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An Olympic Games For Enhanced Athletes? 245

Posted by timothy
from the also-a-high-altitude-olympics dept.
ananyo writes "With the Olympics due to kick off on 27 July in London, Nature has taken a look at how far science would be able to push human athletic abilities if all restrictions on doping were lifted. The article mentions anabolic steroids (up to 38% increase in strength), IGF-1 (4% increase in sprinting capacity), EPO/blood doping (34% increase in stamina), gene doping and various drugs and supplements, as well as more 'extreme' measures such as surgery and prosthesis. Hugh Herr, a biomechanical engineer at MIT, says performance-enhancing technologies will one day demand an Olympics all their own. But is that time already upon us?"
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An Olympic Games For Enhanced Athletes?

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  • Prior Art (Score:4, Informative)

    by tomhath (637240) on Thursday July 19, 2012 @08:52AM (#40696867)
    Mad Magazine had this a long time ago. Pretty funny.
    • by alphatel (1450715) *
      Let the beefcakes and roid-ragers have their own games. Leave them to Wrestling fans who don't care about the cost of winning or beauty, only the content.
      The rest of us idiots can watch normal people play sports. We wont have to hear about who did or didn't fail their drug tests anymore.

      Keep those juiced-up losers away I am tired of hearing their names tossed around in the world of real sports.
      • Re:Prior Art (Score:4, Insightful)

        by mcgrew (92797) * on Thursday July 19, 2012 @09:40AM (#40697577) Homepage Journal

        The rest of us idiots can watch normal people play sports.

        Normal? You consider Shaquille O'Niel or Babe Ruth to be "normal"? I guess you'ld consider Einstein normal as well? Hell, I wouldn't even consider myself as "normal".

        Why is it OK for a baseball player with 20/20 vision to have LASIK surgery to improve his eyesight to above normal so he can hit more fast balls and make more home runs but not OK for him to take steroids to make his strength above normal to hit more home runs? I just don't see the difference.

        • There's that tawdry "level playing field" thing. Over the years, I've gone from not quite extreme far sightedness to vision that will pass the test at the DMV without glasses or contacts. Lucky, I guess. My brother needed surgery to correct his. Now he can see and above "normal".

          But he doesn't throw a ball with his eyes.

          I think you're setting the world up for Roid Ragers. Genetics, practice, combinations of motor control, physique, even yoga can make a difference. When you start adding in drugs, you won't g

          • by Dogtanian (588974) on Thursday July 19, 2012 @10:50AM (#40698641) Homepage

            When you start adding in drugs, you won't get any ceilings, no responsible use. Once people start bulking up, they often don't stop.

            Yes, here [youtube.com] is a very good example of someone who started out as a skinny teenager then let the "bulking up" get *way* out of control...

          • by Applekid (993327)

            There's that tawdry "level playing field" thing.

            . . .

            I think you're setting the world up for Roid Ragers. Genetics, practice, combinations of motor control, physique, even yoga can make a difference. When you start adding in drugs, you won't get any ceilings, no responsible use. Once people start bulking up, they often don't stop.

            The problem is that there never really was a level playing field. Without enhancing things chemically, genes dictate potential, effort dictates how much of that potential is realized, environment dictates how much effort can be invested, and luck determines if one gets discovered, not to mention not having a horrible accident happen to them that strips ability or potential.

            People seem to have these sort of "superiority guilt complexes" where they want to make things equal and level when, in reality, that's

        • by jd2112 (1535857)

          Why is it OK for a baseball player with 20/20 vision to have LASIK surgery to improve his eyesight to above normal so he can hit more fast balls and make more home runs but not OK for him to take steroids to make his strength above normal to hit more home runs? I just don't see the difference.

          Drugs are bad, mkay

      • Re:Prior Art (Score:4, Informative)

        by asdf7890 (1518587) on Thursday July 19, 2012 @10:15AM (#40698075)

        We wont have to hear about who did or didn't fail their drug tests anymore.

