She’s the Dope!

By DeusExMacintosh

thedope

Tests have revealed Caster Semenya’s testosterone level to be three times higher than those normally expected in a female sample, BBC Sport understands.

Analysis prior to the World Athletics Championships and the 18-year-old’s big improvement prompted calls for a gender test from the sport’s governing body.

It was made public only hours before the South African, who has been backed by her nation, won the 800m in Berlin.

A high level of the hormone does not always equate to a failed drugs test. But the news will only increase speculation surrounding Semenya, who arrived back in South Africa to a rapturous welcome on Tuesday.

BBC News

43 Comments

  1. Posted August 26, 2009 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    As a feminist I think it is way past time we got beyond essentialist notions about men and women and made all sporting events, including the Olympics, unisex.

  2. Posted August 26, 2009 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    Hear hear Mel on the unisex bit…. it’s all too hard with all the grey areas, created both by nature. And it cuts down all the administrative grief.

    But I can’t see too many guys attempting that high beam girls to the splits on! But if they want to…

    Besides, we should be able to have mixed teams playing for the Ashes, blokes in the Opals (or whatever they are called now).

    (I’m seeing visions of post-sexist post-speciesist Olympics: emus doing the hurdles, dolphins competing in the swimming… If we allow citizenship to dolphins in our territorial waters, is there any olympic rule STOPPING them competing in the freestyle? Ditto monkeys on the parallel bars)

  3. Posted August 26, 2009 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    Exactly.

  4. Jacques Chester
    Posted August 26, 2009 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

    Dave;

    It’s very much sport dependent. But to the extent that muscular development is important, men have a hormonal edge: much, much more testosterone. Those few women who have statistically outlying endogenous testosterone are, as this story shows, basically believed to be drug cheats.

    I’m not sure how mixing sexes would resolve that suspicion.

  5. Posted August 26, 2009 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

    Um, to paraphrase Aerosmith the Lady looks like a dude.

  6. Posted August 26, 2009 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

    [email protected]: (speaks on stereotypical gender differences)

    Let’s face it, elite sportspersons, regardless of gender and a “stereotypical” gender advantage in a particular sport, are so far from the normal person in performance that it doesn’t matter.

    What next, an olympic high jump competition segregated by height, those under or over a particular breakpoint? That’s pretty close to what we are talking about.

    I doubt Jacques or I, or ANY male reader of this blog, even at our fittest and strongest, could lift anywhere near the mass lifted by a mediocre female weightlifter, let alone an olympian.

    What with XO (Turner’s), XXY (Klinefelters), androgen insensitivity (XY male but no androgen receptors, so look uber female regardless of how much testosterone you pump in – the only real oddity of appearance is the lack of adult public/axillary hair), other natural intersex conditions, hormonal idiosyncrasies, and those undergoing transgender treatment, it’s a nightmare to develop a consistent and equitable set of rules that would weigh less than a year of Hansard.

    (It’s not JUST the hormone levels, as androgen insensitivity shows, it’s the response of the receptor that matters just as much).

    If there IS no segregation, then there is no need for rules, and no possibility of discrimination actions.

    And consider whether any of the following are offensive: “World female chess champion/Wold male chess champion”, Gender-specific cutoffs for VCE general excellence in “male” or “female” subjects like maths or english lit…. or gender specific versions of the Fields Medal.

    And maybe if anthropoid apes were given Indonesian citizenship and competed in the gymnastics there wouldn’t be so many orang-utans slaughtered..

  7. skepticlawyer
    Posted August 26, 2009 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

    And if we wanted to go uber-libertarian, make the performance-enhancing drugs legal. Policing it isn’t exactly getting us anywhere.

    Here’s the argument in favour made by Julian Savulescu, Oxford’s Uehiro Professor of Ethics.

  8. Posted August 26, 2009 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] : Yeah, if you are allowed performance-enhancing equipment OUTSIDE the body (fancy swimsuits, luges, cricket bats, whatever), then why not inside?

    But I’d ban ALL performance-enhancements, both internal and external, so make the modern olympics naked like the originals. It’d do wonders for the advertising revenue.

  9. John Greenfield
    Posted August 26, 2009 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

    I have long been an advocate of banning drug testing of elite sportspersons. Let them all go the rat, it would make for much better entertainment.

    Of course, all elite sporting events should have an appropriately trained professional to point their thumbs up or down should some hairy 6,2″ competitor cark it in the female persons Triple Jump or some such.

