Google+ Running in Cork, Ireland: Programme on drugs in sports on RTE TV...

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Programme on drugs in sports on RTE TV...

On Tuesday the 17th of July, there was a programme called Faster, Higher, Stronger on RTE Television which looked at the effect of drugs in sports.

Description......"In a brand new sports science documentary, journalist Ian O'Riordan examines how athletes are using science and technology to enhance their performance, asking whether or not we can ever again truly believe in the purity of sport.

The Olympic Games are meant to represent all that's good and pure about sport- heroic acts of courage, fair play, being all that you can be. But ever since Ben Johnson failed a drug test in 1988, the biggest sporting show on earth has been dogged by scandal and suspicion. And now, with the curtain about to rise on London 2012, Ian O'Riordan of The Irish Times looks at the growing impact science and technology has on sport - legal and illegal - and wonders if sport can ever regain our trust.

In Faster, Higher, Stronger, Ian looks at a range of performance enhancement techniques, both legal and illegal, to discover if science has become more important than good old-fashioned hard graft and talent. He spends time with members of the Irish Olympic Team for 2012, to get inside the mind of the people that go to extraordinary lengths to gain a competitive edge.

Ian meets race-walker Colin Griffin, who's living in a bespoke altitude house in Limerick, fitted out to mimic the air density of Kilimanjaro. While Rob Heffernan, another walker, has to make do with a tent over his bed to get the same effect. Ian asks if this method of manipulating the body's make-up is really fair, using the example of a banned swimsuit as an instance technology was outlawed.

He reconnects with Martin Fagan and Geraldine Hendricken, two Irish athletes who received bans for failed drugs tests. He looks at the world of sports supplements, asking if these are really just legal performance enhancers.

Faster, Higher, Stronger is a comprehensive exploration of performance enhancement that combines an in-depth look at the science of sport with a personal search for the truth about fair play."

The programme is 50 minutes long and can be seen on the RTE Player service until the 7th of August.


MicHyDathlete said...

I think the discussion and viewpoints across the board was poor in this programme. Have to say I was very disappointed with the quality of information that was presented by Ian O'Riordan and the link he made between illegal artificial doping methods and the altitude house, and also the swimming suit. I would see it as sensationalist reporting, taking advantage of the proximity to the Olympics and the spotlight which is being shone in the direction of the sport which he has a close association with. Having worked at the AIS for 3 years where 1. They developed the test for EPO for the Sydney Olympics, 2. Developed one of the first altitude houses and 3. Assisted speedo develop their swim suit, it was disappointing to see this treatment/discussion of the technologies as some kind of evil witchcraft just because they are new. As stated, the suit was banned because it wasn't accessible to most swimmers, simple as that, and as they said on the show, thankfully, this suit may be re-introduced later when it becomes more accessible. They don't ban aerodynamic bikes/helmets in cycling for example because they are accessible to most cyclists. In reference to the altitude house, it is just recreating an environment which is naturally occuring elsewhere and if anything it is helping to level the playing field, is it not? Otherwise the argument could be put that we should ban athletes from altitude countries? The altitude house is accessible to anyone that is willing to pay for it and make the sacrifice to pay for it. It is not putting anything artificial like artificial EPO into the body or as in the case of blood doping, putting an artificial amount of blood cells into the body. The air and the response of the body is completely natural and it is not an artificial manipulation.
There have always been dopers. Doping didn't start with Ben Johnson or when Ian O'Riordan became aware of it. There has always been some kind of doping or cheating since sport began. There are always going to be dopers and there are always going to be a certain proportion of bad people in the world.
What should have been discussed is issues like the Sports Council cutting off funding to athletes like Martin Fagan despite his demonstrated potential. I am not defending Martin and what he did but I think the way O'Riordan reported Martins story was just to fit it around his own world view rather than presenting the facts accurately and in a balanced way like scientists have to do and good journalists should do.
The lens should have been focused on the governing bodies and their consistent failures to implement effective development programmes for their athletes in a modern context. Society and sport changes so athletes have to change and adapt to these changes. In general it was disappointing to see such lack of balance in the portrayal of Endurance Sport. The RTE Series "London Calling" has been a small, but limited saving grace. For anyone interested I would recommend watching the BBC Series of the same name FASTER, HIGHER, STRONGER

MicHyDathlete said...

