Tuesday, July 08, 2008

A Reader Weighs In

My major piece on Dara Torres is without question my three part post dated almost a year ago titled "I Came to Praise Dara Torres, But Intend to Leave Seeing Her Drowned", an article which continues to attract comments that, if an honest attempt to discuss the issues is raised, I dutifully try to answer.
Note to readers using this link the article is split into three parts and the other two can be accessed from the first by scrolling to the very bottom and double clicking on the blue highlighted "Newer Post" located after the comments.
The most recent visitor to the post has been Robert. His rejection of my entire premise covers ground already well traveled and, in an attempt to forestall repeating the same arguments over and over again, I thought I'd republish both his observations and my response for the more recent readers of this blog. Consider reading the comments section after the last part where I defend my blogging. Several readers clearly put considerable effort in arguing both for and against and overall I think they have reasonably delineated the strengths and weaknesses of flatly asserting Dara Torres is cheating with performance enhancing drugs.

Robert writes: Scott, because of recent high-profile doping cases, one can understand you having your stated point of view. We've been disappointed by athletes too numerous to name in just the last couple years. I have to admit myself that this remarkable comeback by Dara Torres evoked a skeptical reaction in my own head.

However, I don't want to address whether or not she's doping. She could be taking undetectable drugs, or have taken drugs while "retired". She could be completely clean. She's never tested positive in her life for anything.

I want to address, as some previous posters already have, your lack of knowledge about the sport of swimming. You know a little about swimming. Just enough to be dangerous. Dangerous enough that I wouldn't want you anywhere near a pool deck coaching children or masters swimmers.

You also make some bold statements about the body's [in]abilities that you provide no references for. You intermixed your personal beliefs in a manner that make them appear to be fact. However, when you see through the smoke and mirrors, your argument rests on baseless assumptions.

I personally know many masters swimmers who re-entered the water after considerable layoff and returned to their previous levels of competition, and even faster. And most of them do it on 3 workouts a week. Why should it be that Dara Torres could not re-enter the pool and return to her previous level (world class) and then surpass it? We're all human and we all have limitations. But masters swimmers have shown time and again that they can return to and surpass their personal previous level of competition.

I think that you have a good topic to work with, but I'd like to see you remove your personal agenda and anecdotal arguments from the piece. I want to see you back up your claims about physiology, and show modern research behind your swimming-specific statements.

P.S. I believe that definition of insanity is attributed to Benjamin Franklin?

I respond: Well of course I disagree with you, first and most of all with your statement about my “lack of knowledge about the sport of swimming”. Actually I have a long history of competing at a reasonably high level in several sports as an adult and consequently possess what I consider a reasonable grounding in physiology as it applies to performance, even if swimming wasn’t included in the mix. But when I wrote this article I consulted many scientific sources to establish the veracity of my statements, as well as discussed my opinions with friends who happen to be in the medical profession. It’s as objective as I can make it and now, after over a year of accumulating quite a file of books, articles, scientific papers on athletic performance, current practices in the training of elite swimmers, and the physical effects of aging and detraining, I’m gaining considerable confidence in the truth of my position. If anyone is flinging unsubstantiated personal beliefs around surely it is you.

To compound your problem you then raise a very common rebuttal to my position – that many, many masters swimmers have seen improvements in their times, so why can’t Torres? This is a completely fallacious argument and invariably comes from individuals who have never competed at a high level in anything, certainly far below the level Dara Torres has competed her entire life. She’s now more than 4% faster than the fastest she ever went during the span of her first three Olympics (not counting her recent improvement with the LZR Racer) and that percentage, in Olympian terms, is a massive improvement. Olympians improve by tenths and hundredths of a percent, not several. Read my rebuttal in the above comments. Just what is she doing now so differently that she didn’t do in ten years of performing and being coached at an elite level? You are also totally disregarding the negative effect of aging on athletic performance. I think that’s a pretty big deal. How can Torres beat the finest sprinters in America but then joke about how her failing eyesight makes reading her time off the board difficult? How can she swim as fast as she does, but then be forced to drop an individual event, a sprint event mind you, because of concerns over her ability to recover adequately enough to compete in her remaining individual and relay events? It’s illogical – on one hand she’s showing the performance and athleticism of a twenty year old, but on the other she’s exhibiting plenty of evidence of a deteriorating, middle-aged body. Bob, you’re looking at Dara Torres with Pollyanna eyes and you clearly had made up your mind before you even read my post. If you want to argue my position is premised upon baseless assumptions the very least you must do is identify those assumptions and state why they are so. If you do so I’ll be more than glad to defend my position and critique yours.