  10. Posted August 26, 2009 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

    Hmm, it’d certainly even up the women’s and men’s times in swimming. Less drag. 😉

  11. Posted August 26, 2009 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

    Similar arguments would relate to beauty pageants. Makeup/surgery=performance enhancement. And why not let transgender, XY-androgen-insensitives compete in them?

    Actually, the XY (or XX) androgen insensitives would probably WIN the female pulchritude competition. When doing med, shown the pictures of naked androgen-insensitives, and told “these are XY males without surgery or hormone treatment” our jaws dropped so hard they nearly shattered on the floor.

  12. Posted August 26, 2009 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

    But any woman who goes down the drug enhancement path should be aware of the health problems which may result from overuse of performance enhancing drugs. Is it worth it for a gold medal? (I don’t think so).

    And so should any man. They tend to finish up with shrivelled, non-functioning sexual equipment and early-onset prostrate cancer. Arguably, however, that’s a function of illegality and lack of regulatory oversight.

  13. Jayavel
    Posted August 26, 2009 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

    Mrs.Shanti from Indian contingent for last ASIAD has been painted with same brush. She is living up with constant stigma and now her problems are invisible to the media too

  14. Jacques Chester
    Posted August 27, 2009 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    I doubt Jacques or I, or ANY male reader of this blog, even at our fittest and strongest, could lift anywhere near the mass lifted by a mediocre female weightlifter, let alone an olympian.

    As it happens, I have become an amateur weightlifter recently. Nowhere near Olympic level, obviously.

    No matter how you slice it, men dominate the women in weightlifting.

    The heaviest total (Clean & Jerk + Snatch) for a woman is 326kg in the 75+kg class (Jang Mi-Ran). The equivalent male record turns up in the 62kg class (Zhang Jie).

    The highest female total of 326kg is blown away by the record male total of 472kg (Hossein Razazadeh).

    Don’t get me wrong. At the Olympic level those women have me, a beefy 6’3 bloke, licked. But were I to reach Olympic levels, I would handily beat them. The qualifying total for an Olympian male is higher than the world record total for a female.

  15. Jacques Chester
    Posted August 27, 2009 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    The only trouble with legalising all performance-enhancing drugs is that you’d have to give consideration to controlling the amounts for health reasons. Then you’re back to trying to prevent athletes from taking more than the allowed amount.

    So it’s either-all, really: either you let them use any amount of drug (and get pro-bodybuilder health problems) or you regulate it, in which case you’re back where you started.

    And in any case, drugs even out. It comes back to genetics. Those who can tolerate higher drug use will do better.

    Eventually, when everyone’s genome is mapped, the Olympics will be decided years in advance. Countries will compare their databases and work out who would have had the best sprinter, the best swimmer, the best weightlifter etc.

  16. Posted August 27, 2009 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    “The only trouble with legalising all performance-enhancing drugs is that you’d have to give consideration to controlling the amounts for health reasons. Then you’re back to trying to prevent athletes from taking more than the allowed amount.”

    Caveat emptor.

    As it stands the Olympics bores me shitless. It would entertain me much more if it was a performance enhanced freak show.

  17. AJ
    Posted August 27, 2009 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    Sports people start young these days. In high school, I had a friend who went pretty far in swimming. By 13 he was obviously far better than all the local competition. By 14-15 he had a coach, was in heavy training and was going to clinics. Despite all that, he didn’t even make it to the olympic level.

    My guess is, the pressure to take performance enhancing drugs would start long before most athletes became (supposedly rational) adults, especially in sports where success leads to big money. I know I wouldn’t want my long term health affected by decisions I made when I was 15 (or the decisions made by a crazy sports obsessed parent).

    However, I think it would be nice if we could just get rid of some of the obnoxious moralism surrounding non-performance enhancing drugs and sport.

  18. Jacques Chester
    Posted August 27, 2009 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

    AJ, if you need drugs to be competitive at a lower level, they won’t help you be a world-beater. You’re too far behind genetically.

  19. Posted August 27, 2009 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    But I’d ban ALL performance-enhancements, both internal and external, so make the modern olympics naked like the originals. It’d do wonders for the advertising revenue.

    I wonder if everything flapping in the breeze would make the events more aesthtically appealing. 🙂

    Running events, think about it.

    But any woman who goes down the drug enhancement path should be aware of the health problems which may result from overuse of performance enhancing drugs. Is it worth it for a gold medal?

