Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Once Again - The Pod

by Savannah Photobucket Tennis journalist Jon Wertheirm linked to this Blog Post on Twitter this morning. It makes a lot of the same points made in this space by me and others. I thought for clarity and fairness it would be a good idea to post another blogger's thoughts.
The $75,000 CVAC pod device, which is one of only 20 devices in the world, is different from the $5,000 hyperbaric chambers that are commonly used by athletes. Hyperbaric chambers serve to “saturate the blood with oxygen and stimulate healing.” The CVAC pod device, “is a considerably more-ambitious contraption. It uses a computer-controlled valve and a vacuum pump to simulate high altitude and compress the muscles at rhythmic intervals.” According to the WSJ article,
The company claims that spending up to 20 minutes in the pod three times a week can boost athletic performance by improving circulation, boosting oxygen-rich red-blood cells, removing lactic acid and possibly even stimulating mitochondrial biogenesis and stem-cell production… CVAC Systems chief executive Allen Ruszkowski says the treatment seems to have many of the same effects on the body as intense exercise. He claims that the technology may be twice as effective at helping the body absorb oxygen as blood doping—a banned form of performance enhancement.

...Now why the CEO of CVAC systems would try to market the device as being twice as effective as blood doping, is beyond me.


If you go to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) website, you can find their anti-doping code. According to the comment to Article 4.3.2 of Version 3.0 of the World Anti-Doping Code (pg. 32-33): A substance shall be considered for inclusion on the Prohibited List if the substance is a masking agent or meets two of the following three criteria:

It has the potential to enhance or enhances sport performance;

It represents a potential or actual health risk;

or It is contrary to the spirit of sport.

None of the three criteria alone is a sufficient basis for adding a substance to the Prohibited List. Using the potential to enhance performance as the sole criteria would include, for example, physical and mental training, red meat, carbohydrate loading and training at altitude. Risk of harm would include smoking.

Notice the WADA code specifically states that none of the three criteria is sufficient on its own for inclusion to the Prohibited List. That’s why red meat and carbohydrate loading, while they are considered to be performance-enhancing under criteria #1, are not on the Prohibited Substances list, because they do not represent a health risk to the athlete (at least not in the same way that recreational drugs would) and are not contrary to the spirit of the sport.

Altitude training, whose effects the CVAC pod is supposed to imitate, meets criteria #1 of performance-enhancing measures. So if I were to treat those two as equal, then the CVAC pod device meets criteria #1.

WADA has already commented that the CVAC pod device, unlike altitude training on its own, is against the spirit of the sport. So the CVAC pod device meets two of the three criteria for inclusion on the Prohibited List and should be on that list.

Now, I’m sure there is more research that needs to be done on this device before WADA makes a ruling, but it seems if you put #1 and #3 together, use of this device should already have been prohibited by WADA. From my understanding, the CVAC device is different from a basic oxygen tent because the pod increases barometric pressure on the person to more effectively deliver oxygen to the blood.

My guess as to why WADA hasn’t outlawed the CVAC pod device is that the device is not an actual substance that can be ingested or injected into the athlete’s body. You can ban drugs but can you ban an athlete from using a device? This is clearly new territory for WADA and they are treading cautiously.

Note that as part of heightened efforts against blood doping, the International Olympic Committee has instituted a no-syringe policy for the 2012 Olympic Games. The no-syringe policy was already implemented by the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) in May 2011 this year.

But anyone who looks through the history of doping in sports knows that as soon as new anti-doping measures are adopted, more advanced techniques are soon found to skirt the rules. Use of these devices is clearly new ground for anti-doping authorities. Yet it seems like only a matter of time before WADA will have to confront matters related to ‘non-invasive’ techniques.


Note that for blood doping, autologous blood doping (transfusing one’s own stored blood) is undetectable. There is not yet an accredited test that can show that an athlete has received an illegal blood transfusion of his/her own blood. Tests only exist for homologous blood doping (tranfusing someone else’s blood).

