressure medication, it’s still important to maintain healthy habits. Here’s how:

  • Eat a healthy diet — the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet is an effective eating plan for lowering blood pressure.
  • Get 30 minutes of physical activity on most days of the week.
  • Limit alcohol.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Schedule regular checkups with your doctor to make sure you’re keeping your blood pressure in check. (1)

Being new to archery I have found it frustrating to train hard and enter an event on an unleveled playing field. Shooters are clean or they or not. If an age grouper is taking a beta-blocker at a minimum they should have a TUE. But, so long as USA Archery allows the unchecked use of beta-blockers by age-groupers during competitions it is not promoting the overall health of the sport.

I doubt that USA Archery is going to put much effort into screening age groupers using banned substances without a TUE.  For age groupers that are fitness focused they need to shoot well to win knowing that similarly trained unfit archers talking prescription drugs have an edge.

From USADA and applies to WADA:(2)

Substances Prohibited in Particular Sports

Some sports have additional rules about the use of beta-blockers. If participating in any of the following sports, please consult the current WADA Prohibited List or Global Drug Reference Online (GlobalDRO.com) before using beta-blockers.

P1. Beta-Blockers

Beta-blockers (including, but not limited to atenolol, bisoprolol, carvedilol, esmolol, labetalol, metoprolol, propranolol, sotalol, and timolol) are prohibited for the following sports:

  • Prohibited At All Times (in-competition and out-of-competition): Archery, Shooting
  • Prohibited In-Competition Only: Automobile, Billiards, Darts, Golf, Skiing/Snowboarding in ski jumping, freestyle aerials/halfpipe and
  • snowboard halfpipe/big air, and Underwater Sports as specified.

References:

1.) https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-pressure/expert-answers/blood-pressure-medication/faq-20058056

2.)

Athlete Guide to the 2018 Prohibited List

PED Use in Masters’ Athletics

In a few months, if all goes well and the creek don’t rise; I’m racing in a national championship. That race happens after two national archery championships. It is going to be a busy spring.

Getting ready for all three championships takes a lot of effort. It’s not more work  it comes to time spent training. It is how that time is spent.

The least amount of training changes is with archery. That said, the intensity of archery practice has changed, as has the focus during the training. To win (or place well) I know the scores needed to be achieved. Knowing the must hit scores goals can be established.

In the endurance race I know the distance and the speed required to win. This translates to much more speed work and intervals during training.

Before preparing a “speed” plan I started by studying the times recorded at the 2015 – 2017 championships. Seems many of the masters age group competitors have gotten really really fast.  The review of those results recorded  by many Masters athletes appeared artificially enhanced.

You might think, “Who in their right mind would use performance enhancing drugs (PEDs)?” The answer is many with some estimates of dopers is as high as 25%. Here’s how it’s done:

An athlete in his 40s (for example) finds that he is naturally slowing down. To retain or in some cases increase speed they may take PEDs.  This is accomplished with the help of an innocent physician. (Generalized approach)

On a doctor’s visit the mature athlete complains of low stamina, loss of energy, diminished libido and feeling fatigued. The athletes’ blood work is fine other than his natural testosterone being low compared to a 20 year old. This may warrant to a prescription for testosterone. A bonus is they may end up getting human growth hormone (HGH) as well. Want to drop your natural testosterone to help with the doctor’s blood assay? Easy. Train harder than usual, stay indoors, and reduce sleep time.

After the doper gets the PEDs he may seek out an EPO boost or take a less risky and legal pathway of drinking an abundance of beetroot juice (legal works to some degree). Both help with oxygen uptake and utilization.

What a shame.

From an aging point of view HGH has limited, if any, negative effect and can be of tremendous value men over 40. I strongly believe HGH should be removed from the banned list for athletes over 40. Overall, PED use is widespread among age group endurance athletes.

In archery, we have another set of dopers, the beta-blocker users. Beta-blockers aren’t like the PEDs of other sports. A beta-blocker will not make one faster. It also will not make an archer shoot better. It will however help the archer to not shoot worse.

The issue here is (despite it being banned) is that the older archers on beta-blockers need the drug’s help to stay alive. So, know this – that archer on a beta-blocker may not shoot better thanks to the drug, he just won’t shoot any worse. Beta-blockers will calm and steady the performer. When it comes down to it, if you shoot the X 96% of the time and the beta-blocker hits the X 89% of the time you still win. That is unless you freak out during competition in which case a beta-blocker would be beneficial to you.

There is some suggestion that beta-blockers may offer a slight improvement in scoring.  Suppose, for argument, that an archer using a beta-blocker gets a 1% benefit from the calming and stabilizing effect of the drug. That archer typically can shoot with a 96% accuracy.  That beta-blocker archer that normally scores around 96% accuracy as do non-beta-blocker archers, a 1% advantage wins the day. Meaning the beta-blocker reaches 97% accuracy.

So, do you think archery isn’t really that bad? If so, you’d be wrong.  Among the druggiest Olympic sports archery ranks 10th, tied with pistol. Do I have any doubt that I’ve shot against archers on beta-blocker? None whatsoever.

In the case of the endurance athlete doping, even though both situations are banned, I see the endurance athlete as the greater cheater. Really, if you are on a beta-blocker to support your heart or manage your high blood pressure and compete keep taking your drug. I’d rather shoot against you on your meds than have you risk your health in order to enjoy archery. If you have a pill box with beta-blockers used exclusively for tournaments  you are an ass. If you are getting injections of testosterone under the pretext of a needed prescription you are a deliberate cheater. It pisses me off to race against you.

Here’s the thing – of the older dopers I’ve raced against or trained with everyone around them guessed they were doping.  I only know of one age group athlete, an Ironman World Champion, that was ever caught for doping.  By contrast, of the young dopers (all cyclists) everyone suspected all were caught.

Who do I partly blame for the widespread use, aside from the dopers themselves, of doping among Masters level athletes are WADA and the USADA. Both are more interested in tracking the younger athletes that are making a living in their sport as professional athletes.  That is, of course, where the money is so they chase the money.  So long as Masters athletes receive so little sponsorship money and recognition WADA and USADA will turn a blind eye. No one really seems to care a lot aside from the clean athletes that are considered Masters.

Once companies like Nike and Asics understand the marketing value of clean Masters athletes WADA and the USADA will have new targets. Until that time dopers among age groupers have little to fear.

Reading list [(Hear me now believe me later)credit to Hanz and Franz of SNL]

https://www.thefix.com/content/olympics-london-drugs-doping90411

http://www.stltoday.com/sports/other/older-athletes-now-testing-positive-for-peds/article_dc9828c3-a4d1-5180-be18-1e5fabc071ae.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doping_in_sport

Steroids and Amateur Athletes

PEDs for the Tactical Athlete – Follow Up