* Scientific jury still out on sex for athletes
* Condoms handed out, but Australian couple can't share room
* Studies show sex has no effect on power or endurance
LONDON, July 30 (Reuters) - The ancient Greeks believed
athletes should avoid sex before sport, but modern Olympians and
scientists are torn over the merits of in-competition coitus and
whether abstinence enhances performance.
For years coaches and athletes have practiced abstinence the
night or even weeks before a big event, although all bets are
off when the medal ceremony is over - 150,000 condoms are handed
out to the 10,500 athletes competing at the London Games.
Boxer Muhammad Ali reportedly went without sex for 6 weeks
before a big fight, and during the 1998 soccer World Cup, the
then English coach Glenn Hoddle famously forbade his squad from
having sex during the month-long event.
American Marty Liquori, the world's top 5000-metre runner
four decades ago, was once quoted as saying: "Sex makes you
happy. Happy people don't run a 3:47 mile."
Experts say the long-standing "no sex before sport" myth has
yet to be explored fully, however. Most research has been based
on the physiological impact and, so far, having sex has not been
found to reduce physical strength, power or endurance.
"When we test people in the lab, we are examining 'tests of
performance' but in competition, psychology very likely plays a
much more important role," said Ian Shrier, a professor in the
department of family medicine at McGill University in Canada.
"Those who claim it decreases performance usually say it is
because it decreases focus or aggression or tension. There are
no studies that have examined this."
SWINGING FROM THE RAFTERS
A review of scientific studies on the issue published in the
Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine suggested sex the night
before competition has no effect on physiological test results.
In one study, 14 married male former athletes were given a
maximum-effort grip strength test the morning after coitus, and
the same test after at least 6 days without sex. The results
showed neither strength nor endurance of the flexing muscles was
adversely affected by sex the previous night.
A follow-up to this study was conducted by researchers at
Colorado State University on 10 fit, married men aged between 18
and 45. In their tests for grip strength, balance, lateral
movement, reaction time, aerobic power, and VO2 max - a measure
oxygen efficiency - sex appeared to make no difference.
A third study conducted in 1995 found having sex 12 hours
prior to a fitness test had no significant effects on maximal
aerobic power, oxygen pulse or blood pressure.
A theory that sexual frustration makes people more
aggressive, and that ejaculation draws testosterone, an athletic
performance-related hormone, from the body, has yet to be
"Even if that theory is correct, most people currently
believe there is an optimal level of aggression or focus - too
little and you don't do well, too much and you don't do well,"
Martin Milton, an expert in psychotherapeutic and
counselling psychology at the University of Surrey, said the
effect of sex would depend very much on who's doing it, how
often, for how long and in what way.
"If it's 'up all night swinging from the rafters' type sex
we're talking about, then obviously the athlete is not going to
be getting enough sleep or rest and their mind isn't on the
job," he said in a telephone interview.
"So that might well be more the issue than whether or not
being involved in a short period of sex might be detrimental to
LET'S TALK ABOUT SEX
At the London 2012 Games, while there might not be much sex
being had, it's certainly being talked about.
Even London Mayor Boris Johnson is getting in on the act,
telling reporters last week he wants the Olympics to "inspire a
generation" not "create a generation".
The Australian team hit the headlines when its committee
decided shooter Russell Mark could not share a room in the
athletes' village with his wife and fellow shooting competitor
Mark, a six-time Olympian and double trap gold medallist in
the 1996 Atlanta Games, said he was planning to sneak off in the
night to see his wife.
The Australian Olympic Committee played down the furore,
saying allowing the couple to share would inconvenience other
In Italy, sports fans have been fascinated by the pre-race
activities of the nation's best-known sportswoman, Federica
Pellegrini, who won a gold medal in the 200 metres freestyle at
the Beijing 2008 Games.
Her boyfriend, fellow Italian swimmer Filippo Magnini, told
magazine Chi they would be avoiding sex before Pellegrini's
Pellegrini, 23, who once appeared naked and painted in gold
on the cover of Vogue, was not so sure.
"Abstinence!" she said. "Are you mad?"
(Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)