In an experiment that might prove the most revolutionary in sports history, a Swedish physiologist named Bjorn Ekblom recently tested seven students on a treadmill, determined their maximum "energy capability" and then extracted roughly a fifth of the blood in their systems. The amount withdrawn, about twice that normally taken from a blood donor, was then stored. The students, tested daily on the treadmill, showed lassitude for a while, but after two weeks their bodies had replenished the blood supply and energy capability was back to normal.
Then, a month after the original bloodletting, the stored blood was returned to their bodies, giving them, in effect, an oversupply. A startling rise in energy was immediately evident. "It was a fantastic feeling," one of the students said, "almost as though you were boiling over with energy." Physical performances soared to levels 20% beyond previous maximums. One observer suggested, "perhaps the blood transfusions provide a surplus of red blood cells, which transport oxygen for increased energy." Dr. George Sheehan, an American internist who is also a marathon runner, commented, "It seems like the sea-level answer to high-altitude acclimatization. What he is doing is raising the oxygen-carrying capacity something on the order of 10% to 12%."
In time, as the body readjusted its blood supply to normal, the students' energy returned to normal, too, but the significance of Professor Ekblom's findings remain. "Blood doping," as the process has been erroneously dubbed, is virtually undetectable. The possibility of preparing an athlete—or a racehorse, for that matter—for a super performance on a specific date is obvious.
Ekblom insisted, "The aim of the study was to study the oxygen transport system. I am not interested in creating supermen. I am frightened at the possibilities of its use within sport."
Despite his demurrer, the findings are certain to have a shattering impact. The prospect is grisly but the possibilities are limitless: runners aiming at Olympic golds, horses entered in the Kentucky Derby, pro football teams preparing for the Super Bowl.
PEARL AT ANY PRICE
Earl (The Pearl) Monroe's unhappiness with Baltimore—he refused to play for the Bullets this fall for a variety of reasons, a lot having to do with money (SI, Nov. 8)—has led the basketball star to lash out in all directions. One article had him saying of the Bullets' management, "They expect loyalty to the organization, but the organization has no loyalty, to you."
Owner Abe Pollin reacted angrily. He said he had given Monroe a $10,000 bonus after his first year to help his mother buy a house, paid all the legal fees when the player was involved in a lawsuit, loaned him money after a Baltimore bank had turned him down and helped him pay taxes that he owed. "If all this shows disloyalty to Earl Monroe," Pollin said, "then I'm guilty."
TO BUTE OR NOT TO BUTE