15 Ways To Cheat At The Olympics With Tech And Science
1. Inject Endurance
If you can’t afford the $75,000 egg chamber, injections of erythropoietin (EPO) can improve endurance by boosting your red blood cell count. EPO is a hormone produced naturally in the kidneys, released whenever your body thinks you need more oxygen in your bloodstream. But it’s now produced artificially and can be injected to ramp up red blood cell production, meaning more oxygen in your blood and better endurance.
Oh, and it can also kill you. “The blood becomes viscous like thick oil, so people wind up with heart attacks and strokes,” former Chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) Prohibited List and Methods, Gary I. Wadler, told me.
2. Rig Your Épée (Fencing Sword)
At the 1976 summer Olympics, Soviet fencer Boris Onishchenko tampered with the circuit system on his sword, allowing it to register touches without actually touching his opponent.
3. Wear A High-Tech Swimsuit
Full-length swimsuits, namely Speedo’s LZR Racer, are made of water-repellant, buoyant, drag-resistant fabrics and were banned after a record-shattering 2008 Bejing Olympics. Speedo redesigned the suit to cover less of the body, threw in a cap and some goggles, and is now touting the Fastskin3 Racing System as its fastest (legal) suit yet.
4. Live In A Mini Spaceship/Egg
Hyperbaric chambers enable you to breathe in 100 percent pure oxygen, compared to only 21 percent in a normal room. The Cyclic Variations in Adaptive Conditioning (CVAC) pod (infamously used by Novak Djokovic) simulates the “live high, train low philosophy” by changing the pressure inside the egg in a cyclical fashion.
A 2009 study showed that at various altitudes the CVAC unit increased blood oxygen saturation (SpO2) by about three to six percent, helping to heal injuries faster. SpO2 is a measure of the amount of oxygen in the blood compared to its maximum capacity, and for normal people is usually in the 94 to 98 percent range.
5. Put Magnets On Your Sled
At the Vancouver winter games in 2010, the German skeleton team was accused of illegally attaching magnets to their sleds. It wasn’t proven, but magnets could “create a shock absorber effect to help keep them sliding more efficiently and on the optimum driving line,” argued the Canadian team.
6. Get More Blood
Autologous: Your own blood
Homologous: Someone else’s blood
Heterologous: Another species’ blood (?!)
All forms of blood doping are illegal, but are often used to give athletes an extra boost of red blood cells during competition. A typical person’s hematocrit, the volume percentage of red blood cells in your blood, is usually around 45 percent. But athletes will remove up to a half gallon of blood a month or so before competing, allowing their body to reproduce the lost blood, and injecting additional blood to reach hematocrit levels above 50 percent.
7. Get Superhuman Limbs
There’s been a lot controversy surrounding Oscar Pistorius, the double-amputee that will be the first to compete in track this summer. Obviously Pistorius didn’t choose to have prosthetic limbs, but some argue that his new legs may put him at an advantage in London:
“The average elite male sprinter moves his leg from back to front in 0.37 second. Pistorius swings his leg in 0.28 second, largely because his Cheetah’s are lighter than a regular human leg. Pistorius’s rivals are swinging a lower leg that weighs about 5.7 kilograms, whereas his lower leg only weighs 2.4 kilograms,” writes Scientific American.
8. Spin Your Blood
Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy is basically an injection of pure ass-kicking blood. It’s legal (for now), skirting doping regulations that ban the “sequential withdrawal, manipulation and reintroduction of any quantity of whole blood into the circulatory system.” PRP uses a centrifuge to rapidly spin a small sample of blood, causing the red and white blood cells to separate from the good stuff — the healing and growth platelet — which is then injected back into nagging injuries.
Olympian Kobe Bryant underwent an experimental form of PRP in Germany known as the Regenokine approach, which heats the blood up before spinning it in an effort to isolate anti-inflammatory proteins. “It’s kind of like doing PRP plus a strong anti-inflammatory,” NYU Langone orthopedic surgeon Dennis A. Cardone told me. “But we still don’t have anyting in orthopedics or sports medicine to slow down the degenerative process.”
9. Treat Your Blood With UV Light
A rather speculative procedure, but apparently blood irradiation can help rid the blood of toxins, improving oxygenation and circulation. German Dr. Andreas Franke (the Germans are at the forefront of illegal blood therapies) allegedly administered it to cyclists, but no one’s really sure it does any good yet. Both Cardone and Wadler were unfamiliar with the treatment’s effects, but said that since it involves manipulating blood it’s definitely illegal.
10. Live At Altitude
While not technically cheating, living at high altitude does essentially the same thing to your body as living in an egg chamber or blood doping. Consequently, some have asked if living at altitude should be banned too.
11. Take Beta Blockers
Beta blockers are a group of performance enhancing drugs that lower blood pressure by “blocking” the things that cause anxiety, fear and nervousness. They’re banned during competition in sports that require a lot of calm and focus, like archery. “A beta blocker can keep a person’s hands from trembling, his heart from pounding, and his forehead from beading up with sweat,” writes The Atlantic.
12. Take Things That Make You Stronger
Anabolic steroids and human growth hormone (HGH) are sure to get you jacked for your Olympics debut, if nothing else. Anabolism is the process of cell growth, which is enhanced by steroids that can mimic the effects of testosterone, meaning more growth and more strength. HGH, on the other hand, doesn’t necessarily correspond to strength — it’ll make your muscles bigger, but scientists are still unsure whether or not this is just due to water retention.
Both are obviously banned by the Olympics.
13. Get A Drug Tattoo
In 2008, German researchers found that tattooing was a more effective way to administer vaccines than standard injections, causing many to speculate that athletes would start using the technique to take performance enhancing drugs. Remains to be seen, but maybe worth a shot? (Note: Natasha Kai does not have a drug tattoo, she just has lots of tattoos.)
14. Get Better Genes
“Gene doping is not here yet, but it’s inevitable,” says Wadler. The case of Olympic cross country skier Eero Mäntyranta from Finland, who was born with a mutation on his erythropoietin receptor (EPOR) gene that caused him to naturally produce 25% more red blood cells than normal people, had many athletes wishing they could alter theirs too.
But Mäntyranta’s case was unique, as his mutation was only on one gene. “We know a lot of genes, up to 200, affect performance, and it’ll be some combination. So it’s relatively rare to get a single gene that has an effect,” Chris Cooper, the head of research at the Center for Sports and Exercise Science at University of Essex, said in an NPR interview. When (and if) scientists figure out how to isolate specific genes that cause things such as muscle deterioration, athletes will likely be the first in line.
15. Get Karate Drunk
From the World Anti-Doping Agency’s 2012 list of prohibited substances and methods:
Alcohol (ethanol) is prohibited In-Competition only, in the following sports: