Perkey vies to protect games, athletes from doping
19 Aug 2016
Finger wagging. Incivility. Accusations of corruption. No it’s not the presidential campaign trail. It’s headlines on doping scandals from the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
Away from the fray, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Dennis Perkey, an assistant professor of practice in nutrition and health sciences and an official doping control officer with the United States Anti-Doping Agency, is instructing future athletic trainers. And, if it weren't for a scheduling snafu, Perkey would be part of the international team monitoring Olympic athletes in Rio.
“When it gets right down to it, it’s about protecting the integrity of the sport and the integrity of the athlete,” Perkey said. “That’s the main goal and the main function of USADA. The best part of it for me is keeping the integrity of the sport, also keeping the integrity of the clean athlete and keeping the sport clean -- trying to keep everything on a level playing field.”
Perkey served in his role as a doping control officer at the 2012 games in London, an experience he described as “phenomenal.” He says there’s nothing quite like the Olympic experience of a 100-meter dash final.
“Everything just shakes," Perkey said. "It gets so loud. You walk outside and it just takes your breath away, how loud it is. That’s the race everyone comes to see. Your lungs just vibrate.”
He has been with USADA for 12 years, attending 15 to 20 major competitions a year. In early August he served at the U.S. Open Swimming Championships in Minneapolis. Earlier in the summer he worked the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials in Omaha, and last spring found him at the U.S. Wrestling Trials in Iowa City. Between those events, he worked several major cycling competitions.
At each of his recent assignments, Perkey has served as the lead doping officer in charge of coordinating with event organizers, supervising other doping control officers and shipping testing samples to the lab.
He said pressures to win can lead athletes to risk careers by taking performance enhancing drugs and other banned substances.
“I think they’re looking for that edge,” Perkey said. “They are willing to do whatever it takes. They’re young and sometimes they’re very vulnerable to suggestion and to other people who can be very manipulative. Sometimes they fall prey to those people, and I think that has a lot to do with doping in sports, along with the money.
“Some events are decided by 1/1000th of a second. That can mean the difference of $100,000. So if somebody can get a little bit of an edge to make that difference, some people are willing to take the risk and endanger their health, their reputation and the integrity of the sport.”
Despite those pressures, Perkey said most athletes are nearly unanimous in their support of the anti-doping process because it protects the integrity of the games and competitors.
And, the importance of maintaining that integrity is why doping officials follow strict protocols in monitoring athletes.
“When I have an open sample or a sample I’m about ready to ship off to the lab, I actually have that athlete’s career right there,” Perkey said. “Even if someone’s falsely accused, there’s still people out there who think they did it. Even if they just get a mild sanction, they’re still labeled by their other competitors.
"It’s very serious, and we take the process of collection very seriously. From the doping control officer standpoint, we definitely keep the integrity at the utmost forefront.”
College of Education and Human Sciences
Nutrition and Health Sciences