        It would not work like that. You would still have people trying to win the "enhancement restricted" events with enhancements because it might be easier for them that way than competing against or the other drugged/modded competitors in the "anything goes" variants.

    • Re:Prior Art (Score:5, Insightful)

      by openfrog (897716) on Thursday July 19, 2012 @09:14AM (#40697169)

      Mad Magazine had this a long time ago. Pretty funny.

      You will be modded funny, but I would mod you insightful.

      Beside prior art, you may also look at other capital and publicity intensive spectacle sports, like Formula 1. You would have a few well funded stables, Merck, GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer; and commentators would speculate non-stop whether which athlete is going to be recruited in which stable. Newspapers would delight in the gore of overdoses, deaths and bio-mechanical accidents of all kinds. Truly dystopian and I hope never to see pharmaceuticals get their way with such a monstrosity. It takes a mobster mentality to think of such a thing, even half seriously.

    • by MRe_nl (306212) on Thursday July 19, 2012 @09:46AM (#40697651)

      Olympic-games-for-enhanced-athletes aka "Tour de France".

    • Like "unlimited" racing - nobody will care (take on Stinger missiles in the 1/4 mile, anyone?)

      The auto racing that is popular is all rule bound, winning isn't about building the fastest car, it's about building and driving the fastest car within the rules.

  • I'd love to watch this! :3
  • by siddesu (698447) on Thursday July 19, 2012 @08:53AM (#40696877)
    The point of sport is exercising your body for the fun and health benefits. What is the point to kill yourself with drugs and supplements?
    • Well for starters baseball was a hell of a lot more interesting when they were jacked up enough to blast the ball out of the park...
      • by OzPeter (195038)

        Well for starters baseball was a hell of a lot more interesting when they were jacked up enough to blast the ball out of the park...

        So just build smaller parks and you'll get the same effect.

      • by alen (225700)

        just follow the Yankees, between A-Rod, swisher, cano, granderson and jetter you are guaranteed at least one HR a game

      • by grumpyman (849537)
        I agree that's fun but maybe they should consider shrinking the park to achieve that purpose.
    • by mikael_j (106439)

      While that may be true for most of us when it comes to the absolutely peak performers it's more about how far you can push the human body.

      And it would be interesting to see someone with the right genetics, training and "supplements" and what they could achieve.

      • Re:What for? (Score:5, Informative)

        by mikael_j (106439) on Thursday July 19, 2012 @09:05AM (#40697031)

        As an addendum, imagine the benefits if more effort was put into developing a safe and effective mystatin inhibitor/blocker.

        Not only would it be useful for professional athletes and those suffering from muscular dystrophy, if it was safe it could also be used by "regular people". It probably wouldn't be a "wonder drug" to make everyone fit, not by a long shot, but it would help the average guy who can't quite find time to work out as often as he wants put on more muscle mass, it could help someone who's overweight store more energy as muscle rather than fat.

        Obviously I'm speculating but there are definitely interesting applications once you look beyond "all changes to the human body that enhance performance are evil".

    • Re:What for? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by h4rr4r (612664) on Thursday July 19, 2012 @08:59AM (#40696947)

      No, the point of olympic/professional sports is making money via entertainment.

      Not all drugs that increase performance will kill or even harm the user. I take a drug daily(prescribed by a doctor) that measurably improves the quality of my life and the length of it. It also improves my performance in some physical tests.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward
        I'm not sure Viagra is supposed to be used daily.
      • by donaldm (919619)

        No, the point of olympic/professional sports is making money via entertainment.

        Definitely agree with you there.

        Not all drugs that increase performance will kill or even harm the user. I take a drug daily(prescribed by a doctor) that measurably improves the quality of my life and the length of it. It also improves my performance in some physical tests.

        When it comes to performance enhancement drugs for sports the possibility for misuse increases alarmingly and will in the medium to long term debilitate the user.

