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Why I Detest the Olympics

A doctor surveys the tangled relationship between his profession and the sporting event.

Theodore Dalrymple


August 18, 2012 - 7:00 am
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Medical cytologists were called in to determine the sex of female athletes suspected in reality to be men. The careers of the infamous Press sisters of the Soviet Union, so successful at the Rome Olympics, came to a mysterious end when such tests became routine.

Physicians have questioned the safety of excessive training for more than eighty years. Early studies suggested that athletes who trained too hard could end up with dangerously hypertrophied hearts, and the question is still not fully resolved. What seems certain even on casual inspection is that athletes in particular sports may have strangely deformed bodies, for example cyclists with preternaturally huge thigh muscles.

Whether such deformations do any lasting damage is unknown, but doctors acted as advisers to the sporting authorities in the communist countries when they were determined that their young female gymnasts should dominate the sport. The activities of those doctors were ethically little better than medical participation in torture.

My own objection, however, to these deformities is different: that to devote one’s life to, say, throwing a javelin a fraction of an inch further than anyone else has ever thrown it before is a deformation of the soul. But that, of course, cannot be measured by any instrument, and not everyone will agree.


Thumbnail and image courtesy Maxisport /

Related at PJ Lifestyle:

NBC and Tom Brokaw’s Olympic Tribute to the Battle of Britain

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Theodore Dalrymple, a physician, is a contributing editor of City Journal and the Dietrich Weismann Fellow at the Manhattan Institute. His new book is Second Opinion: A Doctor's Notes from the Inner City.
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