dopage and disappointment

Tyler Hamilton has apparently failed a couple doping tests: one just after winning gold in the Olympic time trial, and one just a few days ago after a time trial in the Vuelta D’Espana. The tests he failed are new to cycling: they test for blood doping, a strategy where an athlete gets an infusion of extra blood just before a race. More red blood cells increases endurance. Normally an athlete will stockpile his or her own blood for later transfusion, but apparently Tyler’s tests are showing that he has someone else’s blood mixed in with his own (a practice that’s kind of dangerous all on its own so its kind of curious if its true). Blood doping is illegal per UCI rules but up until this year there hasn’t been a test for it.

Tyler is, of course, denying the whole thing and the results of a followup test will come back in the next 48 hours. I’m trying to reserve judgement, but I admit I’m really shocked and disappointed by this news. I’ve been a fan of Tyler’s for some time now and I’ve talked about him on this blog before — mostly I am in awe of his seemingly inhuman ability to race well while incredibly injured (and because he seems to get injured a lot in the first place; I thought I was the only one who was that klutzy on a bike. 🙂 If the doping tests are true, for me it casts serious doubt on all Tyler’s accomplishments, not just the olympics and the Vuelta but all the races in which he’s been doing so well over the last few years. What has he been taking? What advantages has he had over other riders? Why did he feel he had to cheat to win?

And in addition, there are bigger questions for cycling. Tyler has never failed a doping test up to this point. A few months ago David Millar was found with EPO (another red blood cell enhancing drug) in his apartment, and confessed to having taken the drug. Millar had also never failed a drug test. If these top athletes have gone this long and been testing clean, but NOW are being found out, who else is dirty? What else is out there? Just how corrupt is pro cycling?

Many questions. I’m waiting for that second test.

no blogging the olympics

“The International Olympic Committee is barring competitors, as well as coaches, support personnel and other officials, from writing firsthand accounts for news and other websites.” (from Wired News)

Well, that seems Deeply Stupid. The IOC says the ban is to preserve lucrative media contracts, but IMHO first-hand reports would only enhance the traditional coverage and make the Olympics more interesting. Or at least that’s certainly the way it was with the Tour de France, where in addition to the TV coverage from OLN and the web coverage from the official web site there were also rider diaries from Velonews and on various riders’ personal web sites. It was the rider diaries that really personalized the Tour, that made it less about “Rider X won stage Y by Z seconds blah blah blah” and more about individual drama — what the athletes cared about, not just what a TV interviewer thought was important to tell us. (there’s a difference.)

I know we’re watching tons more Olympics this year now that NBC is doing blanket coverage and not the cut-down soft-focus fluff they had done in the past. TiVo is grabbing like fourteen hours a day and we can pick and choose what we watch. Of course much to our surprise we’re getting sucked into things like badminton and trampoline and saber fencing. If there were blogs and diaries and more personal details we would be on the internet WHILE we were watching the official TV coverage and we would probably be watching MORE of it. MORE coverage BETTER. This just seems obvious to me.

evolution & useless parts

I haven’t been reading much recently because I’ve got this huge stack of magazines that somehow have managed to overbreed underneath the coffee table and I’ve been trying to get them under control. I was reading one of those magazines the other night, the June issue of Discover, and there was an article in there about useless body parts. These are parts of the human body that are left over from evolution (the tailbone, vestigial body hair) or due to sexual redundancy (nipples on men).

What I hadn’t realized is that in addition to these obvious extra body parts that I had already heard about, there are a whole lot of other extra parts that some of us just don’t have.

Take, for example, the palmaris longus muscle. This is a long muscle that runs from the wrist to the elbow and attaches at the base of the thumb. According to the Discover article, it may have been important at one time to our ancestors for hanging and climbing, but serves no useful purpose now. In fact, somewhere between 10 to 20% of the population doesn’t have it at all or only has it on one side. (You can see if you have it with this test; I needed to twist my hand a little to see it. I still have it on both sides).

There are a whole bunch of these things: missing muscles, extra bones. Some of us have them and some of us don’t. In short: we are still evolving. Eric, with a degree in biology, says “duh,” but this is not something that had ever occurred to me. I had assumed that evolution was so slow to affect change that you could determine differences over time after they had happened, but not be able to point to actual population changes as they were occurring. I didn’t think that I would be able to point to someone next to me and say “that person has evolved fewer muscles than me.”

My mind is blown.