Testosterone Tales and Cycling Stories

Testosterone Tales and Cycling Stories
by Anthony Roberts

The typically misguided anti-doping crowd has produced two new gems. The first comes to us from The Associated Press, who reports that the International Cycling Union has instituted a ban on needles for their riders. Yes, this means no intravenous fluids, no vitamin injections, nothing that requires a needle. Ostensibly this is to prevent athletes claiming that they thought they were given a vitamin injection (*or whatever) that turned out to be anabolic steroids. If recent memory serves me, BALCO earned great success with two compounds called “The Cream” and “The Clear” – one of which was a transdermal (that you rub on your skin) and the other was a sublingual (which you hold under your tongue). No needles, no problem:

The International Cycling Union, the sport’s governing body, has toughened its antidoping rules. The new “no needle” policy, effective immediately, prohibits injections of recovery-boosting vitamins, sugars, enzymes and amino acids; says that injections must be justified by medical science; and says that most legitimate uses of needles must be reported within 24 hours.

Riders can be suspended up to six months and fined $116,000 for a first offense. Teams face exclusion from races if an illegal injection is given.

And the next story comes to us from a group of misguided researchers in The Netherlands, who unbelievably propose that we might determine the gender of athletes in sports competitions from their levels of circulating testosterone (instead of, for example, whether they have a USB port or a memory stick down there).

Br J Sports Med. 2011 May 3. [Epub ahead of print]
Sex and gender issues in competitive sports: investigation of a historical case leads to a new viewpoint.
Ballantyne KN, Kayser M, Grootegoed JA.

Department of Forensic Molecular Biology, Erasmus MC – University Medical Center Rotterdam, Rotterdam, The Netherlands.


Based on DNA analysis of a historical case, the authors describe how a female athlete can be unknowingly confronted with the consequences of a disorder of sex development resulting in hyperandrogenism emerging early in her sports career. In such a situation, it is harmful and confusing to question sex and gender. Exposure to either a low or high level of endogenous testosterone from puberty is a decisive factor with respect to sexual dimorphism of physical performance. Yet, measurement of testosterone is not the means by which questions of an athlete’s eligibility to compete with either women or men are resolved. The authors discuss that it might be justifiable to use the circulating testosterone level as an endocrinological parameter, to try to arrive at an objective criterion in evaluating what separates women and men in sports competitions, which could prevent the initiation of complicated, lengthy and damaging sex and gender verification procedures.

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