Category: antidoping

New Paper on progressing youth to senior in Athletics

We have finally managed to get this paper accepted and published on the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport. This was part of a larger study conducted with colleagues in Italy to “map” historical data of Italian Athletics and determine progressions in different athletics events to differentiate between successful and non successful adult performers by analysing the longitudinal developments of such results.
The first part of this work was published last year on PlosOne. In this recent work we focused on sprints and throws events analysing male and female progressions with more than 5000 athletes present in the Italian official results database available in FIDAL.

A total of 5929 athletes (female: n = 2977, 50.2%) were included in the study. The age of entering competition and personal best performance was identified in the official competition records. Personal best performances were ranked in percentiles and top-level athletes were considered those in the highest 4% of the performance distribution.


Overall, when controlling for the age of entering competition, top-level athletes reached their personal best later (i.e., around 23–25 years old) for all events compared to the rest of the athletes. Moreover, regression analysis showed that entering competitions later was linked to better performances during adulthood. Also, only 17%–26% [90% CI] of the top-level adult athletes were considered as such when they were 14–17 years old.


These findings and previous ones in other events also form other research groups (like this one from our Norwegian colleagues) suggest that early sport success is not a strong predictor of top-level performance at senior level. Also, gender differences may be evident in the rate of performance development in different events.

Such analyses are important to develop reference databases to assess young athletes progression and be able to avoid de-selection of late maturers.

I will speak about this approach in a talk in Aspetar in January 2019. Before then, I will write more about this on the blog as I think it is important to have a more systematic look at youth performances around the World in Athletics in order to identify trends and provide more chances to assess athletes’ progressions.


>Current markers of the Athlete Blood Passport are not able to flag microdose EPO doping.

>The introduction of the Athlete Biological Passport (ABP) by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) is intended to equip anti-doping organizations with a robust framework in which to pursue anti-doping rule violations and to support intelligent, targeted testing of athletes (WADA 2009). The physiological basis of this strategy is that biological variables, normally maintained in homeostasis, will be disturbed when an athlete dopes. Longitudinal evaluation of an athlete’s results is therefore employed to identify abnormal changes caused by doping against a background of normal biological variability.

Some insight into the normal biological variability encountered in professional endurance athletes have been previously described by few scientific studies.
For cyclists (the International Cycling Union or UCI, was the first to formally implement a passport approach) haemoglobin concentration ([Hb]) has been shown to be marginally reduced (1.3 g/dL) during the competition season, whilst exercise-induced hypervolemia has been shown to reduce Hb values by 11.5% during the Tour de France (Morkeberg et al. 2009).
Athletes have been reported to injecting frequent “microdoses” of recombinant human erythropoietin [rhEPO] in order to minimize the persistence of rhEPO in their system and lessen the risk of being caught via conventional anti-doping controls (Ashenden et al. 2006).

For this reason WADA has developed a specific software to analyze longitudinal data from the ABP in order to detect athletes cheating using illegal substances like rhEPO.
A lot of doubts have been already raised by the sensitivity of the software. More doubts are clear now. A very recent paper from Ashenden et al. (2011) now puts some serious doubts on this software’s ability to detect cheats. Ashenden and colleagues injected 10 healthy subjects with a microdose regimen and monitored blood values using the ABP software. Their aim was to assess whether the software would flag the subject’s blood results as abnormal during the midst of a rhEPO microdose programme. Ten subjects were given twice weekly intravenous injections of rhEPO for up to 12 weeks.
The treatment regimen elicited a 10% increase in total haemoglobin mass equivalent to approximately two bags of re-infused blood. The passport software did not flag any subjects as being suspicious of doping whilst they were receiving rhEPO.
This shows how serious the issue is and the need to do more large scale studies to improve the detection algorithms of the ABP software and become an effective tool to identify cheats. For sure, investigations of other detection strategies should also be sought.