Its a pity that when the general public's attention is focused on our sport like this that it is not portrayed in a balanced way. London calling was a start but so much more could have been said in these shows about our sport and the value of it in our society. So much more could have been said about the value of nurturing positive role models in our sport to kids rather than the many poor and artificial role models that are out there. I sound like an old fogie saying this but I really do believe in the positive value of sport for kids and people of all ages and the affect it can have on their lives. I suppose it would be hard to sell and market a story that wasn't as sensationalist as the one that was presented above. I don't want to seem like I am against rigorous reporting into doping by what I have said, I am just against this type of unbalanced, poor quality reporting. If you are going to report something, do it properly and accurately with up to date information.

I as an athlete will continue to strive to better myself using legal means. I don't use sports supplements because I do believe in a natural type of philosophy discussed in this programme but I will use modern technology where it is available. I want to inspire and be a good role model for the athletes I coach in my club and in my Sport. I'm not saying this because I want a pat on the back or a well done or recognition for it, I'm saying it because I see coaching and the people who do it and why they do it reported on in a very limited way.
As a sports scientist I want to help my fellow athletes also better themselves and gain fulfillment from bettering themselves through the legal means they have available to them. I am organising the Charleville International Half-Marathon and as part of this I have helped some of the top Irish athletes hoping to compete in this gain a place in the UL altitude house in the lead up to the race so they can have a chance to compete with some of the international elites who may be coming from countries where they live at altitude. I hope that the Irish athletes who compete in our race in Charleville can then be an inspiration to the young athletes in our club to challenge themselves to be better athletes.
I haven't see any programme on RTE commenting on the increasing popularity of our sport or the fact that it is the fastest growing organised sport in the country. I haven't seen any programme demonstrating the link between participation in our sport and all the various positive social and health benefits it can have. In the "London calling" show it was clear to see what an inspiration Ciaran O Lionaird and Robert Heffernan were to the young athletes in Cork That's why it is so disappointing to see a programme like this which is so unbalanced. If I had been any of the athletes or the scientists in this show I would have been very disappointed in the way the topics were discussed and the associations which were made. I hope in the future that some journalist will do enough work to present a show which depicts endurance sport and more specifically athletics/distance running in a more balanced way which will redress the imbalanced sensationalist reporting which has been done so far. As an athlete/coach/sports scientist I just had to get this off my chest! :)

Anonymous said...

i take it the above writer isn't a fan of the show ;-) i thought it was a good show - interesting. it was pointing how sport science has influenced sport in good and bad ways. looked fine to me. don't understand the above writers points about lack of balance - a bit too close to the picture maybe?

MicHyDathlete said...

Anonymous, please don't confuse my passion for the sport and science as being too close to the subject. That is a very easy throw away comment to make but like O'Riordan, you didn't back up what you said. Instead you just make a cynical comment as if you know what you are talking about. If you think it was a good show, then why was it a good show? Please say why. Most people did think it was a good show because they don’t know any better. That’s why it’s important that we have journalists who do enough work to investigate what they are looking into properly. We already had a situation in this country where journalists looked into the banking sector and the economy during the boom years. I’m sure you enjoyed the shows then that told you that the Celtic Tiger would last forever and that we would all live happily ever after. I know that this is just sport but some of us have jobs in this area and also athletic careers so its important when someone does a tv show leading up to the Olympics that your job and sport isn’t just pissed all over by a journalist building his reputation on the back of a controversy he creates that isn’t there.

This show is classified as a Factual documentary but none of the arguments which are put forward are backed up by facts. It’s great Anonymous that you found it entertaining and it would have been fine if it had just been a special interest programme just looking generally at the science which Olympic athletes use in their preparation for the Olympics, but it wasn't. The show made some very serious statements which would call into question the reputation of a lot of people without backing up those statements.

Perhaps I should have stated my argument in a more straight forward way without obvious emotion or passion so you could see more clearly what I meant. I will attempt to do so now by using just one example out of many I could choose from the show.

O'Riordans Hypothesis was that science was taking away the purity of sport and he associated the use of the Altitude house and the "shark skin" swim suit as being somehow impure and along the same lines as taking drugs. His argument was shallow and speculative and had no facts to back them up. He didn't define clearly how these things could be seen as a form of doping.... he just expressed an opinion, which was very obviously poorly informed, that these things were in a grey area which he didn't really define. I feel that it is unethical for him to have done this because he cast a lot of scientists, coaches and athletes as being unethical when they are very clearly not so. If he had taken the time to look at what was defined as doping/not doping or as cheating/not cheating... then he might have seen the problem with his argument, but he didn't define the very central concept that he was talking about, just skirted around it and speculated to his heart content.

MicHyDathlete said...

