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Are anti-doping policies effective?

Posted November 24, 2014

Athletes have used various performance-boosting drugs since ever the Ancient Olympics. However, large-scale institutional fight against this unfair practice was initiated only few decades ago. But are strict anti-doping measures successful?

Image source: Flickr

Image source: Flickr

Interestingly, researchers tackling this problem think that it can be solved in an indirect way. “If recent improvements in athletic performance have been driven by doping, then improved doping control might be reflected by a leveling off or declining performances in sports where doping is thought to be ubiquitous,” the authors of the article published on PLoS ONE explain.

Bicycle races and running are famous for the widespread use of drugs stimulating better performance. However, results of the recent studies show that achievements of current bicycle racers is leveling off or even declining. This suggests that anti-doping measures are working. But is the case with other sports, such as distance running?

“We obtained the top male performances from 1980–2013, by year, in major endurance running races (5000 m, 10000 m on the track; marathon on road courses) from the International Association of Athletics Federations, Association of Road Racing Statisticians, and the Track and Field all-time Performances database websites,” Timothy N. Kruse and his colleagues say.

Their analysis revealed that the situation in male long-distance running is different from the situation in cycling. “After the peak speed years of the mid 2000 s, there has been limited improvement in the 5000 m and 10,000 m and world records set during that time remain in place today, marking the longest period of time between new records since the early 1940s.

By contrast marathon speed continues to increase and the world record has been lowered four times since 2007, including in 2013,” the researchers report. But what besides illegal drugs can account for this observation? Kruse and others think that it can be related to the increase of monetary prizes for the best runners. It is not hard to find plausible causal mechanism as well. Increasing awards motivates stronger runners and creates more competitive environment. Consequently, better results are achieved.

Article: Kruse T.N., Carter R.E., Rosedahl J.K., Joyner M.J. , 2014, Speed Trends in Male Distance Running. PLoS ONE 9(11): e112978. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0112978, source link.

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