As the Olympics were in full force I thought of something I think about every Olympics; blood doping. I remember watching the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics with my brother, footage from a cross country skiing event, and a Spanish skier named Johann Muhlegg dominate the competition. He finished well ahead of any other skier. As I was a competitive cross country skier at the time for my high school team, seeing him finish beyond strong was inspiring to me. I thought, this guy might be my new hero. I was jacked for my next meet.
Then it came out that he tested positive for blood doping. He got his medal taken away. And he wasn't really my hero anymore.
Blood doping is the act of injecting additional red blood cells into your blood stream for a short time to increase your body's ability to carry more oxygen to its cells, upping your energy, endurance, making for a great performance. Blood doping emerged in the 1970s as a practice among athletes, and it wasn't banned in the Olympics until 1986. That gave Olympians a good decade and a half of being, as a British commentator would say, "bloody unstoppable."
Blood doping is a strange thing. My brother explained to me that going from a high altitude to a lower one is a natural form of blood doping. Sans needles and infusion. When I went to visit him in Golden, Colorado several years ago, having gone from Chicago, which is pretty much at sea level, up to the mountains where the air is thinner, my body started to, after a few days, create extra red blood cells to adapt to the thinner air. Less oxygen was getting in through my lungs, so my body found a way to even things out through overcompensation. As more red blood cells were created, more oxygen could be passed along from the lungs. When I went back to a lower altitude, my body having more blood cells than normal, but also a higher concentration of oxygen in the air, my blood was getting a real treat, sending around a real rush. Unfortunately, my time to experience this was on the tarmac as major airport delays caused us to sit for 4 hours waiting to take off again from a lay-over. Sitting still was a mad joke. Irritation danced from inside my skin as the likes of splintery clogs. I had the energy of 1,000 hormonal teenagers, each having chewed 1,000 espresso beans. And I got to just feel it, sitting strapped into my middle seat, waiting for clearance.
When I was deep into method acting, I once wrote in a journal that if I were to ever play a famous figure that was still alive, that a true hardcore commitment to taking on this character would be to inject their own blood into my veins and dive into the scene with it in circulation. This was a vampire-ish idea, and certainly can highlight the notion that acting is in a way based on sucking the personality of others, not sure if I ever planned on doing this, but my imagination did explore the notion. I no longer method act. Not to say that I never will, but the concept I jotted on my thespian bucket list was a creepy one that I won't be aiming to infuse into any approach to walk around in the character's theoretical shoes. But, I would like to see that performance, if say Johnny Depp, while hanging around with Hunter S. Thompson before shooting Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, had also been taking Hunter's blood for a spin in his body.
One summer, while visiting my old hometown, a former cross country ski teammate mentioned to me that one of our other teammate's second cousins was a nutritionist for a famous band's bass player and that she helped him blood dope. When I mentioned I heard this to that teammate on AIM she wasn't too happy that this knowledge was going around, so I am refraining from mentioning who it is. But based on the feeling I had sitting on that airplane with extra red blood cells to go around, I can see blood doping turning a stage presence into a scary and jolting experience. If Jon Voight had circulated the blood of Howard Cowsell in Ali, new meaning would be given to embodying the character. And if blood doping were a thing at punk rock shows, look out.