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CARACAS, Monday May 16, 2011 | Update
 
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102nd Anniversary
Striving beyond the limits

How far are athletes capable to go in order to satisfy their ambitions to break records? The insatiable appetite of some high-competition athletes to conquer new marks and set insurmountable records is changing sports. Training, feeding and physical and mental conditioning are essential elements to be a "super athlete." However, in these times of medical and technological breakthroughs, other factors that could question sports ethics enter into play

VANNESA HIDALGO |  EL UNIVERSAL
Monday May 16, 2011  06:24 PM


The first super athlete in history is believed to be Milo of Croton, who, according to classic Greek chronicles broke a great many records and became absolute winner in six Olympic Games in a row; that is, he remained at the sports elite for over 20 years and was awarded 32 times as the best fighter of his time.

Notwithstanding, in the light of medical and technological breakthroughs, the question is, are super athletes born or made?

Figures like Yelena Isinbayeva, Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps are famous worldwide thanks to their unbreakable records. Each one of them is characterized for having indisputable biological and physiological conditions that allow them to have competitive advantages and follow rigorous training and food regimes.

For instance, Phelps, who is believed to be the best swimmer of all times, has very particular biochemical and physical characteristics that allow him to be above his rivals.

The Olympic multimedallist produces less lactic acid than his colleagues and this allows him to recover faster. With only 4% of body fat, Phelps is able to transform effort into speed. His long hands work like paddles and his large feet like flippers. His torso is disproportionately long with respect to his short legs and this reduces resistance and increases propulsion in the water. If to all these characteristics you add a natural talent to swim and hard training, his overwhelming performance is understandable.

The biotype of any individual, that is, his physical shape, is determined by factors like bone structure, muscular mass and metabolism. According to Germán Medina, a Venezuelan traumatologist with a wide experience in sports medicine, in the case of Phelps or any super athlete, it is understood that in addition to having congenital characteristics, they develop physical features that boost their performance.

These anthropomorphic conditions in elite athletes have to go parallel with an orientation that responds to their emotional interests, as well as to ethical considerations that imply turning to other resources to improve their records, Medina adds.

The premise about super athletes' physical and mental features does not mean that any fast individual will play soccer or that all tall individuals will play basketball or that they will reach the podiums. However, genetic advantages will certainly make things easier for them.

Transgenic Athletes
Gene therapy is used for medical purposes to correct genetic defects and muscular dystrophies; however, since many years ago, it became one of the illicit methods to "shape" super athletes.

Gene therapy was tested in mice and it was discovered that muscle strength and speed in rodents was doubled if the genetic material was combined with weight lifting.

According to a report prepared by the University of Pennsylvania in 2005, this technique could be used to "genetically improve athletes," generating cell modifications in their bodies. This would offer innumerable benefits like a best utilization of oxygen and higher endurance and velocity.

The medical resource promised to be a viable alternative for patients with genetic disorders; however, it became a two edged knife, because it threatens athletes' ethics.

This type of doping is irresistible for ambitious athletes and trainers and is not detectable in any doping analyses. Its use implies risks ranging from heart attacks to cancer.

"Chiaroscuro" option
Anabolic steroids, which are synthetic derivatives from testosterone, belong to the list of substances prohibited by the International Olympic Committee. Its use promotes muscle and strength growth, thus implying an artificial and dishonest advantage.

Out of the sports sphere, anabolic steroids are used by show-business figures, who resort to this alternative to remain "young and fresh," always under strict medical surveillance. Their indiscriminate use brings about irreversible consequences like cancer, liver tumors, hypertension and coronary disorders.

Scientific and technological innovations are changing sports. Figures like Milo of Croton, whose competitiveness was based on a natural talent, now belong in the past. Nowadays, people born with talent for sports are able to potentiate it.
vhidalgo@eluniversal.com

Translated by Álix Hernández

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Is protest over?

That political protest in Venezuela has lost momentum seems pretty obvious: people are no longer building barricades to block off streets near Plaza Francia in Altamira (eastern Caracas), an anti-government stronghold; no new images have been shown of brave and dashing protesters with bandanna-covered faces clashing with the National Guard in San Cristóbal, in the western state of Táchira; and those who dreamed of a horde of "Gochos" (Tachirans) descending  in an avalanche to stir up revolt in Caracas have been left with no option but to wake up to reality.

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