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Source: Organiser - Weekly      Date: 4/29/2012 8:01:50 PM

The fraud, thrill and  science of doping 

Dr R Balashankar

$img_titleRun, Swim, Throw, Cheat: The science behind drugs in sport, Chris Cooper, Oxford University Press, Pp 305(HB), £16.99  

Doping is a serious menace in the world of sports. But it is also a complicated issue. And according to Chris Cooper, a biochemist and author of Run, Swim, Throw, Cheat the war against doping in sports cannot be ‘won’ just as the drug abuse in the society cannot be. He has given enough logic and explanations for this statement of his. Says Cooper “The science, especially of genetics, has expanded quicker than the ‘drug cheats’ have been able to keep up. The number of performance enhancing drugs that have ever been used to date is a tiny fraction of the total possible compounds that we can conceive of producing. We know that there is a lot we don’t know.”

Approaching the issue of doping from a strictly scientific angle, Cooper discusses the smallest developments in the pharmaceuticals sector, the study of the genes, the body functioning, the muscle structure and more. And along the way bursts several myths. For instance, in ‘The Energy Of Life’ he says “It is important to realise there is nothing magically ‘high energy’ about the molecular structure of ATP. A myth has grown up, pedalled in many sports science, physiology and even (to their shame) some bio-chemistry textbooks that ATP is a ‘high energy’ molecule.”       

The popular kids TV serial Popeye has the lead man popping mouthful of spinach at the nick of the moment, when he is down, to bound back. Well, there could be some truth in it says Cooper. Significant amount of lettuce, spinach or beetroot in the diet lower blood pressure and improve performance levels. This is because of the presence of nitrate in these vegetables. Unlike Popeye, who swallows the spinach, these need to be chewed. “I have been working on nitric oxide and oxygen metabolism for almost twenty years and this is one of the most surprising results I have seen. Not so much in the overall effect, as the gas is known to interfere with oxygen metabolism in cell and animal studies, but that it can be so easily manipulated by a simple dietary change one hour before performance.”

Cooper’s chapter on Stimulants is highly absorbing and knowledgeable. He says almost everyone uses a stimulant in daily life. But “When it comes to stimulants many drugs are banned for athletic use primarily  on the basis that they are illegal recreational drugs rather than that they are genuinely considered to be performance-enhancing.” Caffeine, which is not a banned stimulant is discussed at length along with several others. The author goes into the working of the stimulant in the body.

Why is doping bad? Mainly for three reasons -- doping harms athletes, it is unfair to the athlete’s competitors and doping undermines sport in society. Cooper points out that the scientists cannot work with top level athletes on drugs because they are not ready to submit to the experiment. And there is lack of money for working in the area. With the result that anti-doping is only a constant chase to catch the latest cheat. In a country like India,the sports persons are completely at the hands of the coaches, who not very well-informed with the latest developments on doping, give drugs, even anti-cold tablets that can show the athletes positive for doping.   

It now appears that we are headed towards manipulating genes, at the stage of foetus to get better performance in the sport field. What a tragedy. There are no simple solutions to doping issue, says Cooper, but improvements can be made to enhance fairness. “The testing regime can be based on more scientific principles. I worry that sports has become involved in the morality of drug use by banning, testing for, recreational drugs.”

Chris Cooper, a distinguished biochemist for 20 years is a professor in the Centre for Sports and Exercise Science at the University of Essex. His writing reveals him to be highly motivated and committed to the issue of doping, an issue that has more ramifications than just sports. The book does get a little heavy with all that science. But it is worth the labour as it introduces the reader into a new and comprehensive perspective on doping.

(Oxford University Press, Great Clarendon Street, Oxford OX2 6DP)

Everyman’s Bhagavad Gita: In a gist

Dr R Balashankar

$img_titleThe Bhagavad Gita for you, Bibek Debroy, Har-Anand Publications Pvt Ltd, Pp 119 (PB), Rs 195

there are several versions of Ramayana and Mahabharata and the Puranas. But of the Bhagavadgita there is only one version. Gita and the Gitagovinda (Ashtapati) by Jayadeva are the only two works which have not been tampered with. Bhagavadgita has been re-interpreted, explained and re-explained, explored, churned, studied and espoused. Each seeker finds his own path of knowledge in the Gita. From Adi Shankara to Sri Aurobindo to Tilak to Gandhi, they all have turned to Gita in their spiritual quest.

Bibek Debroy, an economist has been engaged with Mahabharata and Gita for some time now. He is translating the epic, unabridged and has already translated the complete text of Gita.

This edition The Bhagavad Gita for you is a gist translation, not a word by word one. “This book is meant to give you a gist of the Bhagavad Gita and motivate you to read one of the translations. Actually, that’s not quite true. It is meant to motivate you to read the Bhagavad Gita in the Sanskrit” says Debroy.

The number eighteen plays again and again in Mahabharata. There are eighteen armies in the war (11 of Kauravas and seven of Pandavas). Each army (akshouni) consists of 21,870 chariots, 21,870 elephants, 65,610 horses and 109,350 foot-soldiers. The sums of these digits add upto eighteen. There are eighteen chapters in the Gita. There are eighteen parv in the book. These are all interesting observations of Debroy in the Introduction and the Preface to the book. He recommends nineteen translations which are his favourties.

Debroy’s translation is lucid, straight, without frills and each chapter has a short introduction that gives the essence of the content. The Introduction and the Preface dwell into details of the fundamental areas of discussion in the Gita. The relationship between the atman and paramatman, the objective and goal of life, the impediments on the path of achieving it. The six vices, “kama (desire), krodha (anger), lobha (avarice), moha (delusion), mada (vanity) and matsatya (envy) stand in the way of that self-realisation. In greater or lesser degree, all of us suffer from these and find it difficult to transcend these. In the English language, the word “I” is capitalised. It might help if we begin to think of “I” without the capital, with the ego suppressed.”

Debroy’s handy Gita is indeed an appetiser and interests one to seek more from the sacred text.

(Har-Anand Publications Pvt Ltd, E-49/3, Okhla Industrial Area, Phase-II, New Delhi)


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