        As for taking prescribed drugs that is fine although if possible it is not a good idea to prolong taking those drugs unless those drugs are vital to the continued health and well being of the person taking them. As an example my wife has glaucoma and has to take two different types of eye drops a day for life and

        • by h4rr4r (612664)

          My drug taking is in a similar boat to your wife. To discontinue taking it would destroy the quality and likely quantity of my life.

    • by arisvega (1414195)

      What is the point to kill yourself with drugs and supplements?

      Legacy, baby.

    • by Nursie (632944)

      Really?

      Because I was getting the impression that the point of sports was to shift more Big Macs and pitchers of Coke, while a bunch of highly trained athletes were put to the test trying to best each other at slipping performance enhancers under the radar.

      • by siddesu (698447)
        Sport is when you go out and do it, not when you watch in from behind that bucket of potato chips or popcorn. Well, at least in my world.
        • by Chrisq (894406) on Thursday July 19, 2012 @09:09AM (#40697091)

          Sport is when you go out and do it, not when you watch in from behind that bucket of potato chips or popcorn. Well, at least in my world.

          You seem to have wandered into the foreign territory of slashdot, where exercise is climbing the stairs from mom's basement to raid the fridge.

        • What does that have to do with the Olympics?

        • by Nursie (632944)

          Well, then your definition of sports bears little to do with current competitive sporting events or the people that take part in them, which is kinda what TFA was about.

          I don't disagree, by the way :)

    • The point of sport is exercising your body for the fun and health benefits. What is the point to kill yourself with drugs and supplements?

      Even in magical fairy-land where nobody is shooting god-knows-what in the locker room, that statement is basically nonsense at the pro level. A bit of amateur physical activity of some flavor or another? Sure, you might get a scrape or something; but it'll stave off the cardiac larditis.

      High level athletics, though, tends to trash the players pretty badly in one or more ways depending on sport.

    • by Rogerborg (306625)
      1. That's loser talk, nerd.
      2. Many (not all) athletes don't really have any other career options.
      3. "I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered." ~George Best
    • by Arrepiadd (688829)

      The point of sport is exercising your body for the fun and health benefits.

      That is true at the level amateurs do it. At the professional level fun is long gone and the health benefits are not so clear. Just look at Michael Phelps... to train for the 2008 Olympics he was training 5 or 6 hours a day and eating over 10000 calories a day. Or look at the pictures of Chinese 5 year old kids preparing to be gymnasts in three Olympiads. Fun isn't that their faces convey.

    • by N1AK (864906)
      Apparently not; unless you really believe the point of everything is the point that you define.
    • by savuporo (658486)
      >>What is the point to kill yourself with drugs and supplements?
      Implants are there to kill people ? Really ? So i should not be allowed to compete in any markmanship sport because i had LASIK done years ago ?
      Point being, there are obvious performance-enhancing drugs and implants with a sole purpose of .. you know, improving performance, but then there are a lot of other modern medical treatments that have an impact on how you might perform in different sports.
    • by Hatta (162192)

      We're talking about the Olympics. These athletes take it way too seriously, and a lot of them wreck their bodies in the process. Fun and health benefits aren't why anyone goes to the Olympics. It's all about pride.

    • by couchslug (175151)

      "The point of sport is exercising your body for the fun and health benefits."

      That's what's called an "asserted conclusion".

      If we are to judge by the MONEY flow, the point of "sport" is to ENTERTAIN the audience and make a profit.

      I'd be fine with an "enhanced" category. As with automobile drag racing, don't run what you can't afford to blow up.

  • On a related note... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by wjh31 (1372867) on Thursday July 19, 2012 @08:56AM (#40696897) Homepage
    I've wondered what F1 would be like without all the restrictions. Modifying humans to this extreme is probably going to have unforeseen consequences in the long term. However with F1, if you were to take out the human element and have AI or remote control, you needn't worry about human safety and could lift all sorts of restrictions, allowing R+D budgets to be spent on whole new automotive areas.
    • by KiloByte (825081)

      Or, if we want it to stay an actual automobile, what about putting a dummy inside? If you get to the finish line with the dummy damaged, you're disqualified. Thus, we could have no risk to actual humans while still keeping the basic rules.

