Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Drug theater of the absurd 

This is quite incredible:
Grandmaster Vassily Ivanchuk refused to submit a urine sample for a drug test at the Chess Olympiad in Dresden and is now considered guilty of doping. The world of chess is outraged that he could face a two-year ban.
Chess. CHESS. Unfreakingbelievable. This caught my eye because 1) I used to play a lot of chess (and still teach kids when I find the time) and 2) after writing this, I was curious if the drug of choice was Red Bull. Am I to look out for my kids who drink more Dew than my radio board ops?
It makes sense that anabolic steroids, the bulk-producing drug of choice for weightlifters, and EPO, the wonder drug of the cycling world, would not improve a chess player's performance. But when a chess player nears the end of a match and comes under mounting pressure, he can hyperventilate, and his pulse can shoot up to 160 and his arterial blood pressure to 200. In that situation, beta-blockers could help a player keep his head clear.
Breathing exercises and a paper bag would help that too. I am a bit incredulous that it's beta-blockers they are looking for. Sure enough, you can't time the dosage of a beta-blocker to help when you need the help in a chess match. There's too much variability in length of time. So,
It would certainly make sense for a chess player to take Ritalin or Modafinil. Both substances increase the ability to concentrate. Students take the drugs during exams, and doping inspectors test chess players for both substances.
So I was right? FIDE, the organization that oversees chess championships, is trying to keep the sport clean of drugs that help you focus? I am still trying to figure out why. Wait, next paragraph:
The only reason there are doping tests in chess in the first place is that the World Chess Federation (FIDE) has been trying, since the late 1990s, to make chess an Olympic discipline. And anyone wishing to be part of the Olympics must submit to the rules of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
I don't know what strikes me as more absurd: �chess in the Olympics? �or the IOC testing chess players for Ritalin? �Powerboating is in the IOC's list of recognized sports (though not in the Games themselves, yet). �NASCAR apparently lets their drivers advertise those energy drinks (I'm pretty sure I saw Rusty Wallace in an ad.) �What are they testing powerboaters for? �

h/t: Kouba.