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Podcast: The Evolution of Anti-Doping

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Photo by Welsh Government/Flickr

Sprinter Tyson Gay seemed to get off easy when the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency recently announced just a one-year ban as punishment for doping during the 2012 Olympics. As he hasn’t competed since last summer, he’ll be eligible next month, news that set the sports world abuzz.

But the more important aspect of his punishment is the shift it signals, ProPublica reporter David Epstein tells Steve Engelberg in this week’s podcast: Gay received his relatively lenient sanction after agreeing to inform on his former coach, the chiropractor who provided the substances, as well as NFL players and other track athletes.

“Finally, this is a move to go after the sports staff -- and the coaches, who are really the infrastructure, in many cases, behind doping," Epstein says.

It’s also a way to improve the odds of catching dopers, given the many holes in the testing system, he says. One key example is the abuse of deer antler spray to boost insulin-like growth factor 1. “There’s no drug test that can distinguish synthetic insulin-like growth factor 1 from natural, period – you can’t detect it,” Epstein says. “The only way to get someone for using it is through intelligence gathering, and that’s where anti-doping is headed now.”

And while some might argue that it’s no use trying to stop dopers, Engelberg says, “At some point, then, the athletic competition becomes less about willpower and training and more about who can hire the best scientists.”

Epstein agrees: “Sports are the ultimate human contrivances, right? Take agreed-upon rules and add meaning, and without those agreed upon rules, I think you sort of have nothing left.”

Listen to their full conversation on SoundCloud, iTunes or Stitcher, and see Epstein's latest report for more on the Tyson Gay story. 

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