US Olympic Team Doc: Challenges and Advice for Athletes

Carol Peckham; Gloria M. Beim, MD


February 03, 2014

In This Article

Health Concerns, Performance-Enhancing Drugs

Medscape: Do you have any health-related concerns about what takes place outside of the Games or that may be unique to this venue?

Dr. Beim: In 2013, I visited the coastal village and several venues and hospitals. The actual Games are still theoretical, but I have no reason to believe that there would be any significant health concerns. The organizing committee was doing a fantastic job building great housing and food services for the athletes.

Medscape: What about performance-enhancing drugs? Are you involved in checking for these?

Dr. Beim: Yes. Athletes can be tested anytime, anywhere. This is how it works: At the Olympic Games, athletes have to submit to the doping control agency -- usually by email -- a form that they fill out on where they are going to be training every day, where they live, and whether they are going to go somewhere else for a while. These are called "whereabouts." Athletes have to document where they are during the period of the Games, and the anti-doping agency can show up anywhere -- at the training facility, up at the village, at their housing, at the hotel. An athlete can be tested anywhere, anytime. Doping control is not going to do a drug test only on athletes who win gold medals.

I am involved, along with the medical director of the US Olympic Committee, to make sure in advance that any medications that athletes are taking are allowed and are not prohibited (ie, on the doping list). Right now we are reviewing all of the athlete history forms and are almost done. If an athlete is taking a banned substance for medical reasons, we have to make sure that they have the proper documentation, which is a therapeutic-use exemption that is filled out and must be approved by WADA.

So, for instance, if athletes are on insulin, they have to have proper documentation in advance, stating that they are diabetic and need insulin. Then they can use it.

We are also involved when an athlete does get called for a doping test, and pretty much all of them will at some point. Then, either a team doctor or I will accompany the athlete to the doping control area and make sure that all of the paperwork is filled out properly and that all of the tests are done properly.

At this level, most of these athletes have been to World Championships or World Cup events, so this is now a normal procedure. Unfortunately, the clean athletes have to go through this process to make sure the cheaters don't get through.

Medscape: And we keep seeing new drugs that are even harder to identify.

Dr. Beim: Yes. When I was in Athens back in 2004, Scientific American had a really great article on gene doping.[2] Have you heard of gene doping? Gene therapy has been tested on patients with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. It was theorized that some doctors may be using it for athletes, which would be absolutely undetectable. The Scientific American article predicted back then that Athens could be one of the last honest Games, because if gene doping becomes the mainstay, who will be able to tell? Whether it is happening now, I don't know, but that would be a tough one. I know that Team USA is 100% committed to clean sport, as am I.


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