Always someone pushing the envelope, or the needle as it were. The WaPo publishers a piece on the gene doping conference held in Washington.
Gather a roomful of anti-doping experts, administrators, academics and athletes alike _ something a conservative think tank did Thursday _ and there is no consensus as to whether gene doping, thought by some to be the next frontier in Olympic cheating, is at hand.
Indeed, there isn't even consensus on whether it would be a bad thing.
Turns out there is a school of thought _ "pro-doping," it's called _ that suggests anything athletes do to improve performance is OK, even, for example, manipulating DNA or surgically enlarging the webbing between fingers and toes in order to swim faster.
So says Andy Miah, who teaches at the University of the West of Scotland and was among about 10 panelists who participated in Thursday's conference on "The Coming Age of the Uber-Athlete: What's So Bad about Gene Enhancement and Doping?" at the American Enterprise Institute.
According to Miah, academics are taking CERA EPO to be able to rush faster into the Dope Now camp.
Gene doping, which is banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency, is a spin-off of gene therapy, which typically alters a person's DNA to fight diseases.
Miah advocates "celebrating the value of performance enhancement," he said.
"I don't think a public health crisis would arise from enhancement technologies," he added.
Miah said there is a growing group of professors around the world _ "Four years ago, there were half as many people as now," he noted _ who back his "World Pro-Doping Agency" thought experiment. One of his premises is that sports wrongly are thought of as a separate entity, different from other pursuits or professions _ music, art, medicine _ where no one objects to, essentially, doing whatever one can to be the best one can be.
"We are more willing to embrace these enhancements, with the caveat that we need them to be safe enough," he said. "We don't all want to kill ourselves by using these things, but we are interested in exploring the realm of human embodiment that is beyond our current capabilities _ and that might be cognitive, it might be physical. And I think that's where sport isn't quite at yet."
Is Miah qualified to discuss health complications? No, of course not. And the rush for the Dope Now organization...probably doubled form 2 to 4.
Ignore the rules. Ignore sportsmanship. Ignore the very real threat to morbidity and mortality. Ignore the science. Ignore the fact that gene doping has never been researched in an appropriate test group...or any group. Ignore the costs. Let's just be cool and hip. To Edwin Moses:
Other speakers Thursday included Olympic champion hurdler Edwin Moses and U.S. Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart, who believe gene doping should be banned, worry what it could do to athletes _ and agree someone is likely to try eventually.
"How do you feel if it's your son or your daughter who wants to be an Olympian? Would you let your kid or your grandchild take what they have to take? Or do what they have to do?" Moses asked.
On the other hand, he acknowledged there are those who will.
"If you have experts saying it's realistic to turn on pieces of your metabolism and it becomes feasible for the athletes to do something without killing themselves and it's not tremendously expensive, someone is going to try it," said Moses, who won gold medals in 1976 and 1984 in the 400-meter hurdles. "There will be someone who can convince an athlete they can get away with it."
An American swimming coach lays it all out:
John Leonard, executive director of the American Swimming Coaches Association, told of conversations he has had with coaches and scientists in China.
"We are really naive if we are to believe that the Chinese at this point are clean or that they are the only country in the world that is experimenting with genetic enhancement as we speak," said Leonard, who was not a panelist but attended the conference and spoke during question-and-answer periods.
"There are lots of countries in the world who couldn't care less about doing it safely, and there are lots of athletes who will take the chance that they will die in order to win medals. ... Will the United States have the same viewpoint when we start losing gold medals?"
Of course athletes will cheat to win. How about those side-effects? Enter Theodore Friedman, an actual scientist:
Theodore Friedmann, a professor at the University of California, San Diego, researches human gene therapy and spoke about the risks.
"People are injured. People die," he said. "It should be reserved for treatment of people with serious diseases."
He said he doesn't know whether there are athletes attempting gene doping.
"Nobody knows," he said, before adding: "It wouldn't surprise me."
About one thing Friedmann left no doubt, however: Unlike Miah, he thinks the practice has no place in sports.
"The anti-doping world accepts the notion that rules matter and, in fact, it reflects the wish of most athletes," Friedmann said. "The world of pro-doping is the contrary of all that."