With a still ongoing investigation, it’s been reported that Alexei Cherepanov, the Rangers prospect who died tragically in October, was apparently blood doping which may have caused his death. Blood doping refers to a practise which involves boosting the number of red blood cells. Oxygen is carried in red blood cells, and increasing the number improves athletic performance, specifically, aerobic capacity.
Blood doping has become increasingly more common as sports science has progressed. First, it is quite difficult to detect, considering that one of the first methods to find evidence of doping was to look for syringes in the athletes’ homes. It was not until recently that urine was used as a sample and with it the testing for a hormone called erythropoietin (EPO). EPOs stimulates the formation of red blood cells, but excess of EPO can cause polycythemia, in which the red blood cell count becomes abnormally high and causes the blood to become quite viscous, straining the heart. This is the most likely cause, reportedly, of Cherepanov’s death, who was also suffering from myocarditis.
The hockey world is treading on ice now. I think over the past 3 years we’ve seen an abnormally high amount of heart-related deaths for well-conditioned athletes, and while a part of it is because of the strict diet and exercise regimens the athletes follow, this is a little alarming. Blood doping is hard to detect because EPO is a natural growth hormone and also because there have been numerous cases of mix-up by anti-doping agencies. Things become a little murky here because 1) the NHL and IIHF are not involved in investigations, and 2) it’s still preliminary. There hasn’t been much information released so we’ll have to sit tight and see what other things come to light in the next couple weeks and months.
Remember Dick Pound, the crazy anti-doping activist that claimed a third of all NHLers were doping? Expect him to make a return sometime soon.