    I can’t remember where I read it, years ago. But there was a survey of atheletes asked if they’d takle a performance enhancer that was undetectable, ensured a massive boost and shortened your life span by 50%. Most said yes.

  20. Posted August 27, 2009 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

    There’s a related bit of arbitrary line crossing… sprinters and below-the-knee amputees. The weird-looking springy prostheses they have for such runners these days are more efficient at storing and releasing energy than a normal human ankle/foot. So we might even expect FASTER times for the 400m disabled foot-race than the able-bodied.

    So…. should prostheses in sport be constrained to not allow better than “normal” performance?

    And what of that olympic skier a while back? Got the silver medal taken off him because he tested positive for cannabis… which is supposedly a performance /decreasing/ drug.

  21. Posted August 27, 2009 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

    It’s very much sport dependent. But to the extent that muscular development is important, men have a hormonal edge: much, much more testosterone. Those few women who have statistically outlying endogenous testosterone are, as this story shows, basically believed to be drug cheats.

    Which is because they might be. Not in the classical sense of shooting up steroids in immediate preparation for an event, but by being deliberately doped during puberty so that their permanent androgen levels end up settling at a much higher level than they otherwise would have. ‘Naturally’ higher levels then can be used to camouflage event-specific doping for the rest of their career.

    Caster Semenya is not under suspicion for looking like a bloke, she’s under suspicion for adding 8 seconds to her personal best performance out of bloody nowhere in the Juniors.

  22. jc
    Posted August 27, 2009 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

    Analysis prior to the World Athletics Championships and the 18-year-old’s big improvement prompted calls for a gender test from the sport’s governing body.

    Am I being a science denialist by suggesting that the easy, or rather difficult way to determine the sex of the person is to see if s/he has a functional penis or vagina?

    Is it no longer this straight forward?

  23. Jacques Chester
    Posted August 27, 2009 at 11:05 pm | Permalink

    jc, it’s not. There are a number of genetic conditions which muddy the waters. Dave mentioned some at #6.

  24. Jacques Chester
    Posted August 27, 2009 at 11:05 pm | Permalink

    Plus, a semi related link.

  25. jc
    Posted August 27, 2009 at 11:53 pm | Permalink

    Jacques:

    I still don’t see from Dave’s comments why the simple test wouldn’t solve the issue.

  26. Jacques Chester
    Posted August 28, 2009 at 12:00 am | Permalink

    Because genitalia are not a reliable indicator of sex due to these conditions. Because, in fact, there are lots of boundary cases where the distinctions of sex break down.

  27. jc
    Posted August 28, 2009 at 12:24 am | Permalink

    What are the qualifying rules in the Olympics that would prevent say a woman from competing in women athletics if it were shown that she was not a drug user?

  28. DeusExMacintosh
    Posted August 28, 2009 at 1:01 am | Permalink

    I still don’t see from Dave’s comments why the simple test wouldn’t solve the issue.

    Olympic authorities seem to be exploring the possibility of banning those with an unfair advantage (natural statistical outliers) as much as those actively cheating.

    If it is correct that Semenya has three times the level of testosterone as would be expected in a typical female (keeping in mind that there are medical conditions such as poly-cystic ovary syndrome that can produce this) then these chromosomal “gender” tests will help determine whether there is a natural explanation or doping is more likely.

    In the end it might not actually make a difference. You would end up disqualified for having an unfair advantage, whether it was naturally or artificially obtained. In this case we’ll simply see the matter legally pursued (the same way convicted dopers have prosecuted their way past life bans back into competition) for the rest of the girl’s career in athletics which will do little good for either her or her sport.

  29. jc
    Posted August 28, 2009 at 1:34 am | Permalink

    Really Deux? So we’re now pushing for equality in sport? How interesting. I guess sooner or later we’ll also be banning people that have longer legs as we want to be seen promoting equality of opportunity.

    Perhaps the outliers could always compete in the special Olympics.

  30. Posted August 28, 2009 at 2:27 am | Permalink

    Hence my argument for deregulation. I will now put my diploma in sports science hat on, and really freak y’all out.

    1. Legalize performance enhancing drugs across the genders and the male advantage vanishes in all except the most extreme strength sports (eg, weightlifting).

    2. Women pull ahead in any sport requiring added endurance or buoyancy (runs over 5 k; swims over 400m; IM over 200m).

    3. Men gain the added hip flexibility that prevents most of them from performing a ‘true box’ (straddle splits) in gymnastics.

