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Saturday, July 28, 2012


There's no way that Michael Phelps could swim a 400 IM at Trials four weeks ago in 4:07.8 while not even fully peaked, and then, fully tapered, go a 4:09.2 in London unless something was organically wrong with him.

I vaguely remember reading recently that Phelps had his blood drawn by three different anti-doping agencies in one week. If each of them drew one decent-sized test tube's worth, that adds up to real reverse blood doping.

There are a lot of people who would pooh-pooh something like that. But in fact, for a finely tuned athlete who sleeps in a hyperbaric chamber in order to marginally increase his red blood cell count, and who works out in hopes of taking a gaining a slight edge in conditioning, the number of red blood corpuscles in your body does make a difference.

The different governing bodies in sport all supposedly conduct their tests randomly. But if all three happened to descend on Phelps in a short time frame right before the Olympics, that's just plain bad luck. And maybe bad coordination.

If that was in fact the case, expect to hear something about it from Bob Bowman, Phelps's histrionic coach, in the near future.

Of course, there's always an alternative explanation: maybe Phelps just isn't a big meet swimmer.

(By the way, we've seen an awful lot of Debbie Phelps over the past two Olympiads; I wish they had shown her face after the 400 IM.)

Speaking of finely tuned athletes, it seemed a big injustice that defending champion Taewhan Park was disqualified for no good reason during the heats of the 400 free this morning. He was reinstated after a review of the videotapes, but that process took several hours.

Meanwhile, Park was in shock. Even though he got to swim his event that evening, who knows how much he was affected by this. Did he warm down after the heats properly? Did he eat at the right time after his event? Did he digest his food as well as he would have had he felt more relaxed? Was he able to rest calmly and recuperate in the eight hours between heats and finals, or was he too distraught?

He ended up winning silver, which doesn't sound too bad. But he had been expected to engage in a close duel with China's Sun Yang, and when Yang began his last 100 sprint, Park had no answer. Would it have been different had he not gone through this turmoil?

We'll never know.

But we can make a pretty good guess.

In both of these cases -- with Phelps and Park -- it seems the officials played a role in the outcome.


Brian Fradet said...

John--couple items come to mind about the reverse doping thing. One is that, I would think that, all things being equal (which they should) the same thing was also done (taking blood) from his competitors. And secondly, I have learned that there is a principle of athletes who "peak" at just the right time, i.e., when it counts--the world series, the grand slam, the olympics, etc, and if they do so too early, that would mean that they will be on a slight decline when it matteres most. And to complicate things further, each individual has a somewhat different need for workout and rest. So my guess is that in Phelps case it most likely was a combination of the slight blood loss (unless it was done with the others) and that he pushed too hard too early on then was on a natural decline. Thanks for the opine. Brian

John Craig said...

Brian --
Not sure if you're talking about the natural decline from his peak in '04/'08 or from Trials a month ago, but I can assure you, a month ago it looked as if he was ready to do some great times in London given that he wasn't fully rested for Olympic Trials.

We'll know if it was the blood loss when we see his sprints, i.e., his relay leg in the 4 x 100 free relay tonight and his 100 fly. Those wouldn't be affected as much by the number of red blood corpuscles in his body.

Brian Fradet said...

John--I'm sure we're not talking about the same thing--nothing to do with 08. According to what I learned about this phenomena, i.e., "peaking", an athlete who is in his or her prime a month ago, or even days ago, does not mean that that same person will still be that good later. So my guess is that he peaked too early and now he's slightly burnt out when he should be peaking now. I see it all the time in tennis, where fitness is half or more of the sport--and peaking at the wrong time means losing. I would think swimming, since it's primarily an endurance sport, it would be even more important. But, I'm very willing to be wrong. Thanks, Brian PS--thanks for changing the blog so I don't have to type in those letters:)

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Anonymous said...

John, another event in which a technical issue may have played a role is the women's 100 br. I'm sure you saw that the starter's signal went before the "take your marks" instruction had been given. Breeja Larson went in but was of course not DQ'd. At the restart after the technical equipment had been replaced, the start signal was given very quickly after the "take your marks" instruction, and it seemed to me that Soni was not yet set. In any event Soni had a terrible start. One wonders whether the race outcome might have been different if there had been a clean start first time.

John Craig said...

G --
I watched that race but didn't even notice that. You're observant. Sounds like you're probably right, given that she lost the gold by less than a tenth of a second.