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In the early 1980s, I was a marathon runner with ambitions to run at world class level, which would have required me to run the 42-km distance in about 2 h and 10 min. In those days genetic testing was not available, so to gauge my potential I volunteered for various kinds of exercise tests, including maximal oxygen uptake assessments, lactate threshold tests, and (painful!) muscle biopsies. After one series of tests, the exercise physiologist gave me the not-so-good news: with the physiological engine I had, the best marathon time I could hope to run was around 2 h and 15 min. Pretty good, but not world class. But, he continued, pointing to a cluster of slow twitch muscle fibers on a slide, I had the potential to excel at longer distances. It turned out he was right. I went on to become a world class 100-km runner, winning several international races at that distance, placing third in the 1992 World 100 km Championships, and setting several national ultra-distance running records along the way. Later, I applied my physiological potential to the world of ultra-distance triathlon, winning races ranging in distance from the double ironman to the ten times ironman—the Decatriathlon. I retired in 1999, after completing Race Across America (RAAM), a non-stop bike race from the west coast to the east coast of the United States, fairly satisfied I had made the most of my genetic potential, although I can’t be sure.
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In case you’re wondering just how different elite athletes are from the general population when it comes to the desire to win, consider this: In 2008, researchers set non-athletes the Goldman Dilemma. In results published in February 2009 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, just two of the 250 people surveyed said they would take a drug that would ensure success and an early death.
The Athlete Biological Passport (ABP) was used at the London Olympics in 2012. One way this system might work to detect whether an athlete is gene doping is to recognize how the body responds to a foreign gene—particularly the defense mechanisms it might deploy.
A transgene is a gene that has been transferred naturally, or by genetic engineering, from one organism to another.
Hamilton was a professional cyclist and Olympic Gold medalist. Like most riders in the 1990s, he used performance enhancing drugs. In The Secret Race, Hamilton lays bare the meticulous regimen of doping in professional cycling, explaining how simple it was to avoid positive tests.
Mäntyranta had primary familial and congenital polycythemia (PFCP), a condition that causes an increase in red blood cell mass and hemoglobin due to a mutation in the erythropoietin receptor gene (EPOR), which was identified following a DNA study performed on several members of Mäntyranta’s family. PFCP results in an increase of up to 50 % in the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood, an advantage that no doubt played a part in the seven Olympic medals the Finnish skier won in his career.
An increase in hematocrit results in a condition known as polycythemia. People with this condition have an increase in hematocrit, hemoglobin, or a red blood cell count above the normal limits, which is why the condition is usually reported in terms of increased hematocrit (greater than 48 % in women and 52 % in men) or hemoglobin (greater than 16.5 g/dL in women and 18.5 g/dL in men).
HRE is claimed to sense low oxygen concentrations and to switch a gene on in response.
- Building Better Sportsmen: The Genetic Enhancement of Athletes
- Springer Berlin Heidelberg
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