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Cock-ups of truly Olympian proportions

At time of writing, the dust is settling on the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. Apart from the safety and security concerns, the unfortunately regular concerns over performance-enhancing medications arose and one wonders about how many of these athletes are totally ‘clean’.

But if you think the Olympics has hit rock-bottom, it might be worth a glance over the shoulder at some of the previous Games to provide a bit of perspective on how truly weird the Olympics have been in years gone by.

For example, as far back as the inaugural Marathon event in 1896, performances were being enhanced. Runner Spyridon Belokas decided he could ease his physical exertion by travelling by horse-drawn carriage for much of the race. The mystery is how he still managed to only finish in third place.

This must have inspired marathon runner Fred Lorz at the 1904 Olympics in St Louis, US, who ran for nine miles and travelled the next 11 miles by car. The car broke down and Lorz walked the rest of the race until he got to the finish line.

Fast-forward to Berlin in 1936, when gender suspicion became a major issue in the women’s 100-metre sprint. Polish runner Stella Walsh was edged out for the gold by Helen Stephens of the US. The Polish officials were suspicious of Stephens’s speed and insisted on a humiliating physical gender examination, which Stephens passed. The twist in the tale comes in 1980, when Walsh was shot dead. The autopsy revealed that it was Walsh herself who possessed male genitalia.

 Fencing masks have obvious health and safety benefits, but they can also have nefarious applications. In 1960 in Rome, the Tunisian fencing team sent out their best fencer no fewer than three times in place of his team-mates before officials discovered the ruse.

Mexico 1968 saw the first instance of an athlete being disqualified for use of a banned substance. Swedish pentathlete Hans-Gunner Liljenwall was stripped of his bronze medal after it was discovered he had used alcohol, which hardly counts as a performance-enhancing drug, unless you’re on your way to a disco.

In Moscow in 1980, relations between the Soviet Union and Poland were frosty, to say the least. This was embodied when Polish pole-vaulter Wladyslaw Kozakiewicz gave the ‘up yours’ arm-and-fist sign (also known as the ‘Iberian slap’ and bras d’honneur) to the Soviet public in all four directions in the stadium as he accepted his gold medal. Controversy followed, but he got to keep the medal.

On to Sydney 2000, where Romanian gymnast Andreea Răducan can’t have been too happy with the team physician, who apparently didn’t check the banned substances list too closely. Răducan was stripped of one of her gold medals after it was discovered she had been given Nurofen, which contains the banned substance pseudophedrine.

Always check the label…

Tapping-in to cardio health?

While fidgeting may have gotten you into trouble at school, a new study has actually recommended it as an aid to improve cardiovascular health if you are forced to spend prolonged periods sitting down.

The team, led by Prof Jaume Padilla, Assistant Professor of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology at the University of Michigan, US, compared the vascular function of 11 healthy young men and women before and after three hours of sitting still. The study participants were asked to tap one foot for one minute and then rest it for four minutes, while the other leg lay still.

The researchers then analysed the blood flow of the popliteal and found that the fidgeting leg showed a major increase in blood flow, while there was a reduced blood flow in the stationary leg.

“Many of us sit for hours at a time, whether it’s binge-watching our favourite TV show or working at a computer. We wanted to know whether a small amount of leg fidgeting could prevent a decline in leg vascular function caused by prolonged sitting,” said Prof Padilla.

“While we expected fidgeting to increase blood flow to the lower limbs, we were quite surprised to find this would be sufficient to prevent a decline in arterial function.”

Of course, fidgeting is not a replacement for exercise, but as the saying goes, ‘every little helps’.

“You should attempt to break up sitting time as much as possible by standing or walking,” said the Prof. “But if you’re stuck in a situation in which walking just isn’t an option, fidgeting can be a good alternative.

“Any movement is better than no movement.”

View from below

Thanks to the doctor who sent me this recollection of festive fun for publication. Please do keep them coming!

“The competition in the hospital was simple — to determining which department in the hospital where I worked could create the best Christmas decorations.

“While they did not win first prize, the members of the proctology department did receive high honours for their distinctive sign, which read: ‘Christmas is a good time to look up old friends’.”

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