I'm not much of a sports fan, but the story below suggests once again that it's time to take the money totally out of sports (beyond salaries for jobs done). The "winner take all" nature of the game creates a gigantic incentive to use performance-enhancing drugs to get into the high-paid majors (which pay much (much) more than the minors and amateur sports) or to stay there (cf. Barry Bonds).
If things continue to go the way they are going, big-league professional sports will either involve cyborgs, druggies, and/or transplantees -- or it will involve a draconian and intrusive system to prevent any kind of significant enhancement (making an extremely arbitrary decision about what's "significant").
So, even though (as an inveterate couch potato) I can't be the pied piper in this movement, I think sports fans should shun major-league sports and flock to (truly) amateur sports, or as a compromise, minor-league sports. The Olympics would be a good place to start: fans should insist that it go back to amateur athletics, perhaps with some allowance for athletes receiving a standardized salary.
My friend Ian responded that "Athletes have been cyborgs since shoes and helmets were invented and the pharmacology of performance enhancement is thousands of years old."
True, but that doesn't change the point: we have to end the winner-take-all nature of sports. (Look what winner-take-all competition does to politics! but that's another question.)
The New York Times / February 12, 2008
Finding May Solve Riddle of Fatigue in Muscles
By GINA (Piña) KOLATA
One of the great unanswered questions in physiology is why muscles get tired. The experience is universal, common to creatures that have muscles, but the answer has been elusive until now.
Scientists at Columbia say they have not only come up with an answer, but have also devised, for mice, an experimental drug that can revive the animals and let them keep running long after they would normally flop down in exhaustion.
For decades, muscle fatigue had been largely ignored or misunderstood. Leading physiology textbooks did not even try to offer a mechanism, said Dr. Andrew Marks, principal investigator of the new study. A popular theory, that muscles become tired because they release lactic acid, was discredited not long ago.
In a report published Monday in an early online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Dr. Marks says the problem is calcium flow inside muscle cells. Ordinarily, ebbs and flows of calcium in cells control muscle contractions. But when muscles grow tired, the investigators report, tiny channels in them start leaking calcium, and that weakens contractions. At the same time, the leaked calcium stimulates an enzyme that eats into muscle fibers, contributing to the muscle exhaustion.
Then, collaborating with David Nieman, an exercise scientist at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C., the investigators asked whether the human skeletal muscles grew tired for the same reason, calcium leaks.
Highly trained bicyclists rode stationary bikes at intense levels of exertion for three hours a day three days in a row. For comparison, other cyclists sat in the room but did not exercise.
Dr. Nieman removed snips of thigh muscle from all the athletes after the third day and sent them to Columbia, where Dr. Marks's group analyzed them without knowing which samples were from the exercisers and which were not.The results, Dr. Marks said, were clear. The calcium channels in the exercisers leaked. A few days later, the channels had repaired themselves. The athletes were back to normal.
Of course, even though Dr. Marks wants to develop the drug to help people with congestive heart failure, hoping to alleviate their fatigue and improve their heart functions, athletes might also be tempted to use it if it eventually goes to the market.
So the day may come when there is an antifatigue drug.
That idea, "is sort of amazing," said Dr. Steven Liggett, a heart-failure researcher at the University of Maryland. Yet, Dr. Liggett said, for athletes "we have to ask whether it would be prudent to be circumventing this mechanism."
"Maybe this is a protective mechanism," he said. "Maybe fatigue is saying that you are getting ready to go into a danger zone. So it is cutting you off. If you could will yourself to run as fast and as long as you could, some people would run until they keeled over and died."
Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company