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Blood Doping in Sports - Athletes Cheating

On the last day of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, three cross-country skiers were booted out of the Games for blood doping. Two of the skiers lost their medals, the other was disqualified from the games. Blood doping by athletes is cheating - just like using steroids or bribing a judge.

How Does Blood Doping Work?

Blood doping is a method of increasing the number of red blood cells in the body which in turn carry more oxygen to the muscles. It is most often used by athletes who compete in high endurance races like cycling or cross-country skiing. In the past, a liter of blood would be removed from an athlete's system and then frozen and stored for several weeks. A day or two before a big race, the stored blood would be re-injected into the athlete's system - creating extra red blood cells. These extra red blood cells would carry more oxgen to the muscles - giving the athlete an advantage over the other racers who don't use blood doping.

Athletes don't re-inject blood very much anymore. Instead, cheating athletes will inject genetically engineered drugs which cause the body to create extra red blood cells. The most common type of blood doping chemical used is called EPO - which is used to treat patients who have kidney disease. The one supposedly used by those scamming skiers in Salt Lake City is called darbepoetin, which is also used to treat kidney disease.

What's So Bad About Blood Doping?

Blood doping is cheating and has several unhealthy side effects. Injecting blood doping chemicals can cause kidney damage, jaundice (the skin, eyes and body fluids turn yellow) and blood clots. Re-injecting blood from an athlete's own body can cause blood infections and heart problems.

How Are Blood Dopers Busted?

Athletes who use blood doping to increase their performance will have a higher red blood cell density. This can be detected by testing the athlete's levels of hemoglobin (protein which causes blood to be the red color we see.) EPO and other blood doping drugs can be detected in an athlete's system by urine tests. It's believed there are some blood doping drugs out there that drug testers don't know about which some athletes are using.

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What Should Be Done With Cheaters?

  • Suspend them from competing for one year.
  • Suspend them for life.
  • Make them race naked the next time.
  • Nothing - winning is the only thing that matters.

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