Ben Johnson, Marion Jones, Tyler Hamilton... a few names drawn from an extensive list of Olympic winners who doped their way to the top of the medal stand. The latest scandal may be imported from China. Swimmer Ye Shiwen swam the last lap of her 400m IM in 28.93 seconds, a faster 50 than American gold medal winner Ryan Lochte posted in the men's race. Her overall time was 4:28.43, breaking the previous world record set by Australia's Stephanie Rice at the 2008 Beijing Games wearing a now-banned bodysuit that reduced her body mass to the size of a strawberry twizzler. The previously unheralded 16-year-old Shiwen also set an Olympic record in the 200m race, all while standing a mere 5'7" and weighing a scant 141 pounds (for the record, Lochte is 6'2", 194lbs).
Chinese officials have bristled at allegations of doping, countering that Michael Phelps never came under similar scrutiny after winning eight gold medals in Beijing. Fair enough, Phelps did break records spanning over 100 years of recorded Olympic history. On the other hand, Shiwen violated basic rules of nature. Humans are a sexually dimorphic species (for those unfamiliar with that scientific term, it boils down to: men and women tend to differ in size, muscle mass, and ability to accept the premise of Pretty Woman as plausible). The fittest man has, to the best of our knowledge, always run faster, swam faster, jumped higher and farther than the fittest woman. So what are the chances that Shiwen broke the mold and defied biology without a little help from some substance or another?
Despite these misgivings, do not count my voice among those who condemn the Chinese swimmer (Mark Emmert, for example, has threatened to strip China of all its medals dating back to the Tiananmen Square protests). I'm actually wondering how fast Ryan Lochte could be going if he were taking some performance enhancing drugs. Think about it, in 2016 if you were given a choice between watching the Olympics that we've come to know and love or a brand new Olympics in which athletes are breaking records left and right, which would you rather see? That's right, I'm suggesting we not only allow athletes to use performance enhancers, I suggest we should encourage their use.
Think Oscar Pistorius had an advantage with prosthetic legs? In 2016, athletes will be more than welcome to remove arms, legs, and or any other appendage that is slowing them down. The Olympics should be about pushing the envelope of human performance. Lest you think this idea is a bit Bohemian, there is one rule that should be adamantly enforced: In order to maintain your medal on the stand, athletes must live long enough to hear the end of the national anthem, otherwise they are disqualified. Go ahead and load up on steroids and amphetamines, but you have to be able to hold it together until the final bar. The last thing we need is a bunch of dead Olympians strewn around the podium.
A corollary benefit to the new Olympics will be an invigorated interest in some sports often neglected in the West.
Anyone watch riflery in the olympics? Of course not (did you even know it was a sport?). Here's what it looks like now:
Lots of quiet concentration. But, with a little juice, things get far more interesting...
Fencing rarely draws a huge television audience:
But if we relaxed the doping laws (and the dress code), it could find more air time:
The gymnastics you are used to watching:
The gymnastics you could be watching:
In sum, let's stop sweating the details of who doped and who didn't. As the sun fades from the London Olympics let's look forward to an even more spectacular games in Rio.