The first week of the Beijing Olympics is drawing to a close. The main highlight has been the awesome power of Michael Phelps. You could argue that it’s easier to win multiple medals in swimming than in track and field sports, but Phelps is a phenomenon, who combines remarkable mental toughness with impressive swimming ability. He can just do it again and again and again: a very rare quality.
Phelps would probably still win all his gold medals without the help of the new Lazer swimsuit, which contains a NASA designed fabric. The ‘sharksuit’, as it is known, reduces drag by imitating the surface of a shark, and has helped swimmers secure personal best times in Beijing. It is a great invention, but does it reopen the debate about artificial technological aids? Why are these external technological aids acceptable and even celebrated, when a whole panoply of internal aids are proscribed by being labelled ‘drugs’, and hang as a constant threat over the athletes and the Olympic Games themselves?
Drugs in sport is a thorny and controversial issue, but one that merits more debate. Two decades on from the Ben Johnson scandal and the drugging of East German athletes, the moral high ground is wearing thin for the anti-doping campaigners. Whilst the British Olympic Association won the court case against Dwain Chambers to prevent him from competing in Beijing, to many people the whole sorry affair looked like a witch hunt against a man who had already served his time.
The low point of the first week for me was the loss of nerve of the British archers. Every time they had the chance of a medal they faltered. It is a good thing that the Normans are not planning an invasion anytime soon.
Read on: part four