    • I think that's a horrible idea. The thrill in watching F1 is not just watching cars go fast. It's about watching real humans test their skills, stamina, and guts in very demanding situations. It's interesting because something is at stake: the lives and well-being of the drivers. Just watching robot cars go fast around a track would quickly bore me.
      • by miknix (1047580)

        Nothing prevents the unmanned cars to still be driven by humans. If aircraft can already be driven remotely, why cars wouldn't?

        • Nothing prevents the unmanned cars to still be driven by humans. If aircraft can already be driven remotely, why cars wouldn't?

          Professional race car drivers do not become professional race car drivers so they can sit at a console playing a video game.

    • Only geeks would watch robot/RC F1, this has been considered a long time ago. There's also the issue of money, make it too expensive and there will be less competitors, recently F1 has been working to effectively cap costs for this reason, and that's why you see the "low budget" (by F1 standards LOL) teams coming back now.

  • We can already make a "Robot's Olympics". Isn't auto racing just enhanced human racing?

    Some people would tune in to see the products that are being advertised. If the "Runalong 6000" leg prosthetic beats the "Leapfrog 200", I might be interested if I'm in the market for my own enhancement.
    • by mhajicek (1582795)
      If unlimited prosthesis are allowed, why not have a prosthetic foot that also happens to be an F1 car? If you don't draw a line somewhere it ceases being a game.
  • Maybe not an Olympics, but competition with lower drug standard - almost guaranteed at some point ... like WWE, bodybuilding or MMA all have a niche

    But just like Boxing still has a prestige in the world of MMA/UFC, the Olympics will always have a place. I see 2 scenarios:

    1. we are probably better placed in drug testing than at any time in the last 40 years so we continue to go down that path
    2. the drugs out-perform the testing and some events become farcical (eg 100m sprint is getting there!) whilst other e

  • When I was a kid back in the '80s, I made a fake newspaper with geoPublish, a desktop publishing program on the C64. It was about cyborgs demanding their own Olympics... I just re-read it and it's cringe inducingly awful, but I like to think I thought of this first!
    • by donaldm (919619)
      Try "I Robot" by Isaac Asimov (1950). Some Science fiction writings dating back to the nineteenth century also covered robots however I am not sure they demanded their own Olympics, although some writers had them trying to take over the earth.
      • With the sheer number of books Asimov wrote on that theme I'd be shocked if that specific topic didn't come up at some point.

      • by Dr. Hok (702268)

        Try "I Robot" by Isaac Asimov (1950). Some Science fiction writings dating back to the nineteenth century also covered robots however I am not sure they demanded their own Olympics, although some writers had them trying to take over the earth.

        Precisely on the topic of technical enhancements for humans in sports is the novel "Limbo" by Bernard Wolfe from 1952. Well worth a read. It starts with small enhancements for small advantages in sport competitions. In the end of the novel, as far as I can recall, it was highly fashionable (even for couch potatoes) to replace every limb, and those who preferred to keep their bodies unchanged were so old-skool. I remember that it was quite disturbing when I read it.

        I found the book in a drawer when they gave

      • by mhajicek (1582795)
        Battle Angel Alita, AKA "Gunnm" also covers this ground.
  • by Phrogz (43803) <!@phrogz.net> on Thursday July 19, 2012 @09:04AM (#40697023) Homepage

    And then we won't have athletes representing countries any more, but drug companies.

    "Well, GlaxoSmithKline are looking great, taking home four gold medals, two silvers and five bronzes so far. This is sure to push their stock price up substantially for the coming year."

    Did not RTFA.

    • Hey don't laugh that's basically how F1 works. That's probably exactly what would happen.

      • by Yvanhoe (564877)
        Unless we find a better "business model" because using the F1 model for drugs-enhanced Olympics would be unethical. Forbid any mention of any company during the event, for instance. Make it the way Pierre de Coubertin envisioned it : an international effort geared toward excellence, not toward profit or spectacle.
  • as well as more 'extreme' measures such as surgery and prosthesis.