The things he should have been more rigorous about like the supplements and the reasons for Fagans doping lacked any depth (accepting it was only a one hour documentary, maybe he shouldn't have spread himself so thin).

If this kind of documentary was going to be done, it should have been done by someone who was qualified to critique the science or O'Riordan should have questioned scientists without vested interests in promoting themselves and their work like the DCU lab which receives funding for testing athletes and makes a business from it.

For example he demonstrated Linda Byrne and her coach Enda Fitzpatrick using VO2 max testing in DCU which is done using a metabolic cart. The following information supplied to me by a very experienced and well qualified sports technologist will demonstrate the problem with this.
The best metabolic cart in the world (anything with Applied Electrochemistry Zirconia Oxide O2 sensors) can not measure VO2 max inside about 4% error(these cost about 60,000 Euro). In general the error on most systems is about 8+%.

In simple terms using another measure, say a 10,000m run. If someone runs 10K in 40min. If your stopwatch has an error of 4% , this is the same as +/-50 sec. So basically you cant tell if you ran 39:10 or 40:50 but somewhere in between. I am sure you will agree this is a large margin and especially so for an elite athlete.

Why have metabolic carts gained so much recognition in Human Performance? They are fine when measuring patients in Coma’s in hospital to see if they are high or low in O2 and CO2. Also they are fine when doing say 12 weeks studies of people off the street on some training intervention where you can get 20 to 30% improvements in results (4% error is no problem). But when being used for athletes where they dont improve more than about 0.5% in any one year, its not valid.

Therefore if O'Riordan failed to research this basic fact, then it demonstrates his lack of knowledge about sports science and his rigour in his investigation. If he wasn't rigorous enough in his research about the thing that he saying was good then his investigation into the things which he casts as impure should surely be brought into question?

Again, to use the banking analogy, journalists shouldn’t have gone to the bankers in the boom times to ask them about the economy or if they thought their way of doing things was unsustainable because the bankers had it in their interest to tell the journalists that everything was great and that more people should borrow more money.

O’Riordan’s grey area's aren't grey at all. They are very clearly defined by large organisations such as WADA who spend millions of dollars making sure they very precisely define what is doping. Maybe we should just get rid of the WADA doping list and just go by O'Riordans "Grey Area" list?

MicHyDathlete said...

I made the argument that it was unbalanced because he should surely have illustrated what he defined as pure as much as illustrating what he thought was impure or in the grey area?

Anonymous, it was great that you found this "show" entertaining but this was a documentary which was trying to make a serious argument and serious arguments are supposed to be made with facts. I probably would have been entertained too at the complete lack of factual arguments except for the fact that I found it just too disturbing that every piece of the programme was so bad. One thing after the other.

I just thought it was important to write something and use my education to give an alternative perspective when such a significant show is put on TV before the Olympics and such a bad job is done talking about our sport and my profession. ...but obviously the old Paddy Irishman attitude of "ah shur twas a grand show" attitude is still there. We just accept what the person in authority says without question. I don’t agree with O’Riordan that Science is winning the race. The athletes are every day that they go out and push themselves and make the sacrifices that they have to make in modern society. Science is just a tool like any other not some kind of withcraft or grey area as depicted by O’Riordan.

Anonymous said...

Mike Herlihy,

I think Ian O'Riordan's idea was to show the normal joe soap what happens within sport and science. That at the top level of any sport, if you don't have the backing of sports science you don't have a chance of challenging for medals at the up coming London games. I note what you have said but also some respect for Ian O'Riordan would be welcomed, rather than referring to him as O'Riordan, use his first name also.

Lets just hope that we have a drugs free games, I have my worries on that front. All the best to Team Ireland.

John Desmond said...

Just a quick note to say that it's quite common for people just to use the surname only in media reports. It's not really a mark of disrespect.

Anonymous said...

maybe mike herilhy should be addressing these points to ian o'riordan himself and perhaps it would be interesting to see what he says. i think mike is getting a little bit annoyed when ordinary contributors are giving their opinion but it is obvious it's important to him. mike has raised a lot of questions there and it's only fair ian o'riordan has a right of reply. mike has a strong background in the area of sport science and running so a head to head would be interesting

as for the show itself i know nothing about sports science but i did watch it and found it interesting and informative on a layman's level. i don't doubt there might be a lot of questions to be asked about the content but i'm sure that was o'riordans point - provoke discussion.

as for martin fagan, it was sad to see what happened to him but i didn't really buy his excuses but i hope he does learn from it and come back a happier and better person