5 Factors That Affect Olympic Performance

The Illegal Edge of Doping

We'd never endorse doping, but leaving it off this list would be remiss. It's a serious offense that violates the World Anti-Doping Code, but it does occur. Nearly all major sports organizations and a large number of nations accept the code as standard [source: WADA].

Athletes were first tested for doping at the 1968 Mexico City games, and the system has evolved since then. Nowadays the International Testing Standard, as determined by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), dictates the process run like this: Blood or urine samples are collected at times that optimize the detection of doping. Athletes don't get advanced notice. If they refuse to provide a sample, in almost all situations, it's considered a violation of the code. If they fail to be available for a sample, in certain cases they can be allowed three such failures in an 18-month period before they are deemed to be in violation. Evading a test or tampering with a sample also results in violation as does, of course, being proven to have been doping. Athletes are required to remain with the doping control officer (or chaperone) at all times until a sample is provided.

Some athletes are subject to random testing, others are targeted. An athlete might be targeted for several reasons, like an atypical physique, behavioral oddities or unexpected withdrawal from a competition.

The prohibited substance list is divided into three sections: items that are always prohibited, only during competition or only in particular sports. The list reads like a chemistry book, but some of the generalized examples of universally prohibited items are anabolic androgenic steroids, growth hormones, aromatase inhibitors and masking agents such as diuretics.

Many of the same are repeated on the prohibited in-competition list with a few notable additions. Stimulants such as cocaine, methamphetamine, adrenaline, ephedrine and strychnine show up, as well as narcotics such as morphine, oxycodone, methadone and cannabinoids.

All in all, the code is very long and complex. So if athletes are looking for a chemical way to improve their performance without breaking any rules, they'd better practice their legalese as well as their sport.

Author's Note: 5 Factors That Affect Olympic Performance

This article was cool to write because it looked into so many facets of what it takes to succeed as an Olympian. I was also fascinated delving into the International Standard for Testing. You hear about this athlete or that athlete testing positive, but the coverage rarely gives details on how the process works. The document runs for 92 pages and is incredibly definitive, specifying aspects such as what constitutes a violation, how the selection process should proceed, how the testing process should proceed and how the appeals process should unfold. I was also a little amazed that any athletes attempt to dope. It's understandable to want to do anything that will give you an edge, but with this system in place, if you get caught, all your glory comes crashing down.

Related Articles


  • "Athletes." The Olympic Museum. (June 11, 2012) http://assets.olympic.org/virtualexhibitions/expo-science-en.html
  • Berliner, Uri. "Downhill Skiers Are Fast ... But How Fast." NPR. Feb. 11, 2006. (June 19, 2012) http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5202057
  • "Champion in the Mind." The Olympic Museum. (June 11, 2012) http://assets.olympic.org/virtualexhibitions/expo-champions-en.html
  • Gray, Henry. "Anatomy of the Human Body." 1918. (June 11, 2012) http://www.bartleby.com/107/1.html
  • Hadhazy, Adam. "What makes Michael Phelps so good?" Scientific American. Aug. 18, 2008. (June 19, 2012) http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=what-makes-michael-phelps-so-good
  • Kong, Pui and de Heer, Hendrik. "Anthropometric, gait and strength characteristics of Kenyan distance runners." University of Texas. 2008. (June 11, 2012) http://www.jssm.org/vol7/n4/12/v7n4-12pdf.pdf
  • London 2012. (May 4, 2012) http://www.london2012.com/
  • McGinn, Dave. "Do you have the body type to run a marathon?" The Globe and Mail. July 10, 2011. (June 19, 2012) http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health-and-fitness/fitness/do-you-have-the-body-type-to-run-a-marathon/article586440/
  • Nande, Prakata et al. "Anthropometric Profile of Female and Male Players Engaged in Different Sports Disciplines." The Internet Journal of Nutrition and Wellness. 2009. (June 11, 2012) http://www.ispub.com/journal/the-internet-journal-of-nutrition-and-wellness/volume-8-number-1/anthropometric-profile-of-female-and-male-players-engaged-in-different-sports-disciplines.html
  • NBC Olympics Coverage. (May 4, 2012) http://www.nbcolympics.com/
  • Nudri, Wan et al. "Anthropometric measurements and body composition of selected national athletes." Division of Human Nutrition, Institute for Medical Research. 1996. (June 11, 2012) http://myais.fsktm.um.edu.my/2562/1/sep96_article3_wan_nudri.pdf
  • Official Site of the Olympics Movement. (May 4, 2012) http://www.olympic.org/
  • "Olympics 2012." Families Online. April 23, 2012. (May 4, 2012) http://www.familiesonline.co.uk/LOCATIONS/Chiltern/Articles2/Olympics-20122/Olympics-2012#.T6gzLejOypc
  • Sochi 2014. (May 4, 2012) http://sochi2014.com/en/
  • "Swimming." Department of Kinesiology and Health at Georgia State University. March 25, 1999. (June 19, 2012) http://www2.gsu.edu/~wwwfit/swimming.html
  • Wong, Kristina. "Full Body Swimsuit Now Banned for Professional Swimmers." ABC News. Jan. 4, 2010. (June 19, 2012) http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/full-body-swimsuit-now-banned-professional-swimmers/story?id=9437780#.T-KAPBfOx8M
  • World Anti-Doping Agency. "International Standard for Testing." January 2012. (June 19, 2012) http://www.wada-ama.org/Documents/World_Anti-Doping_Program/WADP-IS-Testing/2012/WADA_IST_2012_EN.pdf
  • World Anti-Doping Agency. "Prohibited List." 2012. (June 19, 2012) http://www.wada-ama.org/en/World-Anti-Doping-Program/Sports-and-Anti-Doping-Organizations/International-Standards/Prohibited-List/


How the Olympic Opening Ceremonies Work

How the Olympic Opening Ceremonies Work

The Olympic opening ceremony is an emotional and inspiring parade of athletes. Learn about the Olympic opening ceremonies at HowStuffWorks.

More to Explore