3.8.04

Onnen kisat

Towards a posthuman sport, or a better world?

Great sportsmen are often born with some incredible talent that is a product of luck (ie, some genetic mutation or the other), though they do have to work hard, of course, to make this talent pay off. My question is: rather than leave sporting excellence to chance, what is wrong with engineering those genetic mutations ourselves, and taking our destiny into our own hands?
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Most of us who are against doping in sport feel that way because of our belief in a level playing field. But the level playing field is an illusion, because sportspeople who excel do so not only because of the hard work they put in (after all, so many people work hard) but also because of some special talents that they are born with – and those talents come from their genes. Eero Mäntyranta was clearly one of them; so is Lance Armstrong: his heart is one-third larger than normal, his aerobic capacity twice that of you or me, and his lactic acid production (lactic acid is what causes that burning sensation in our muscles when we over-exert ourselves) far less than average. (Being born with such physical gifts, who needs drugs?) The level playing field, thus, is not impacted so much by the diligent efforts of sincere people, but by luck – the special skills that you happen to be born with.
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Lifespans grow longer, people get healthier, the quality of our lives improves – what could be wrong with that? One hundred years from now, the humans of today will appear hopelessly primitive, and our sporting accomplishments will be meaningless. And there will be no firm boundary that separates then and now, but a gradual constant line of progress similar to, if steeper than, the paths of progress that we have taken over the last 100 years. Fukuyama speaks of our posthuman future – well, compared to the humans of 1900, we are already posthuman. Humanity is a work in progress, and we should celebrate that, instead of waiting for the paint to dry.

Current players v past players, and gene doping
Eero Mäntyranta won two Olympic gold medals in 1964. Years later scientists found the source of the Finnish cross-country skier's endurance. A genetic mutation gave his family higher than normal levels of oxygen-carrying red blood cells--higher even than could be achieved with EPO.