    Id just bring a fucking motorbike to the race.

  • Freakshows with a lifespan of 30 years wouldn't be the best way to do that.

  • ... Just like major league baseball.
  • No. never. (Score:2, Insightful)

    The idea of athletic competition is to hone the mind and body to win. Yes, there are genetic aberrations, but this natural and normal.

    But when you make the competition about the tech, there is no human element in the drama. The human does not even matter. Only the tech does.

    Except for the fact that you are talking about horrible consequences for the human lab rat in the equation with any cutting edge biotech.

    So you have:

    1. no human drama. it's about the tech. race robots or cars or boats instead
    2. destroyed

    • by mark-t (151149)

      Not going to happen in a moral world.

      I might agree with this conclusion, but I'm compelled to ask whether or not we still really live in a moral world, since the popular conception in industrialized societies these days seems to be to view ideas like "good" and "bad" as culturally subjective, rather than absolutes that exist for all human beings.

      • in some societies, you sacrifice a goat for weddings, in others you break a wine glass

        but murder is wrong in all societies

        the point is: cultural relativity does not neutralize or surpass universal HUMAN values, cultural values are SECONDARY to universal human morality

        the next valid question is to ask which is cultural and which is universal, and there are gray areas here. but the existence of those gray areas still does not nullify universal morality. for example, find me a society where cannibalism is acce

        • by mark-t (151149)

          Some societies look upon things that we accept as normal as abominable though.... such as homosexuality. I'm not bringing this example up to argue that homosexuality is or even might be wrong, I'm suggesting that it seems to me that morality is always very much based on culture and upbringing, rather than on any sort of universal morality.

          As for the idea that there could be some sort of universal morality around ideas such as murder, that's not really valid either... since what one considers to be "mur

          • no there is only a universal morality. because we're all human beings. i don't cross the rio grand or the straights of bosporus and suddenly magic happens and changes the parameters of human interaction. this is a baseline: human morality. nothing logically invalidates it or transgresses against it

            homosexuality is universally ok. societies that consider it wrong are engaging in violating the human rights of the individual. why are you so spineless about this? make the logic and reason on the question of con

            • There's a lot of misunderstanding pertaining to the phrase 'cultural relativism' floating about. It's original intent was very specific and had nothing to do with 'moral relativism' either.

              A brief intro read on the subject, worth a glance as it leads to other interesting readings. You can indeed arrive at a 'universal' sense of morals through logical processes. However this does not mean that humanity will keel over and accept it. (Slightly off topic even the US has yet to ratify certain wartime treaties

              • as long as we are all human beings, only one universal morality applies. everything else is inertia

  • by mseeger (40923) on Thursday July 19, 2012 @09:12AM (#40697129)

    Olympia has long since ceased to be a sports event. This is entertainment delivered by modern day gladiators who sacrifice health and life in a quest for money and immoratility through fame.....

    • by gman003 (1693318)

      This is entertainment delivered by modern day gladiators who sacrifice health and life in a quest for money and immortality through fame.....

      I'm confused... how does that differ from every other "sport", again?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I can't wait for the one man three legged race.

  • by DiscountBorg(TM) (1262102) on Thursday July 19, 2012 @09:18AM (#40697247)

    As Bob Page says, "their... ethical inflexibility has allowed us to make progress in areas they refuse to consider." (a quote from the opening of Deus Ex that has stayed with me over the years). As a side note, the military has been using performance-enhancing drugs like dextroamphetamine for decades so in a way there is nothing new here. When it comes down to the crunch, humans will use any enhancement they can get their hands on. Competition driving technological development.

    When we have the technology, we've the desire to test it out, see what it can do, see what its effects are. From a purely practical standpoint this would be the driving reason -why-. Much like how in racing, it isn't just skill, it's also the engineering that is being tested.

