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New test helps authorities fight drugs at Olympics

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David Bond | 18:04 UK time, Wednesday, 25 July 2012

The spectre of drugs is never far away from the build-up to any Olympic Games.

In Athens in 2004 the Greek sprinters Kostas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou were at the centre of one of the biggest doping scandals in history when they were thrown out of their home Olympics for failing to comply with the testers. They were even accused of faking a motorbike crash as they tried to evade the officials.

Then in Beijing four years ago seven Russian athletes were thrown out of the Games a week before the opening ceremony.

So far London has been relatively untouched by the most familiar of Olympic scourges.

But on Wednesday it was firmly back on the agenda as world anti-doping chiefs revealed a new, tougher test for Human Growth Hormone (HGH) has been developed by scientists in time for use here.

A test for the banned drug - which is used by athletes to build muscle and increase power in shorter, explosive events - was introduced before the Beijing Olympics four years ago. But it was only able to detect cheats who used it for around a day after they had used it.

According to David Howman, the director general of the World Anti Doping Agency (Wada), the new test has a window of weeks not days - giving testers a much greater chance of catching those who take it.

David Howman, Wada, Olympics

David Howman of the World Anti Doping Agency (Wada) speaking ahead of London 2012. Photo: Getty

Howman told me the breakthrough was a "significant boost" on the eve of the Games and added that with more than 300 samples already taken from athletes here the test was up and running.

But despite this development he couldn't guarantee these Games would be the cleanest in history.

"I'm far too cynical and have been let down too many times before," he said.

According to senior anti-doping officials the HGH breakthrough is nevertheless a significant moment. Rather than testing for the substance itself it looks to detect two chemical 'markers'. It was developed by a team of British researchers who have been working closely with the UK Anti Doping agency over the last three years.

Despite the introduction of the first HGH test back in Beijing, there were no positive tests for the substance. In fact the first finding came in 2010 with the rugby league player Terry Newton, a tragic affair which sadly ended with the player ending his own life.

Officials are confident this test will be more effective although and that it will stand up to any legal challenge.

News of the breakthrough came on the day it emerged that the Moroccan 1500 metres runner Mariem Alaoui Selsouli - a hot favourite for a gold medal here - would miss the Games after testing positive for a banned diuretic.

And the International Association of Athletics Federations also announced today that nine athletes had been banned in the run-up to London. Although we knew about seven of the nine positive tests, the method of detection was the interesting element of the IAAF's release.

Three of the nine, including the Beijing 1500m bronze medallist Nataliya Tobias of Ukraine, were detected following the re-testing of samples collected at the 2011 World Championships in Daegu. The other six were caught as a result of biological passport testing.

With 5,000 tests being conducted here - the highest number at any Olympics - anti doping officials say they have the weapons to take on the cheats. The problem is the cheats always seem to be one step ahead of the testers.

Idowu row baffles UK Athletics

The UK Athletics head coach Charles Van Commenee has admitted today he is "frustrated" by the latest controversy involving Phillips Idowu. Although the two men are far from best friends, having had their own disputes in the past, my understanding is that UK Athletics are as perplexed as Idowu's camp by the BOA's decision to go public with their request for the triple jumper's medical records.

Van Commenee, UKA and Idowu came to an arrangement long ago which gave the athlete the freedom to follow his own training programme so long as his coach Aston Moore, who is on UKA's payroll, keeps them in the loop.

As far as UKA are concerned Idowu is one of Team GB's biggest stars and despite being seen as a difficult character at times should be given a greater degree of flexibility. UKA share Idowu's view that the request for his medical records should have been kept in house although the BOA argue they were only acting out of a duty of care for the athlete.

Briton Reedie set to win IOC election

Barring a late entrance into the contest, former BOA chairman Sir Craig Reedie should be elected unopposed to one of two new vice presidents of the International Olympic Committee. Reedie is already a member of the IOC executive board but his elevation will guarantee he stays on that influential body until 2015.

He will become the first vice president of the IOC since the Marquis of Exeter back in the 1960s. Elsewhere London 2012 chairman Sebastian Coe confirmed today he would look to replace Lamine Diack as IAAF president when he stands down. Although hardly a surprise Coe clearly feels confident enough in London's preparations for the Games to declare now. He faces a tough battle to beat Ukraine's former pole vaulting Olympic champion Sergei Bubka.


  • Comment number 1.

    I think they are too late. These may be the gene doping games. HGH is old news. Chinese dopers where offering gene enhancement back in 2006. Its been 14 years since the Schwarzenegger mice and 9 since the marathon mouse. It must be ready by now.

    I'm glad the BBC has lots of articles on this issue however. They haven't buried it as is normal. Drugs in sport is a major turn off for me. I just don't care who has the best chemist. I have no interest in events like the 100m. None of the athletes look human any more.