As you can imagine, homologous blood doping is nowhere near as prevalent as before. So how do anti-doping authorities in cycling, a sport that’s had many high-profile doping cases, monitor autologous blood transfusions in the sport? The UCI and WADA monitor the percentage of red blood cells (hematocrit level) in an athlete. The normal hematocrit level for an adult male is between 41-50. The UCI sets the upper level at 50% for cyclists (anything above 50% is illegal and requires an immediate suspension). Even under these rules, there is room for athletes to continue blood doping (so long as their hematocrit level stays just below 50%).

Whether or not the CVAC pod device can increase an athlete’s hematocrit level to above 50% should play an important role in determining its legality. So there is in fact a way (not a fool-proof way, but still effective) to test for unfair advantage through use of the CVAC pod device, by looking at the hematocrit level of the athlete. The same method that’s currently used to monitor blood doping in cycling.
This blogger takes what one fan already posted here in comments and expands on it. I will say what the blogger doesn't say. It's because of who has used the Pod that the United States tennis establishment has been silent in public. The United States tennis establishment has a vested interest in the player who sits on top of the rankings right now and has for several years.

Not to mention that two of it's rising stars, John Isner and Christina McHale, have publicly acknowledged using the device. If the device is banned I'm wondering when the ban will become effective. Will it be retroactive? I think it should be but it won't. The ATP and WTA have to save face and will pressure WADA not to.


 I've seen one source cited by a fellow blogger saying that Caroline Wozniacki has apologized for her "joke" about Rafael Nadal's cramping in front of the press. Damn bloggers trying to cover a story the Grand Poobah's of tennis journalism won't touch and that TPTB at the WTA just wish would go away. I doubt they'd protect any other player the way they're protecting Wozniacki here.

 It must have galled the USTA to have to call yesterday's schedule. It cost them beaucoup bucks. We'll see play today come hell or highwater something that can no longer be said lightheartedly given the fires in Texas and the flooding affecting the east coast of the United States.

Tennisheads have been highly critical of Chris Evert's commentating on ESPN2. I for one don't find her any worse than the usual crew. Chris does seem to be taken aback by some of the idiosyncrasies in the modern game but when allowed to talk tennis she is very good. She also looks askance every time Hannah Storm opens her mouth. That shows she is aware of some things no?

 What is it about Feliciano Lopez that drives former tennis players and commentators wild? Are they pissed because Judy Murray wasn't lusting after them in public? Why did former great Boris Becker post comments that many considered homophobic on Twitter? I've never quite seen the attraction of F-Lo but he drives people other than me to distraction including Andy Murray's mother. Who is she supposed to lust after? Brad Gilbert? One of the McEnroe brothers? Really?

End Note

I need to understand the logic behind not covering hard courts. When it rains it takes at least forty five minutes to dry and prepare the courts for play. In a dicey weather situation like the one in NYC right now that is valuable time lost.

Apparently the official line about no planned roof for Ashe has expanded. The main line of reasoning is that the stadium is too damn big and has been for some time. The added reason, one that's been around for awhile but that's been whispered but not emphasized is that Ashe and Armstrong are built on a swamp. The stadiums are already sinking and if any refurbishing needs to be done it would involve tearing down and rebuilding new show courts.

If they've known this for years why is it that only now, with the embarrassment of an entire day of Grand Slam play being cancelled Topic A in tennis circles is this now being thrown out for public consumption? I'm sure engineering techniques have advance since the NTC was built and that solutions can be found. The time is past for the USTA's blather. It's time to bring the showcase of United States tennis into the 21st century.


Kia said...

I usually catch who you are referring to but am stumped as to the players who has used the pod that the USTA has a vested interest in. Inquiring minds want to know! It may be plain as day but this USO i'm def out of the loop...

Savannah said...

The United States tennis establishment has a vested interest in the player who sits on top of the rankings right now and has for several years.

The top ranked male player has close ties to the US tennis establishment. :)

Anonymous said...

This a late comment. With regards to the "Pod": Altitude training is an active way of boosting red blood cells (i think I got that right) whereas the CVAC pod is passive. I know it is not ingested but like a drug it is passive. It does the work not the athlete.
As far as the "spirit of the sport" thing, if it is against the spirit then that alone should ban it. What more is there to a sport than the spirit of it? The spirit of natural competition-competition with what physical abilities or disabilities/predipositions that a person has-is what sport should be about.
Oh, I forgot-there's money involved.;)