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The issue of blood doping in the olympics- will it ever be resolved?

Blood doping is a method of improving athletic performance as by increasing haemoglobin in the bloodstream to allow higher amounts of oxygen to reach the working muscles. This can improve stamina and performance.

There are 3 main methods of blood doping:

  • blood transfusions- where athletes use the blood of someone else with the same blood type or have their own blood drawn and stored for future use.

  • injections of erythropoietin- this encourages the body the produce more red blood cells than usual.

  • injections of synthetic oxygen carriers- this allows more oxygen to be carried into the blood making the athlete more efficient.

However, there are many risks to blood doping as by increasing the number of red blood cells the blood will thicken. This causes the heart to work harder than normal to pump blood throughout the body. As a result, blood doping raises the risk of blood clots, heart attacks and strokes.

So what is being done to stop blood doping?

There are difficulties with testing for blood doping as the by-products of the substances used is so small to defect. However, there are tests to detect EPO and synthetic oxygen carriers. To detect blood transfusions a biological passport of each athlete is made that contains certain markers throughout an athlete's career. If these change dramatically it alerts the officials that the athlete may be doping.

Max Hauke is a former Austrian cross-country athlete. He was caught blood doping in February 2019 along with five other skiers. He admitted the use of blood doping was his own decision and that he started doing it in order to peak during the home world championships.

Hauke was introduced by another fellow cross-country skier Johannes Deur to a German doctor who led an international blood doping network, who has also been arrested.

Although the biological passport is a successful method in testing for doping it seems that athletes have already found ways to evade detection. One way athletes appear to be evading detection is by small, frequent usage of EPO so there is not a noticeable change in the athlete's blood. Therefore, more research needs to be developed to tackle the issue of blood doping.

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