    4. The lads do not, however, ever gain the ability to do the uneven bars (they’d actively have to lop something off for that).

    In short, a very interesting world (or a freakshow, as Mel suggests). Take your pick.

  31. DeusExMacintosh
    Posted August 28, 2009 at 2:45 am | Permalink

    Longer legs are not a component of gender, jc. And please don’t make assumptions about my personal opinion of this or any other matter until I give it.

    Someone at Hoydens suggested a delineated system with people ranked or handicapped into classes based on physiology (shape/weight/height etc) rather than gender but you then have something akin to current disability sport [in particular, swimming] which I find a) tedious to watch and b) unsatisfying as a competitor because you end up racing a clock rather than a person.

  32. Posted August 28, 2009 at 6:25 am | Permalink

    [email protected] said “ranked into classes based on physiology”

    Yeah, but again an administrative nightmare each time a new bit of science comes along.

    [email protected] said “bouyancy (…swims)”

    Didn’t the Chinese “dope” some swimmers using an air enema a while back. (And I wonder if helium which might be more effective would also make your farts sound like Mickey Mouse).

  33. DeusExMacintosh
    Posted August 28, 2009 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

    So we’re now pushing for equality in sport?

    No jc, we’re pushing for fair competition in sport. That famous Australian “level playing field”.

    In the last few years there’s been a huge debate in swimming over the modern bodysuits. FINA’s rules forbid the use of “any device that may aid (a swimmer’s) speed, buoyancy or endurance during a competition.” but first the Speedo Fastskin bodysuits and now the polyurethane LZR and it’s mimics came along.

    Swimming authorities decided the Fastskin didn’t provide an unfair level of advantage and passed it for competition. I don’t think anyone would try to argue that they gave no advantage at all though, and it was certainly considered important enough that Speedo had to make suits available for ALL Olympic competitors, not just those from countries rich enough to afford personalized suits for the whole team.

    It took several months and cascading records at the world championships this year (165 world records) for authorities to decide that polyurethane technology was clearly providing an unfair advantage – particularly in buoyancy – and then change the rules so that that swimsuits will have to be made from textiles in the future. There’s a good opinion piece on BBC sport by an olympic and commonwealth swimmer about the issue.

    Re: the air enema Dave mentioned @35. Could argue that would also give additional propulsion.

  34. jc
    Posted August 28, 2009 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

    Deux:

    I wasn’t making any assumption on your opinion. In fact I still have no idea what your opinion is and all I thought you were doing is answering some of the queries I posted to which I posted my responses as what appears to be the lay of the ground..

    Having said that you say that longer legs are not a component of gender which I think is your opinion. Is it not? Then how would that comply with the Olympic committee’s no fair advantage rule you say they’re contemplating?

  35. DeusExMacintosh
    Posted August 28, 2009 at 10:40 pm | Permalink

    Sorry, jc. I thought you were being snarky. My bad. (In my defence, it’s Festival season here in Edinburgh and I haven’t had an unbroken night’s sleep for almost a month now.)

    Fairness of competition is part of the olympic ideal. It can never be a rule only an aspiration, mainly because it is too complex to define. Achieving fairness is however the goal on which sports authorities continue to base their rules and their interpretation of those rules.

    With the few exceptions of events with weight classes, the only current limits placed on participation are age, technology (swimsuits, artificial feet, doping) and gender.

    Even lack of ability isn’t always a barrier.

    As the differing swim suit treatments show, variations in relative advantage (like leg length) is not the problem – it’s when the advantage provided is so overwhelming that people who don’t have it are effectively unable to compete with those that do that the rules may need adjustment.

    The IOC have accepted chromosomes as the basis for gender identification for many years and used it mainly to prevent male competitors masquerading as female ones. Prior to that sort of screening being available the gender default would have presumably been decided by genitals. Whether or not that definition should now be extended to include an athlete’s endocrine profile seems to be the direction the Semenya case is taking discussion.

    Doping for performance enhancement during training/competition is illegal but what about doping in puberty to produce a subsequent biological modification (a ‘naturally’ higher testosterone level in track athletes, seven feet tall basketball players or even restricted growth for gymnasts)?

    Can it be defined? Can it be detected? Can it be enforced? Should it?

  36. jc
    Posted August 29, 2009 at 12:26 am | Permalink

    No probs.

    I’m sorry you misunderstand my comment. perhaps I should have been clearer.

