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Sunday, May 7, 2017

How steroids mold the body

Two nights ago ran an article about Brazilian Nicholas Santos, who at 37 swam the second fastest 50 meter butterfly in history (and the fastest without a tech suit).

The article featured this photograph of Santos:

Does it not seem almost embarrassingly apparent that Santos is juicing? Here's another picture of him from a few years ago:

His body has all the usual steroid signatures: the line between the pecs is well-defined all the way up to his collarbones; his deltoids taper down to a well-defined point on the sides of his arms; he has convex trapezius muscles; he has a medical muscle chart level of definition; and he has veins popping out in places you wouldn't expect, like the outside of his right forearm in the top picture.

I'm sure he's passed all the drug tests he's been given, like many notorious juicers in sport. But the dopers are always a step ahead with new designer forms of artificial hormones for which tests haven't been devised yet.

Swimming seems to be a relatively clean sport. I think most of its biggest recent stars -- Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte, Katie Ledecky, and Sarah Sjostrom -- are all obviously clean. But swimmers who look juiced aren't all that rare. And it's particularly suspicious when the athlete in question doesn't have any other markers for high testosterone levels.

When you see someone like French rugby player Sebastien Chabal, who was obviously hyperandrogenized as he was growing up --

-- big muscles are supposed to be part of the equation. They fit with the Neanderthal brow, the prominent nose, the wide cheekbones and the big bone structure, all of which express a naturally high testosterone level:

And Chabal, though he was listed as being 6' 3" and 249 pounds, doesn't even look overly muscular.

It's far more suspicious when someone who is basically boyish-looking -- meaning, their facial features and bone structure don't reflect their having had a high level of testosterone while growing up -- has abnormal musculature. An example of that would be Adam Peaty, the British Olympic champion and world record holder in the 100 meter breaststroke:

His huge arms simply don't "match" his boyish face and tiny waist. Here's another picture of Peaty:

Note the way his deltoid tapers down to a well-defined point, and the line between his pectorals extending all the way up to his collarbones.

Another example would be Ben Proud, who a couple weeks ago tied the second fastest ever 50 meter freestyle in textile:

Proud has the face of a guy who got picked on in junior high, and the body of a cartoon superhero.

I'm not saying Peaty and Proud are unquestionably doping -- though the visual evidence is pretty telling. (I think most British swimmers are clean, a statement I wouldn't make about the Brazilians or Chinese.) And, I obviously don't have proof that any of the three swimmers shown above are taking PEDs.

But bear in mind that it's awfully hard to develop such chiseled, bulging muscles while swimming six or so miles per day. Daily hard swimming workouts tend to wear one down and result in long, relatively slender, loose muscle, not the kind of muscle which would look at home on a body-building stage. Contrast the swimmers pictured above with the following examples of world class swimmers with more typical swimmers' builds.

Jack Conger, the American record holder in the 200 yard butterfly:

Will Licon, the American record holder in the 200 yard breaststroke:

Clark Smith, the American record holder in the 500 and 1650 yard freestyles:

Ippei Watanabe, the world record holder in the 200 meter breaststroke:

Aaron Piersol, who still holds the world record in the 200 meter backstroke:

It's virtually impossible to swim the distances required to be a world class competitor and be left with a sharply defined, bulging, body builder-like physique.

One must always allow for the fact that human beings come in an infinite variety of shapes and sizes. But when you see certain patterns, it's hard not to be suspicious. Especially since steroids leave their mark on a body as indelibly as gluttony, or a taste for tattoos.


hooter tooter said...

Seems to me that you're probably correct re the juicers. I don't know much about swimming, but I looked up some swimmers that do weight training, and they don't appear all that chiseled, more on the lean, healthy and functional looking side.

This is what I was looking at:

John Craig said...

Hooter tooter --
That's a good description of what the combination of swimming and weight training does to swimmers. By the way, of the "normal" swimmers I used for contrast, three of them -- Conger, Licon, and Smith -- swim for the University of Texas, which is known for its tough dry land program. (You may have read the first version of this post, before I inserted the pictures of these swimmers for contrast.)

I've followed swimming all my life (I'm one of those pathetic old guys who never outgrew his sport, as I said in a recent post), and at this point, it seems fairly easy to tell what he juicers are. Of course I can't prove it, but the visual evidence is usually pretty persuasive.

Anonymous said...

John, I agree. That level of muscular development is difficult for any body type to achieve; especially for an elite swimmer's genetics and training requirements.
My question to you: Since these guys are so obviously on steroids, are they sociopaths or at least pathological liars to be able to present themselves as legit?
Would their social environment and authority figures reinforcement serve to reduce the level of psychological disorder required to shamelessly pull it off?

John Craig said...

Anon --
I don't think steroids are necessarily indicative of sociopathy. It's one of those things where there's a positive correlation, but that correlation is far from perfect. Sociopaths are more likely to take steroids and lie about it, but I'm sure there've been plenty of non-sociopaths who've taken them. I certainly understand the desire to take them: I'd love to look like that, and be faster (and I'm an old man who only competes in the far-less-serious sport of masters swimming).

I guess you're asking, would all the positive reinforcement they get from their coaches and fans make it easier to lie about it? Hmm....I suppose it could. Not sure it would reduce the "psychological disorder" -- those tend not to change with circumstance -- but the social gratification would certainly give one more motivation.

Anonymous said...

I guess the question would be how much does environment moderate or accentuate sociopathic or other negative tendencies.
How does such blatant lying and fraud in sports affect other areas of the athlete's life.
The few semi pro or pro athletes I've know were notorious philanderers.

John Craig said...

Anon --
I guess the same sot of personality who cheats at sports is more likely to cheat at love. I don't think the cheating in either area causes the cheating in the other area, the person was probably predisposed toward both. Actually, on second thought, I take that back. Let me put it this way: being philanderer doesn't then cause one to cheat at sports. But taking steroids is supposed to make one incredibly horny, with an out of control sex drive, and while under that sway I think a person is far more likely to have multiple girlfriends. I actually think that's what happened with Tiger Woods: he went on steroids, got sex-crazed, and chased all those bimbos simultaneously. I wrote about that phenomenon here:

Anonymous said...

couldn't you find a sports performance, or "optimal performance" medical doctor to write a prescription for steroids and hgh if you really wanted to, john? i say, for the sake of blog material, you try to find a legitimate way to use performance drugs and then see how strong and fast you get. i'm sure all of your readers would be eager to read about the results.

Theres at least one journalist who did just this thing:


Anonymous said...

Here's a better article by the journo who too steroids


John Craig said...

B (Brian F?) --
Interesting articles, thank you, just read them both. I"m sure I could find steroids if I wanted to, either through a doctor or at any gym where serious muscle heads work out. But I'm not interested. "Blog material" just wouldn't be a good enough excuse to cheat at my sport, plus there are all the long term side effects. I'm not saying I'd never go the testosterone replacement therapy route, but I don't really feel as if I need it yet.

I do see some guys in masters swimming who make me wonder, though. I don't think that most of them are taking TRT or Hgh to cheat athletically, they're just taking it for the usual mix of reasons old guys do -- to feel better, increased diminished sex drives, for more energy, and to look better. But a definite side effect is that they do better athletically. And it bugs me.