I remember reading during the Olympics last year, specifically the swimming, the unpleasant squawking match between Ye Shiwen of China and her entourage and Ryan Lochte of the US and his hangers on. Basically, Ye set a new world record at swimming with a faster time on the final lap than Lochte's world record men's performance. Apparently this is evidence that she was on performance enhancing drugs and should be immediately piss-tested, banned, and chased out the pool by the Russian ice hockey team. Her lot hit back by accusing Lochte of being doped and it was he who should be sent to the sporting equivalent of Devil's Island at once. It was all very petty and very unpleasant.

But then I read further and noted that she was picked out to be hothoused in swimming when, as a child, she was noted to have unusually large hands and feet. Similarly, Ian Thorpe was notable for his size 17 feet (that's EU size 57, which makes my UK 11.5 / EU 46 plates o' meat look positively stumpy) and set world records in his prime. Ryan Lochte himself naturally has shoulder blades that stick out in such a way that they are more hydrodynamic. Moving onto other sports, Bradley Wiggins, the gold medal cyclist and Tour de France winner, reportedly has an unnaturally large heart, which means it can push more blood around his body with each beat than a normal person's heart could, irregardless of how highly trained they were, and thus he has the stamina to breeze past the peloton on all the stupidly long hill climbs.

Which made me think that to be an Olympian, you have to be a freak of nature. You can train every hour extant and practice until you're blue in the face, but you will never be a Wiggins or a Lochte or a Thorpe because you just don't have the genetics or body for it.

Then I started digging further. Apparently archers, shooters, and golfers have unnecessary laser surgery on their eyes to give them beyond perfect natural vision and thus the ability to aim better. In boxing and mixed martial arts, people have had unnecessary skin grafts onto their faces, using scar tissue from corpses (!) which apparently is less susceptible to bleed and get in their eyes and result in fights being stopped early, or silicon cushioning under the occipital lobe to absorb G-forces from blows to the head and thus improve their "chin."

But this runs into a bit of a problem. While training, corrective action and corrective medication in sports are generally accepted as part of it, drugs are not. Shooting oneself up with steroids is considered cheating, as is (as Lance Armstrong well knows) having an aide follow you round with hyperoxygenated bloodbags in a fridge which you then shoot yourself up with. Yet training on top of mountains (which due to thinner air gets your heart working more) or spending time in low-pressure environments before an event to achieve the same effect is not. Similarly, there's been some grumbling about people who take their corrective action too far somehow.

Which then got me to thinking. Come the 22nd century, and assuming enhancements in surgery and similar, will the Olympics be dominated by surgically enhanced ubermenschen? If this is to be banned, how would we detect these things anyhow? Take the laser eye surgery by way of example. How will someone be detected at that? By a reading the words on the card eye test? If so, how do we know that they're not deliberately messing up the bottom lines to deflect suspicion? How would we detect that a distance runner hasn't had an artificial aorta that's twice the bore of her competitors and contains an array of screw pumps to aid circulation? Short of cutting the poor woman open, this would not necessarily show up on an X-ray. Suppose surgery to pack artificial muscle fibres into the biceps and triceps and quadriceps of an Olympic weightlifter becomes feasible. These won't be easily detected either.

Even then, where does one draw the line? Granted, grafting webbing into one's fingers for a swimmer might be not exactly cricket, but elite swimmers (and cyclists) shave themselves all over before meets to be more hydrodynamic (insert obligatory Duncan Goodhew joke here) so what about all-over "micro-sanding" the surface of the skin to make it more hydrodynamic, like the now-banned Speedo LZR Racer full-body swimsuits were made of. After all, every millisecond counts.

And that's before we get onto genetic modification. Who's to say a pushy parent won't genetically modify their offspring to have greater muscle density, circulatory performance, and/or webbed fingers and feet, which can then be covered up by claiming that it's just some sort of freak of nature, and that they should be allowed into the 100m freestyle without further ado?

Or maybe I've been reading too much bad science fiction again. I don't know.

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