P.S. Though a great admirer of Benjamin Franklin the definition of insanity quote wasn’t his. According to a recent Wikiquotes, however, apparently it wasn’t Einstein’s either, these being the two most misattributed with the now famous line. It seems to be the creation of Rita Mae Brown, an American playwright.

Update: Robert has responded to my comment with a detailed critique and I thought it would be unfair to leave readers with the possible misunderstanding he meekly accepted my response without rebuff. Of course I answer back ... Part 3 with the bulk of reader comments (and where Robert has posted) can be accessed directly here

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

We too commented on Torres's feats.

http://grg51.typepad.com/steroid_nation/2008/07/does-dara-torre.html

We cannot find any other athletic performance that defies gravity (the usual inverse U curve of age v. performance) unless that athlete doped (Barry Bonds for example).

Is there any other swimmer with a similar performance/age curve?

Scott said...

Superb! Just a minute into your online journal Steroid Nation brought a smile to my face. It seems clear to me, judging by your references to arcane data such as baseball performance curves and the effectiveness of anabolic steroids on female versus male subjects as determined by East German studies, that our research has shared some of the same paths. Your current article “Does Dara Torres Suffer From A Double Standard of Doping Scrutiny” provides a refreshingly different and interesting perspective to view the Torres controversy from.

JT said...

Scott, I've been reading some of your blogs about Dara Torres. I, too, have been quite skeptical of her achievements and tend to think she is using some sort of illicit performance-enhancing drug. I am hopeful this is NOT true, but am doubtful.

As an interesting aside, I have compiled some information for Men's and Women's World Record Progressions & Ages in the 100meter Dash and the 50 m Free - just to see if there is any indication of this kind of achievement in the past (by either males or females) Judge for yourself:

MEN'S 100 METER DASH
Name Time Age

Don Lippincott 10.6 (29)
Charlie Paddock 10.4 (22)
Eddie Tolan 10.4 (21)
Percy Williams 10.3 (22)
Arthur Jeneth (23)
Eddie Tolan (22)
Ralph Metcalfe (23)
Eulace Peacock (25)
T. Yoshioka (26)
Jim Hines 9.9 (26)
Calvin Smith 9.93 (22)
Carl Lewis (26)
Carl Lewis 9.92 (27)
Carl Lewis 9.86 (30)
Leroy Burrell 9.85 (27)
Donovan Bailey 9.84 (29)
Maurice Greene 9.79 (25)
Asafa Powell 9.77 (23, 25)
Usain Bolt 9.72 (22)

WOMEN'S 100 M DASH

Name Time Age

Betty Robinson 12.0 (17)
Helen Stephens 11.9 (17)
Hilda Strike (22)
Kathe Krauss (28)
Marjorie Jackson 11.5 (21)
Wilma Rudolph 11.3 (20)
Wilma Rudolph 11.2 (21)
Wynomia Tynes 11.2 (19)
Wynomia Tynes 11.0 (23)
Inge Helton 11.04 (26)
Annegret Richter 11.03 (26)
Marlies Oelsner 10.88 (19)
Evelyn Ashford 10.79 (26)
Evelyn Ashford 10.76 (27)
Flo-Jo 10.49 (29)

MEN'S 50 METER FREE

Name Time Age

Klaus Steinbach 23.70 (27)
Rowdy Gaines 22.96 (21)
Tom Jager 22.40 (21)
Matt Biondi 22.33 (21)
Tom Jager 22.23 (24)
Pete Williams 22.18 (?)
Matt Biondi 22.14 (23)
Tom Jager 21.81 (26)
Alexander Popov 21.64 (29)
Eamon Sullivan 21.28 (23)

WOMEN'S 50 METER FREE

Name Time Age

Kornelia Ender 26.99 (17)
Anne Jardin 26.74 (19)
Jill Sterkel 26.32 (19)
Jill Sterkel 25.79 (20)
Dara Torres 25.69 (15)
Dara Torres 25.61 (16)
Wenyi Yang 24.98 (16)
Wenyi Yang 24.79 (20)
Jingyi Le 24.57 (19)
Inge de Bruijn 24.13 (27)
Marleen Veldhuis 24.09 (29)
Libby Trickett 23.97 (23)

So, what does all of this prove, if anything?

