The suspected Russian hack of the medical records of several dozen Olympic athletes this week revealed no wrong-doing or illegal doping activity, but it did reveal one controversial fact: a lot of athletes say they have asthma.
That's because this claim of exercise-induced asthma allows athletes to obtain a special "therapeutic use exemption" or TUE from international sporting agencies, such as the International Olympic Committee.
Some athletes do have asthma and are taking medications to return to normal. For others, it's a case of taking a legal advantage to obtain drugs that others are already using.
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The release of information held by the World Anti-Doping Agency by hackers this week showed that Olympic and Tour de France cyclists like Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome have TUEs for asthma, as well as Czech tennis player Petra Kvitova and German discus champ Robert Harting. They were among the 29 athletes' medical records released in the data dump.
Asthma drugs, such as albuterol, when taken in a mist through an inhaler, open the lung's airways and allow a greater amount of oxygen into the body.
"At some point in time, the notion took hold that asthma medicines could increase oxygen uptake, although the research shows that's not always the case," said Mark Johnson, a San Diego-based journalist and author of the recent book "Spitting in the Soup: Inside the Dirty Game of Doping In Sports."
"So a lot of athletes started asking for use exemptions. That is what Russia is trying to indicate that they are not alone," Johnson said. "That other countries are using other methods to get away with doping."
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