As cold as yesterday's mashed potatoes

I suspect that most of you aren't particularly excited about Danilo Di Luca's victory in the Giro d'Italia. Perhaps this is because you assume that any achievement in the sport of cycling is necessarily tainted by the spectre of performance enhancing drugs.

My view of the matter is a little different, and though I understand that there's probably nothing to be gained by arguing about it, here's something that confuses me. When dealing with sickness, we generally consider treatments with drugs to be less radical than surgical interventions. In sport, however, things seem to be reversed. An athlete can undergo mulitiple surgeries without anyone raising an eyebrow, but the use of steroids or EPO sparks worries about the legitimacy and authenticity of athletic performance.

I have heard the argument that performance enhancing drugs, unlike surgical interventions, change the essence of the athlete. Metaphysically I'm not sure what to make of this, but that's neither here nor there. The root of the idea seems to be that surgeries restore capacities lost through injury whereas performance enhancing drugs create formerly nonexistant capacities in an illegitimate way. But even leaving aside difficulties about the creation of capacities[1], this doesn't seem to be an accurate description of the workings of all performance enhancing drugs. Many of the most effective performance enhancing drugs, that is, achieve their ends by artificially increasing an athlete's ability to recover from the physical stresses of competition or training. What's wrong with that?

1 New capacities can be created in various ways, but not all of these methods are frowned upon. For example, creating new capacities through mere training or practice is thought to be legitimate, and obviously so, but it's not clear (to me at least) why. Moreover, there are surgical interventions (Tommy John Surgery, Lasik) which are treated as unobjectionable even though they create capacities.

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