Sharapova: How Could She?

Sharapova.  How could she blow her confession so badly?  And why do so many top athletes blow theirs? 

“I took a medicine given to me by my doctor for several health issues I was having... getting the flu, irregular EKG results, a family history of diabetes...” Everything, including the kitchen sink!

Athletes’ confessions are bumbling, defensive, confusing and always disappointing.  How come? Given their incredibly expensive retinue of advisors and lawyers, press agents and coaches, why is it so hard for them to simply talk honestly about their efforts to succeed?

The Sharapova case is educational for athletes across all sports.  What she could have said is that for years she used every supplement, every drug, every training technique and every mental focus technique in existence, and optimized them to achieve her stellar performances. 

And don’t all athletes want to do this?  Isn’t the whole point of training and competing to develop all your skill sets, and push yourself beyond previously accepted limits of human performance?  Top athletes spend their entire lives optimizing their speed, agility, strength, coordination and coaching to push themselves ahead of everyone else.  The best ones also optimize their nutrition, supplements and medications to build muscle, stay healthy and recover from injury and illness.

The future of sports performance may include more than just supplements and drugs that build muscle and increase blood flow. Tomorrow’s athletes will likely use genetic manipulation that stimulates the body to produce higher levels of proteins for muscle building, phosphates for energy use, and brain chemicals for focus and processing speed. 

Think this is fantasy?  It is already happening.  Even you do it! When you take glucosamine, an over-the-counter supplement known to aid arthritic joints, one of its effects is to stimulate the production of specific sugars in the matrix of cartilage that lubricates and protects our joints

Glucosamine, along with chondroitin sulfate,  regulates metalloproteinase activity by decreasing the protein synthesis of the enzymes, decreasing the production of the cell signaling molecules that upregulate them, and increasing their natural inhibitors. In short, the supplements affect the genes that affect the cartilage health.

This genetic stimulus of joint health permits people to perform better—whether walking, hiking or playing a top-level sport. 

And it’s not just glucosamine. Many of the things we put in our bodies affect multiple genetic and epigenetic systems, some for the good and some detrimentally.  The odd thing is that people get so upset about eating genetically engineered foods, when we genetically manipulate ourselves daily.

But back to Sharapova.  Her statement might have been, head held high, “Of course I took the legal supplements and drugs that my team doctors and coaches said would improve my blood flow.  Every athlete should investigate what is healthy for them, and helps them build better bodies.  I erred in not knowing that one drug had just become illegal in January— and for that I apologize, and accept a fine.” 

Look no further than the Olympic motto: Citius, Altius, Fortius, "Swifter, Higher, Stronger."  What is so hard about acknowledging the fact that we all want to win? And that we will do whatever it takes, within the rules and spirit of sport, to do so?  

Medically authored by
Kevin R. Stone, MD
Orthopaedic surgeon, clinician, scientist, inventor, and founder of multiple companies. Dr. Stone was trained at Harvard University in internal medicine and orthopaedic surgery and at Stanford University in general surgery.