Life of a Night Owl Analyst at the London 2012 Olympic Games

This article was kindly contributed by Dorothea Delpech.

Dorothea’s research looks at the analysis of crime occurring in rural areas of the UK with a specific focus on crimes that involve animal harm (e.g. Hare coursing and baiting, sheep rustling etc.). The research aims to identify the spatial patterns of crime in rural areas and what environmental features may make areas more prone to victimisation than others. A systematic review of current security methods used to protect rural areas and animals to identify what solutions and what gaps exist in current criminological research..

 


 

The Anti-Doping Science Centre was the hub of doping analysis during the London 2012 games, and I was lucky enough to be one of the temporary analysts enlisted to help during the Olympics. Analysts came from a wide variety of backgrounds, skill sets and countries, coming together for the experience of being a part of the behind-the-scenes action of London 2012.

As a night shift worker, everything was back to front. We would arrive back at the hotel before 8am and sleepily chat over our English breakfasts — which substituted as dinner for us — before heading to our rooms to sleep through the action of the days athletics, tennis and so on. I remember getting into bed and turning on the TV to watch some of the morning highlights of the previous days games, and endeavouring to remain conscious long enough to catch one of the first morning events.

Despite the night shift team missing out on watching much of the games, we still felt intrinsically involved.

 

From the Egg and Spoon race to Olympic triathletes….cheating is cheating


 
The work of the Anti Doping Science Centre during the Olympic games was to identify any athletes taking part — particularly those competing in the finals — who are cheating.

Competition can bring out the best in people, but when sponsorship deals worth significant sums of money and the pressure to be the best come into play, the result can be anything but sportsmanlike.

Most athletes train to try and improve their speed, strength or endurance, but sometimes athletes can be tempted to used illicit methods to win. The Olympic games have had their fair share of doping controversy and numerous athletes have been stripped of their medals as a result of analysis of their blood and urine by scientists.

 

Evidence endures


 
The Rio games have shone a particularly bright light on the issue of doping in sport due to a large contingent of Russian Athletes being excluded from the upcoming games. The retroactive testing involved defrosting urine samples from previous events and the use of new technology to identify the presence of doping. This should act as a warning to athletes contemplating cheating that despite new and sneakier doping methods continually being developed, the scientists are not far behind.

 

Urine or You’re out?


 
In the same way that a burglar may leave fingerprints behind at a crime scene, when an athlete uses illicit methods to enhance their sporting abilities, they leave behind little bits of evidence within their own bodies. Drugs and their metabolites (the broken down products of drugs produced as the drugs are processed by the body) can often be found in the athlete’s blood and urine.

As a urine temporary analyst, I was given the opportunity to experience a wondrous diversity of urine colours and smells. Providing you can stomach handling urine, the process was actually rather fun.

One of the more surreal moments in the lab was the occasional excitement when we received urine from finals, which meant one sample pot contained the Olympic winners urine — this excitement wore off reasonably quickly. Nevertheless how many people can say they may have held a pot of Andy Murray’s or Usain Bolt’s urine.

My role was to prepare urine samples for GC-MS (Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrometry), which involved Solid Phase Extraction. This is the method by which urine samples were cleaned of debris and other junk, and the remaining liquid was distilled down until a very small and concentrated amount remained for testing.

The ever-present sense of responsibility whilst working in the London 2012 laboratories was nerve-wracking, but to be entrusted to be involved was extremely rewarding.

The results of the tests might mean an athlete, who has trained for years to compete at an international level, performing in front of family, friends and the international community, could be branded as a cheat, stripped of their medal.

 

Looking forward to Rio…


 
The work conducted by the Anti-Doping laboratories for international sports, including the Olympic games, provides evidence that the athletes taking part genuinely deserve to be there. The Olympic Games should celebrate the world’s best athletes, not the worlds best chemically enhanced cheaters.

I am looking forward to watching the games this time round, but a little part of me will miss not being involved with the Anti-Doping labs. London 2012 will hold fond memories for many people for a variety of reasons, but for a small group of people their fond memories of London 2012 will be of a hotel filled with a funny little group of scientists, bags of urine and blood, and for some of us, sleeping through most of the sport.

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