Introduction. Sports, Bodies, and Technoscience

From: Game Changer

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“It’s the motor, not the machine.” As a competitive cyclist in the late 1980s through the mid-1990s, I came to speak this phrase regularly. It became a familiar mantra that my compatriots and I would systematically repeat. Put simply, this saying means that one’s body—­ the motor—is vastly more impor­ tant than any technoscientific device, phar­ ma­ ceu­ ti­ cal treatment, or psychological conditioning in the final outcome of a cycling race. In hindsight, I repeated this phrase to ­ others and myself out of my own hubris, ignorance, and, most importantly, denial. This overly self-­ confident utterance by an aspiring twentysomething athlete should not come as a shock ­ because a large part of elite competitive sport is about sustaining an unwavering, and often illogical, belief in oneself. It is a belief in the superiority and infallibility of one’s body that undergirds this way of thinking. The body is potentially the only aspect of an athletic competition that an athlete can control completely. When the “game” gets tough, the body and the ­ mental and physical training absorbed by it ­ will, one hopes, carry one through to triumph. This ideal centers on the belief that when all ­ else fails, the “motor” ­ will transcend all and deliver an athlete to victory. Thus, it should not come as a surprise that the phrase “it’s the motor, not the machine” mollified insecurities, inspired confidence, and supplied motivation to carry on, even when chances for success grew ever slimmer. The growing popularity of this phrase among cyclists, and INTRODUCTION Sports, Bodies, and Technoscience INTRODUCTION 2­ others similar to it in other sports, stems from anx­ i­ eties about uncontrollable unknowns.1 One of the major aims of this book is to investigate how sporting communities respond to the uncontrollable unknowns that emerge from the inseparable interweaving of science and technology, or, more accurately, technoscience. In my case, as much as I attempted to push the technoscientific out of my consciousness, I was fully aware that technoscientific objects, practices, and procedures played a role in the final outcomes of races. By the 1990s, cycling, like most other sports, experienced a technoscientific explosion ranging from lightweight composite materials like carbon fiber to stretchy wind-­ cheating fabrics like elastane. Also during this period, sport began to embrace the scientific rigor that physicians, psychologists , and scientists brought to training, nutrition, and competitive preparation. ­ These technoscientific pathways—­ just like in the broader society—­progressed at a quickening and uncomfortable pace. Athletes like myself began to won­ der ­ whether ­ these technoscientific evolutions would become revolutions, with the technoscientific overshadowing the corporeal to a point where athletic competitions would no longer be between athletes on the field, but between scientists and technologists in the lab. As rhe­ toric around the “lab” in sport developed over the past few de­ cades, the “lab” that dominated public and media dialogues was not the engineering lab where mechanical engineers and material scientists developed new sporting equipment, but the lab where biochemists and phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal engineers manipulated ­human cells to extract maximum per­ for­ mance. It is in this regard that the use, potency, and legality of performance-­ enhancing drugs have come to dominate discussions and debates about technoscience and sport. Unfortunately, for many, tech­ noscience in sport has become synonymous with performance-­enhancing drugs.­ Until the last few de­ cades of the twentieth ­ century, the idea that athletes would use any object or substance—­ regardless of its legality or its impact on ­ future health—to improve their chances of winning was a foreign concept for a large portion of sport’s viewing publics. ­ These publics believed, at least in an American context, that elite athletes who willingly chose to use a questionable enhancing device or substance ­ were rare. Only unethical or rogue athletes would stoop so low as to demean themselves and their sports, or irreparably damage their bodies, by “cheating.” But as SPORTS, BODIES, AND TECHNOSCIENCE 3 recent admissions and exposés in ­ every major and minor market sport around the world have shown, the use of substances that athletes, trainers , or random acquaintances believed would improve per­ for­ mances and the ability to win are as old as sport itself. Even casual viewers of sport now understand that the late twentieth-­and early twenty-­ first-­ century eras have become defined by lean mass–­ building substances such as ­ human growth hormone (HGH) and blood-­ boosting drugs such as erythropoietin (EPO). The ubiquity of performance-­ enhancing substances...