Does music give Phelps an unfair advantage?
To Kevin, et al.:
Subject: You probably won’t believe this
I’m going to present our guest post today without comment, and Kevin, if you feel like opining, feel free.
Dr. Alexei Koudinov is the editor of the Israel-based Doping Journal Web site. When he sees Michael Phelps race, he sees a cheater. I asked him to explain why and he shared the essay you'll find below. He titled it, "Doping by the pool invalidates Phelps Beijing 2008 Olympic swimming gold, world records."
Did you notice that Michael Phelps wears earphones and is listening music just before his every Olympic start, at Beijing’s Olympiad Water Cube pool deck, be it finals or semifinals? I first noticed that before his first gold swim on August 10: Phelps removed earphones 2 minutes before the start, and he was the only swimmer who worn earphones at the pool deck. Intriguing scientific evidence testifies: Listening to music improves blood oxygen capacity and is a performance enhancement.
There could be several mechanisms, says Stefan Koelsch of Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, in Leipzig, Germany, who has published 40 articles on the subject of how the body reacts to music. Dr. Koelsch says that "music can have influences on the breathing rate (e.g. via emotional effects such an increased arousal) which will alter oxygen levels in the blood, or relaxing effects (so that fewer muscles consume oxygen, which also increases oxygen levels)." He says that his group "has reported clear changes in breathing rate on a conference last year, with breathing rate being higher during pleasant music." In line with Koelsch conclusion are the data of the research article by Luciano Bernardi group of the University of Pavia, Italy, implying that the withdrawal of music shortly before the swim race induces relaxing effects noted by Koelsch.
Evidence comes from the research done with human infants. It showed that music causes better saturation of hemoglobin with oxygen (a so-called SPO(2) parameter, compared with control subjects receiving no music, indicating an "enhancement of oxygen transfer") and that increased by music, oxygen saturation returns to the baseline faster compared with control, making it hard to detect the transient oxygen saturation shortly thereafter. While Koelsch preferred his own explanation on how music can improve body oxygen capacity, Dr. Alexander Cherniak, a researcher at the Chuchalin Pulmonology Institute of Moscow, Russia agrees that medical experimentation with infants allows good standardization of the research protocol, appropriate statistics and could be projected onto the adults.
So what? Can one call listening to music shortly before entering the swimming pool for competition a performance enhancement? Yes, say both Koelsch and Cherniak. If so, how long could this enhancement last? "Duration [of the effect is] not certain, from seconds to minutes," adds Koelsch. Beijing Olympic and world records by Phelps fall into the expert’s projected time frame. Yes, testifies Dr. Vance Bergeron, of Ecole Normale Superieure de Lyon, Laboratoire de Physique in Lyon, France: "[M]usic next to the swimming pool, less than 2 minutes before the start could indicate performance enhancement because of transient increase of blood oxygen capacity."
Bergeron adds that such a performance enhancement is "a bio-chemical feedback mechanism from an external source. The external source in the present case, music, is available to everyone, not harmful to the athlete or his peers, and carried out under full disclosure, hence I do not see how this conflicts with fair play and honesty," but says that "I am not an expert on the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)."
Well, one doesn’t have to be an expert on WADA policies, as the scientific evidence provided herein enforces all to take WADA code as is. The Prohibited List 2008 of The World Anti-Doping Code reads:
Article M1. ENHANCEMENT OF OXYGEN TRANSFER
The following are prohibited:
2. Artificially enhancing the uptake, transport or delivery of oxygen…
Straightforward ruling results in a straightforward conclusion: Listening to music through earphones before the start is in line with other measures prohibited. Therefore, Phelps’ Beijing swimming golds is faked and should go to others who battle for it fairly.
Doping Journal is an independent free online publication on every aspect of doping science and antidoping policies. The journal serves an unbiased research and development of the science on doping, fair and science based transparent anti-doping laws, transparency of policies and the translation of the research into routine lab practice. Special objective is to protect athletes from the misconduct by WADA, IOC, CAS and Sports Federations. The journal aims to become a leader and worldwide forum on doping science and practices by all interested parties, scientists, medical professionals, athletes and lawyers. Alexei Koudinov and The Doping Journal have no competing financial interests.
(Photo: Associated Press)