In March 2004, Greg Rusedski, one of the UK's leading tennis players, was cleared of a doping offence following a positive test for the banned substance nandrolone. Nandrolone is an anabolic steroid, taken to boost muscle growth and increase strength. This was the latest in a large number of cases where a high profile top athlete has tested positive for the drug. In the past athletes such as Linford Christie, Mark Richardson and Dougie Walker have all tested positive for the drug, protested their innocence and have subsequently been cleared by their national athletic organisations.
Many theories and explanations have been put forward as to the reason for high nandrolone levels in top athletes. The most common theory is that when dietary supplements are digested in the body, the chemical products from this process could be the same as those produced when nandrolone is broken down in the digestive process.
Over the last few years many international tennis players, including Rusedski, have tested positive for nandrolone. However, they have all now been cleared with mineral supplements, electrolytes and other supplements given to the players by the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) trainers cited by the ATP as the reason for the high levels of nandrolone. However this was mere speculation and the conclusion of investigations into the phenomenon was that it was unprecedented and unexplained.
Recent research, suggests that increased levels of nandrolone could be because the urine samples may have been unstable. This would mean that changes in the chemical make-up of the sample may have occurred after the sample has been taken away from the competitor for testing leading to the spontaneous formation of nandrolone. A British expert on dope testing, Simon Davis, believes these findings may have a bearing on as many as 70% of positive nandrolone cases although further research into these findings must be carried out.
Some athletes may continue to use performance enhancing substances as new undetectable drugs come on the market but the scientists will always be coming up with new ways of detection as technologies are developed. The athlete must weigh up the benefit of enhanced performance against the risk of being caught. The long-term health risks of these new substances are unknown and in the long-term may cause greater damage than good.
Further details about what Nandrolone is and the controversy surrounding it
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