I love watching the Olympics. There is something amazing about watching someone who puts all of their physical, mental, and emotional energy into a lifetime of training, all for the chance to compete for a brief moment at the elite level. Some are veterans who you expect to see for many years. Others are no-names who are happy just to be there. Unfortunately, every year, someone gets caught taking extreme, illegal measures to gain the extra edge they think it takes to win.
On anonymous surveys, many Olympic athletes confess they would use banned practices or substances to gain an edge if they knew they would not be caught. Many athletes have special practices which they think help their training, and there is nothing wrong with this as long as those practices are legal. I used to be a very competitive athlete and I had silly superstitions and weird diets because I thought they helped. But, I don’t think I could enjoy a victory if I got there illegally.
Every Olympiad, athletes are caught doping and banned from competition. Years of their lives are wasted because they wanted to get ahead. I am not surprised to see this at the elite level. The world’s most talented athletes are pushing their bodies to the maximum. There is nothing more they can do except take that extra pill, inject that extra hormone, transfuse some extra blood or use the next cutting-edge technology. These practices may push them the tiniest little bit to drop the hundredth of a second it will take to win. I am not condoning the practice, but simply saying that I understand the temptation when there is nothing else you can do personally to gain an edge.
What saddens me is when I see younger, less-elite athletes following in their footsteps. These illegal practices are equally harmful, but much less helpful to the less-experienced athletes. Young athletes who want to gain an edge will see much more improvement from proper diet, adequate rest, good technique, and a good training regimen, than they will get from any internet wonder-drug they can purchase. They are throwing away money and jeopardizing their future in sports just to cut a few corners. Some of the supplements are safe and legal, but they are still not helpful or worth the expense if the athletes are not practicing and training correctly.
When – not if – young athletes ask me about a new supplement, I answer by asking them what they’re currently doing for training. There are usually things they can fix, which are free, and will help more than anything else that claims to give them an edge. Do not teach them that cutting corners gets them ahead. Doing things the right way might take longer, but it will give them a bigger edge over the competition if they’re willing to dedicate the time and effort to do things the right way. Plus, the satisfaction of winning using nothing but your own effort is much sweeter!
Dr. Scott is the medical director of primary care sports medicine at Dayton Children’s Hospital. She fellowship trained at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in pediatric sports medicine and worked as a team physician for the University of Cincinnati Bearcats after completion of her fellowship. For the last two years, Dr. Scott has served as the medical director for Dayton Children’s Urgent Care.