This year, the Japanese Olympic Committee and the Japan Sports Association marked their 100th anniversary. This is Part Five of a series looking back on the past century of sports in Japan and a look at what lies ahead.
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Doping in amateur and professional sports has long been a problem, but a little-known genetic aspect of the issue has made testing unfair for Asian athletes, according to a Japanese researcher.
Makoto Ueki has spent decades studying performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) and fighting for the rights of Asian athletes, who are sometimes mistakenly accused of cheating due to genetic differences with athletes of European descent.
Ueki made a presentation in front of anti-doping specialists from various countries at a symposium in Rome in June hosted by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).
He suggested simultaneously testing for numerous protein hormones, a form of PED that has been used recently among athletes.
Currently, separate tests must be conducted for each protein hormone.
This is "too time-consuming and will eventually have to be ended," Ueki says.
The researcher had worked as a doping test expert for Mitsubishi Chemical Medience, an official analysis institution in Japan, since the mid-1980s. He now serves as head of the anti-doping laboratory at the Japan Chemical Analysis Center, and develops new testing methods for PEDs.
Japan became alarmingly aware of doping issues after the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, when Japanese men's volleyball team member Eiji Shimomura was disqualified for allegedly injecting himself with testosterone.
It later turned out that he was innocent. He simply had a genetic composition that is often seen in East Asians.
After this incident, Ueki visited Dr. Manfred Donike of Germany, who developed the testing method for testosterone based on data from people of European descent.
Ueki explained that East Asians have a different hormonal metabolism, but Donike refused to accept that as a fact.
Ueki then mixed steroids into a glass of whiskey and drank it in front of Donike. He later sent Donike a data analysis of his urine and urine samples he took on his way back to Japan. The test results showed that East Asians indeed had a different hormonal metabolism.
This incident helped develop a relationship of trust between the two researchers. Ten years later, this friendship enabled Ueki to catch 11 Chinese athletes for violating anti-doping rules at the 1994 Asian Games in Hiroshima.
At the time, there were no standards for testing for dihydrotestosterone, which the Chinese athletes had used. Ueki came up with a standard after the Asian Games based on the Chinese athletes' past data provided by Donike, who obtained their data analysis and urine samples as a member of the International Olympic Committee Medical Commission.
Roughly six weeks after the Asian Games, the positive tests of the 11 Chinese athletes were announced.
One focal point of anti-doping now, ahead of the 2012 London Olympics, is the use of growth hormones, which can enhance muscle development. It has long been suspected that growth hormones were widely used by athletes, but it has taken time to establish a method of testing for and identifying the use of growth hormones.
A test developed in Germany was introduced starting with the 2004 Athens Olympics, but no Olympian has tested positive for growth hormones so far. Only a handful of athletes have tested positive in other official sporting events.
Ueki also developed his own testing method, which has been well received by WADA. As well, Britain has long been developing a testing method for growth hormones, and hopes to use it on home turf at the London Olympics.
The Olympics are the world's biggest stage, not only for athletes but also for researchers.
Ueki has worked in the Euro-centric world of anti-doping for decades, and he'd like to see more cross-continent cooperation.
"When Asian researchers conduct similar research, Europeans will not employ our methods," he says. "If that is the case, we should simply develop testing methods based on a completely different perspective or dimension."
Japan apparently has technology that the European researchers are unaware of.
"I hope to make such technology practical and use it overseas," Ueki says.
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