  37. conrad
    Posted August 29, 2009 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    Jacques: “The only trouble with legalising all performance-enhancing drugs is that you’d have to give consideration to controlling the amounts for health reasons”
    .
    SL: “Hence my argument for deregulation..”
    .
    DEM:”Can it be defined? Can it be detected? Can it be enforced? Should it?”
    .
    It seems to me one of the big reasons against supporting doping has nothing to do with whether it is good, bad or indifferent in terms of how it affects performance or even whether it is bad for the athlete’s health (there are many drugs which you can take which arn’t but are banned — including over the counter drugs).
    ,
    Rather, competitive sports are generally money making enterprises and need sponsorship. Most of the general public has the attitude that they don’t want doping (no doubt often for reasons that they haven’t really thought about). As long that is the case, doping is going to bad, since very few companies are going to want to sponsor athletes/teams that dope, and no clean team is going to want to compete against a dirty one (the only exception I can think of is body-building, where I believe you have a separate clean and dirty league in some countries). That’s why cycling has been so proactive about getting rid of doping though it has caused short term problems — it’s because it’s basically a marginal sport, it costs a lot to run, they need every sponsor they can get, and even if an athlete that is not sponsored gets caught, it still detracts from getting new sponsors into the sport as a whole (and keeping old ones).

  38. Caz
    Posted August 29, 2009 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

    “In the end it might not actually make a difference. You would end up disqualified for having an unfair advantage, whether it was naturally or artificially obtained. In this case we’ll simply see the matter legally pursued (the same way convicted dopers have prosecuted their way past life bans back into competition) for the rest of the girl’s career in athletics which will do little good for either her or her sport.”

    Firstly, I think they’ve already said that if her gender is determined to be female, she keeps the medals, period. Ipso facto, she won them as a women.

    There is no such thing as “normal” testosterone levels in women, any more than there is for men. Women have almost no testosterone by middle age, which is “normal”, yet entirely treatable so that one, err, can feel “normal” again.

    Where is the science that shows both correlation and causation between athletic performance and winning and levels of testosterone?

    Would this same “unfair advantage” apply if a man had naturally high testosterone?

    Many very successful men in many professions no doubt have higher than “normal” testosterone: are they unfairly advantaged, should they accept a penalty at the start of their careers?

    The thing is, and always has been, we are not born equal in capabilities, and even if we were, no size of equal playing field would ever result in equal outcomes.

    So, when shall we start handicapping those fast black folk when a white person is in the race?

    And what about handicapping white swimmers? When was the last time your saw an Olympic swim race with a fulsome line up of dusky colored participants?

    For now, I take it as a given that this lass is, in fact, a lass, and her testosterone levels change nothing. If she had blue eyes, would everyone insist that she must be Swedish, nor African.

    All highly insulting.

    As has been noted, a lot: this girl has been competing for years, and no one questioned her gender, ever, not until she won gold.

  39. DeusExMacintosh
    Posted August 29, 2009 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

    Yes, she’ll keep the medals if the gender test is female but she wont if they decide the high level of testosterone is obtained by doping.

    Where is the science that shows both correlation and causation between athletic performance and winning and levels of testosterone?

    I guess all those weightlifters, cyclists, baseballers and runners are on anabolic steroids for the placebo effect then, huh?

    The thing is, and always has been, we are not born equal in capabilities, and even if we were, no size of equal playing field would ever result in equal outcomes.

    LEVEL playing field = equality of OPPORTUNITY (not outcome). Think of it like the staggered starts you see in athletics races from 200m upwards. Why doesn’t everyone start from the same line like in the 100m sprints? Because those in the outer lanes would actually end up having to run further than those in the inner lanes. The result of the race would be determined by the lane allocation rather than the ability of the runners. Staggering the start simply gives everyone the same opportunity to win, it has nothing to do with trying to make them finish at the same time.

    no one questioned her gender, ever, not until she won gold.

    Until she improved her personal best time by a whopping eight seconds out of nowhere, you mean. The gender test may have been leaked at the world championships but it was requested way back in the African Juniors.

    Is it possible that there is an element of racism and/or sexism about the attention surrounding her achievements? I’d say yes, particularly in the media coverage. But if you’re trying to argue that those are the ONLY reasons for her being under scrutiny by the sports authorities, then I’d say you were dreaming Caz.

    That eight seconds isn’t going away, and is still highly suspicious.

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