Clemson, Ostarine, and the Olympics

I am a fan of college football. I went to one football school as an undergrad, another as a grad student, and taught at a third. And while the concussion problem has dampened my enthusiasm a bit, I still appreciate the sport’s athleticism, as well as the chess-game aspects of offense and defense. I even like the intricacies of the rules, in which it appears that someone not only anticipated anything that can possibly happen, but wrote a rule to cover it. As an official in another sport, I can tell you this is not always the case.

But I am very disheartened by what I’m going to call the Clemson doping scandal.

I’m calling it that because as far as I can tell, nobody else does. I can’t find a single news report that even uses the word doping, though I’ll admit I haven’t read everything.

That means the true scandal isn’t that three athletes on the same team (of only 18 or 19 who were even tested) came back positive for a substance called ostarine. The real scandal is that the sports media refuses to call it a scandal.

What would have happened if three Olympic track and field athletes, all with the same coach, tested positive for an obscure substance most of us had ever heard of before? What would have happened if, like, Clemson’s coach, Dabo Swinney, they claimed the test was meaningless because banned substances are so ubiquitous you can be exposed to them anywhere?

“It can literally be anything as I’ve come to learn,” Swinney said of ostarine. “It can come from hair products, it can come from cream, it can come from protein. A product you buy or order online that you think is nothing wrong with. It can be anything.” He or one of his assistants even suggested it might somehow have contaminated the water in a recovery pool used by multiple athletes.

Seriously? Ostarine is a member of a class of chemicals called selective androgen receptor modulators, a mouthful that means they’re kind of like steroids, but not quite. According to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, they’re not legal for human use anywhere in the world. Hair-care products may promise to build body, but they sure as heck don’t do it that way.

That said, the athletes may well not know where the ostarine came from. A few years ago, a Dutch study in one of the major scientific journals found that something on the order of 20 percent of the body-building supplements they tested contained undeclared steroids. Undeclared ostarine seems equally possible.

But, one-sixth of the tested athletes on a team heading for the national championship game came up positive for this drug.

That is the very definition of a doping scandal.

And if this had happened in the Olympics, that is exactly how it would have been treated. But because this is football, and NFL careers and hundreds of millions of dollars for the top universities are at stake, it’s on track to be ignored.

Maybe the media is right, and most fans simply don’t care. But this one does.

Richard A. Lovett writes & hangs out with runners

Richard A. Lovett is my professional name. Friends know me as Rick. I’ve done a lot of things in my life, but these days, I’m primarily a writer and running coach. The details are elsewhere on this site, but for now, I’ll cut to the chase:

Science writing. Over the years, I’ve written for Science, Nature, New Scientist, Scientific American, National Geographic News, Cosmos, and Popular Science. I’ve also written dozens of science articles for Analog Science Fiction & Fact. I’ve swept together 17 of my favorites into a book, Here Be There Dragons.

Science fiction. My work has largely appeared in Analog, but I’ve also sold to Nature, Cosmos, Apex & Abyss, Wisconsin, Running Times, Marathon & Beyond, and Generation. It’s mostly short fiction, although I’m considering turning a series of novellas into a novel. Some of my stories have been collected in a book, Phantom Sense & Other Stories.

Awards. I’ve won 11 of Analog’s Analytical Laboratory Awards, which is basically a reader’s choice award. They are split about equally between fiction and science. That makes me the most decorated writer in Analog’s history, which is something I still sometimes find hard to believe.

Sports writing. I don’t write about the latest scores; I write about how to improve your own game–generally in distance running, although I’ve also written  about bicycle touring and cross-country skiing. Recently, I write mostly for Peak Performance (in the UK), but in the past I’ve written for Running Times, Marathon & Beyond, and Competitor.

• Coaching. For a dozen years, I’ve coached  Portland, Oregon’s, 250-member Team Red Lizard. Six times, I have also had the privilege of coaching women for the U.S. Olympic Team Marathon Trials—twice each in 2012, 2016, and now, 2020.

The science of running and aging

I wrote this article in 2009 for Running Times, and amazingly it’s still online. It’s also an evergreen topic: “The Science of Aging and Running: Why your body slows and what you can do about it.

Last spring, fresh into a new masters age group, I ran a 5K. Nothing unusual in that; I’d run spring 5Ks the year before … and the year before that … for quite a few years. The surprise was that I was 45 seconds faster than I’d been in any recent year. Age-graded, it was a massive PR.

Short course, I thought, but a couple weeks later, I did it again, then twice more. Friends were wondering about my training. “What are you doing differently?” they asked.

When I went back and looked at my training logs, the answer was surprising: I’d cut back my mileage. I’d done it simply because I was busy, but as the winter progressed, my speed workouts had responded. For masters runners, less is often more.

Aging, like injuries, is one of those things most of us prefer to more.