Eero Mantyranta, a Finn, was a double Olympic champion in cross-country skiing. His body has a mutation that causes it to produce far more of a hormone called EPO than a normal person would. This hormone stimulates the production of red blood cells. A synthetic version of it is the (banned) drug of choice for endurance athletes.Amen, eh? The article actually comes out on the side of gene doping (a fairly controversial position, I think)- so long as it's "safe" for the athletes, despite acknowledging that athletes are often more than willing to forgo long-term health for short-term glory. I'm unsure as to how they arrived at the conclusion that "safety is easier to measure than fairness" (rationalization: "doctors and scientists adjudicate on such matters all the time"), but it's a ballsy stance and one that I am tempted to applaud.
Mr Mantyranta was allowed to compete because his advantage was held to be a “natural” gift. Yet the question of what is natural is no less vexed than that of what is fair.
As a former track athlete and 5'2" 400m hurdler, I understand the sense of unfairness one feels when confronted with a 6' opponent, all legs, next to you in the starting lane. She's a born athlete, you quickly surmise; she doesn't understand the loss of six hours every week to physical therapy, the dependence on pain killers to get through a race, the nightly icing and re-bandaging and hours of stretching obdurate muscles just so you can walk the day after a work-out. She just wakes up every morning, wraps a pink scrunchie around her hair, and she's off- running so gracefully and effortlessly that the hurdles seem to kneel before her approach out of respect.
Yeah, I get it. But I guess my sense of aesthetics is too strong to fall in line with the fairly rational analysis presented by the enlightened staffers of that weekly news-magazine.
The Olympics is best explained as a panoply of savagely dramatic, intensely pagan exhibitions of all that fascinates the reptilian brain within us. A majestic undying fire, a man running so fast that we lose him when we blink, a woman hurling herself sixteen-and-a-half feet into the air with nothing but a pole, millions of exotic peoples huddled together around a circus freak show draped in flags and soaked in sweat. This is not a gathering that exalts how far we've come, this is a collective unwillingness to abandon the mud from which we rose.
There's value in that- value in fanfare, wonder, rage- value in the irrational, and if the Olympics is our last great bastion of primitive humanism then may Nikolai the Wonderworker bless those five rings. But the moment we allow concern for the "unfairness" of natural biology to encroach on this hallowed ground- fairness, that revolting notion born from untrained "rationality"- that very moment, all significance shrivels to ash like a husk set aflame.