    This may sound strangely immoral, and I agree the morals can be debated, but I don't think the answers will turn out to be as simple as 'doping is always wrong' (queue controversial studies about caffeine and athleticism) or alternately 'well the athletes are consenting' (when you factor in potential societal pressures, long term side effects and other things--for example fighting in hockey is always under debate, as it is an expectation from some of the fans, but is over time being documented as causing a lot of harm both physically and psychologically to the players, aka the hockey suicides over the past couple years).

  • So? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by HalfFlat (121672) on Thursday July 19, 2012 @09:19AM (#40697263)

    Top-level elite athletes are already genetic outliers who have also benefitted from good fortune in early training and nutrition and, typically, tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of targetted training.

    It's not just a matter of will power or clever training schedules. It matters not how strong be my willpower, or how dedicated my training: I will never be an olympic-class athlete.

    Bring on the drugs, and the treatments. It would make elite sport more equitable, and further, the medical risks taken by those with the burning desire to compete at any cost will allow the greater majority of people to benefit from enhancements with more safety.

  • If this idea is even slightly feasible, then the Olympics is not the starting grounds for it. Getting the countries of the world to agree on that? Non-prescription steroids are not even legal in a lot of countries. Let's try a small enhanced league in Amsterdam first.
  • We probably won't have to make the choice ourselves.

    Just maintain the status quo until JC Denton infiltrates the WADA HQ and, with superhuman precision, assassinates the entire Executive Committee and Foundation Board. At that point, we'll know that it's time to hand the Paralympic Games over to the unaugmented humans and leave the serious competition to the cyborgs....
  • Achilles's Choice [amazon.com] by Larry Niven (of RingWorld's fame).
  • Sportsmanship? Camaraderie? No, and no.

    The Olympics is about making money. If letting artificially enhanced athletes on the field will sell more coca-cola and big macs, it will eventually be allowed.
  • "A novel approach to enhancing athletic performance in an officially sanctioned, augmentation supported sporting event"

  • Wait, isn't that what the Special Olympics are for? I know a lot of those athletes are enhanced with an extra chromosome, and others are bionic.
  • by El Puerco Loco (31491) on Thursday July 19, 2012 @10:51AM (#40698667)

    The 2012 Tour de France

  • by ChronoFish (948067) on Thursday July 19, 2012 @10:58AM (#40698785) Journal
    I like the Stock vs Open analogy. NASCAR, Indy, Formula1, NHRA have it right.

    There are rules for different classes of racers (athletes). Stock is very strictly controlled where as Open allows for major modification.

    The "professional" sports are really "professional athletic entertainment". Conversely the Olympics are the best "amateurs" - at least until the 1990s when they opened the sports up to the "Dream Team" professionals.

    The Olympics can pretend all day long that they are serious about drug enhanced performance, but if they want to prove it then get ride of the professionals. Take away the money and you're left with those fighting for the podium, which there will continue to be cheaters, but at least you're getting rid of those who are making a living off of cheating.

    These pros have their venues - and those who want to compete in a clean environment should have the Olympics.

    -CF
  • by DaneM (810927) on Thursday July 19, 2012 @11:00AM (#40698811)

    It's already the case that one has to train roughly 7 days a week, 10+ hours per day for about 10 or more years to even be able to ENTER the Olympics, never mind winning a gold medal. The suggestion that a person might one day have to have surgery, drug injections, and so on just to compete in an international games festival is sickening to me. Yes, some Olympic athletes already do this--probably because they're short-sighted, excessively "driven," and/or stupid. That still doesn't make it "right."

    I realize that it's technologically interesting (and hence /. news), but I REALLY hope this never truly comes to pass. Sports just aren't worth such abuse to a person's body (or the gajillions of dollars spent on the Olympics, for that matter...but that's another topic). I have trouble justifying such human abuses as the Games already cause to young athletes (resulting in such things as sterility in women, irregular bone growth, joint problems later in life, etc.). Why on Earth would we want to add to that?

    I guess this is where we'll see how obsessed with technology and sports the world really is...

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