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Will 'technology doping' be the first competition scandal at Sochi Olympics?

Chris Zelkovich
Eh Game

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United States short track speed skating teammates J.r. Celski, right, and Christopher Creveling run through a training …

We're barely three days into the XXII Winter Olympics and the only competition-related scandals to emerge from Sochi have been the questioning of judges and rumours of figure skating conspiracies. That's only happened XXII times before.

And surely it won't be long before the first positive drug test is revealed and some skier is sent home in disgrace, another Olympic tradition.

So, in other words, it's pretty much business as usual.

But many are wondering if there won't be a new category of scandal, at least for the Winter Olympics. With all the technology, science and money that has been poured into the equipment here, there's a possibility that the games of ice and snow could be rocked by type of controversy that hit the Summer Games in 2008.

That was the year those who donned the high-tech LZR swimsuits helped break a ton of records in the pool and created such a wave of protest that they were eventually banned. Many of those records have a virtual asterisk beside them, at least for those countries that didn't set them.

Whether or not somewhat is nabbed for "technology doping" will probably depend on how American speed skaters do in Sochi. Their new suits, manufactured with the assistance of aerospace engineers, have received the most hype of all the technological advances at Sochi and are said to allow skaters to reach previously unheard-of speeds.

Picture Wile E. Coyote on an Acme rocket sled.

If the American skaters finish at the front of the pack and set records, you can guarantee there will be an outcry about U.S. technology -- and money -- giving them an unfair advantage.

But if officials are going to be keeping a close eye on technological advances and any perceived unfair advantage, they're going to be awfully busy. The Winter Olympics are pretty much, and have been for some time, the Technology Games.

The introduction of clap skates created a stir in speed skating almost two decades ago and were cited as a key reason for a slew of broken records at the 1998 Nagano Olympics. There are almost as many technological innovations in the bobsleigh as there are in Formula One racing.

If they're giving out medals, somebody's going to try to find an advantage.

There's so much equipment being used here -- from skis to sleds to snowboards to outfits -- you wonder why the scientists behind them aren't standing on the podium when the medals are presented.

While Canada's Own The Podium program has received accolades for producing a record medal haul in Vancouver four years ago, little was said about the role technology played in our rise to the upper echelons of the Olympic medal standings.

About $1 million a year in taxpayer funding is spent on refining and advancing equipment and training techniques for Canada's Olympic teams. Between 2005 and 2010, Canada's high-performance program spent $8 million looking into everything and anything that would give our athletes an edge, from uniform materials and testing procedures.

And there's the real issue here. More than anything else, it's about money.

The Americans learned that in Vancouver when their sliding team arrived with a lot of antiquated equipment -- and one, brand new bobsled. Not surprisingly, their only gold medal came in that new piece of equipment, which had been developed at some considerable expense.

Based on that experience, the Americans enlisted engineers at BMW to redevelop all of their sliding equipment. That, too, required a few dollars.

So those who have money get the BMWs while those who don't head down the hill in Ladas.

As for the American suits, you have to wonder if this isn't all a bit another Olympic tradition: looking for a psychological edge. After all, if the American suits could turn tortoises into Usain Bolts, wouldn't they want to keep it a secret?

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