It’s official: Triple Crown contender California Chrome can wear his nasal strip to the Belmont Stakes, a decision by the New York State Gaming Commission that dismisses the possibility of an unfair advantage.
But race horses aren’t the only competitors to don the nostril-stretching strips, according to Dr. Cathy Fieseler, president of the American Medical Athletic Association Board. Human athletes have tried them, too.
“People are always going to look for something that’s going give them a tenth of a second or a hundredth of a second advantage,” said Fieseler, referring to athletes like retired San Francisco 49er Jerry Rice, who put nasal strips on the map among human athletes. “They’ll try anything if they see somebody using it.”
Even Meb Keflezighi, winner of the 2014 Boston Marathon, has been photographed wearing nasal strips, although he didn't wear one during this year's race.
“They may make someone more comfortable,” Fieseler said, explaining how most athletes breathe more out of their mouths than their noses when they run. “As far as enhanced performance, I don’t think there’s anything to back that up.”
That might be why the stretchy strips have fallen out of favor among athletes in recent years. Robert Truax, a doctor of osteopathy at UH Case Medical Center in Cleveland, said that any performance-enhancing effects – if they do exist – are exceedingly minimal.
“At what level does a few tenths of a second matter?” he said, likening the strips to the compression socks and sleeves worn by athletes in a range of sports. “They may or may not help performance, but at the end if the race, the person may not feel so fatigued. They’ll feel better.”
Compression socks reduce swelling to keep blood flow in the central part of the body, according to Truax.
“It’s not like a drug,” he said of nasal strips, which he wore when he ran a half marathon. “It’s a truly mechanical advantage.”
New York State Gaming Commission’s equine medical director, Scott Palmer, today discontinued the state’s ban on the strips, citing a lack of research that shows they enhance performance.
“In my opinion equine nasal strips fall into the same category as tongue-ties,” he said in a statement. “Equine nasal strips do not enhance equine performance nor do they pose a risk to equine health or safety and as such do not need to be regulated.”