Well, I'm not an expert swimmer, but even a novice can notice that records are set in these sprint events (for both men and women) generally when the athletes are in their 20's or younger (especially for the women).

The longest gap for setting a record is Wenyi Yang who first set the 50 Free record at the age of 16 and then broke her own record at the age of 20.

The accomplishment of Dara Torres, swimming a 24.25 at the age of 41 (which would have been a record before de Bruijn's mark) is off the charts.

As I said, I'm hoping she's clean but I am extremely doubtful that she is. These charts are some of the data to support my doubts.

You can find this information under wikipedia.

Scott said...

First of all JT I can tell you your first post was accepted, but as my blog moderates comments (with comments coming in on many of my earlier posts moderating them allows me to identify which post is being commented on so I can reply) they don’t appear until I approve them. Secondly I’d like to compliment you on the amount of work you’ve put into your analysis – I know from experience how long collating ages and record dates takes – and you’ve covered four events in two different sports. There’s no denying your assessment about how the age where peak athletic performance seems to occur doesn’t seem to jibe with what Torres is accomplishing. It becomes even more obvious if we pick out those athletes who many suspect achieved their times with drug assistance. Some of the obvious ones are Flo-Jo and Inge de Bruijn, but they extend to all the Chinese 50 meter records, Evelyn Ashford, and even Carl Lewis in his last WR. One characteristic shared by all (excepting the Chinese with their state run program) is that they set their records at an age considerably older than the median age on the list. But when we come to Dara Torres I think it goes even beyond her extreme age and goes to her pattern of improvement and the fact she’s done what she’s done despite being absent from the sport for two long periods of time. For me there’s simply too much doubt around Torres for a rational person not to believe she’s doping. What blows my mind are the number who believe that, irrespective of all the peculiarities of Torres’ case, it’s not proper to accuse her of doping because she hasn’t had a positive drug test. And they hold that thought even while at the same time admitting that there are many instances where athletes have successfully cheated for years before getting caught!

Anonymous said...

"Just what is she doing now so differently that she didn’t do in ten years of performing and being coached at an elite level?"

starting in 1999, dara did what jenny thompson did her entire career - she got on the zone diet.

the same diet of the oldest u.s. olympic swimmer from 1992 until the present day.

you do know jenny thompsson, don't you? she owned more medals than anyone on the planet until she was surpassed by phelps in beijing.

in dara's case, i believe diet was of utmost importance - she had a very bad diet that hampered her performance as a youth (you do know she was bulimic in her youth, right?). bad diet equaled sub optimal performance. now she's obviously operating near her genetic prime. before, she was nowhere near her genetic prime due to poor nutrition.

one of the zone books is called the "age free zone." since it is an anti inflammatory diet, it minimizes stress on the body and allows it to achieve some incredible athletic performances.

as a zoner, i'm very impressed with dara's performance, but i'm not holding my breath for any kind of doping scandal. given the right genetics and the zone diet, i believe dara's accomplishments are achievable without the use of illegal performance enhancing drugs.

oh, and the zone can sure make you look ripped, no?

ps - barry bonds did performance enhancing drugs and can barely walk in his 40s. think about it.

pss - in a study done in conjunction with marv marinovich, 9 male athletes gained an average of 16 lbs of muscle in 6 weeks while zoning. this kind of puts some perspective on dara's 17 lbs of muscle gain, doesn't it?

Scott said...

"oh, and the zone can sure make you look ripped, no?"
- so does HGH.

"barry bonds did performance enhancing drugs and can barely walk in his 40s. think about it"
- Dara underwent the knife last week for the third time since November, 2007 to repair damage to her right shoulder.

"in a study done in conjunction with marv marinovich, 9 male athletes gained an average of 16 lbs of muscle in 6 weeks while zoning. this kind of puts some perspective on dara's 17 lbs of muscle gain, doesn't it?" - well I went to Mr. Marinovich's ProBodX website and am willing to say his training approach has many proponents. I will disagree with you however about the logic of taking a small, non-peer reviewed study of males and saying it explains Torres' muscle gain when you haven't established Torres even being on the claimed diet.