    If the triple jumper is clean, he should just stop complaining. It makes no difference. If its a major worry for him, then good.

    I'm concerned the UK is so optimistic about its chances. Have we been doping to ensure a 'great games' with lots of home wins?

  • Comment number 2.

    Test all you like, Great Britain still picked a drug cheat.
    Great Britain could have sent a message to the rest of the world, but they chose not to.
    Just remember Great Britain picks the Team, not the World Anti-Doping Agency.
    Like always, a chance of an extra medal means more.
    What sort of message does this send out to youngsters.

  • Comment number 3.

    #2 Britain only picked Chambers (and Myercough and Millar) because they had to. If they didn't pick them they would have been breaking the law. They wanted to ban athletes who failed a drug test from ever competing at the Olympic but that stnce was deemed illegal.

    And frankly its laughable to consider Chambers a medal prospect

  • Comment number 4.

    Indeed, Chambers won't win a medal. There are far too many athletes that can run not only faster than he could on drugs, but they also run much faster than Ben Johnson did on drugs.
    Ben Johnson got caught taking stanozolol (Winstrol - mostly used as a cutting agent) but admitted to also taking Testosterone Cypionate, Dianabol, Furazabol, and human growth hormones too (1988 - we are way past hgh now - this test is 20 years late).
    However apparently most sprinters can now run faster than he could on drugs. Some much faster. Yeah right. Lawyers are ensuring this game of the emperors new clothes continues. Anatomists should be able to rule out drugs cheats but lawyers cast 'reasonable doubt' and juries are stupid. Sport has been broken since the Russians dabbled with testosterone and the Americans invented Dianabol to beat them in the late 1950s. Its now at the point where if you don't take drugs, you wouldn't even be there in many sports.

  • Comment number 5.

    The cheats will always be a couple of steps ahead and people will always get away with it. Hopefully any new tests that do come in will just make the cheats think twice about it.

    We will never stop the cheats and we will never catch all of them but if we can keep progressing with testing then at least we might be able to retrospectively be able to ban people that have cheated in the past. It will not solve the problem but might contain it slightly.

  • Comment number 6.

    sarms ,sarms sarms ,sarms sarms sarms sarsms and more sarms

    sarms are the drug of choice for shorter sprints at moment
    plus for the lucky few maybe used with powerful combo of it plus undetectable roids .

    gene doping is still in its infancy ,
    and will be for many years to come
    still dont know enough about which genes do what

    the drug of choice is always what is being newly researched
    so for shorter sprints is all about sarms ,sarms sarms.
    to many spinters running fast times to be gene doping
    the increase in speed endurance is very much a quality of
    them and can be seen in faster 200m and closing speeds in 100m
    and younger get athlete on sarms the more progression to be had .

    and for endurance events there are the newer drugs
    getting more oxygen to muscles rather than previous
    epo analogues again what has been coming out of research
    in past few years . similar to aicar

  • Comment number 7.

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  • Comment number 9.

    The article was obviously written before the Moroccan girl was tested positive and is out of the Games. If anyone really thinks that these Games will be drug-free then they are deluding themselves. Sadly the culprits (or their doctors) are always one step ahead of the drug-testers. And when approval is given for former drug cheats to be allowed to return to competition then the whole episode of eliminating drugs from sport becomes a joke. Bicycle racing has a terrible record and practically every recent winner of the Tour de France has been later stripped of the title, and Amstrong is now under suspicion. I was bitterly disappointed to see that Skye, the team of Bradley Wiggins, take on the Dutch doctor who was at the centre of the drugs row with the Rabobank team which was disbanded after so many of its riders were tested positive several years ago. It would have been so much rewarding if Skye had refrained from employing someone who was alredy tainted.
    As regards these Olympics. Rest assured that some virtually unknown athlete will appear from nowhere and we will all be pointing fingers and expressing concern.

  • Comment number 10.

    James Autar - The Rabobank cycling team were not disbanded, and continue to be a top cycling team (you'd have noticed them in the latest Tour de France if you'd watched it), and the riders who were caught doping were three members who were linked to a blood doping scheme run by a Swiss doctor - not the one that Team Sky have hired. The accusations against him appear to be more of the line of condoning doping, which could also be levelled against nearly anyone involved in road cycling ten years ago - so how do you find a doctor with knowledge and experience of professional cycling who isn't tainted?

  • Comment number 11.

    @10 well i'm glad you said that, saved me the hassle!

    Also in response to a couple of the posts on here, no one, not one single person has said the Olympics will be drug free, they are simply stating that they have a new test which enables them to better detect and catch athletes using a certain type of drug. Oh and for those of you saying "we are way past HGH" "HGH was 20 years ago" what would you have them do?! Give up on it and let the cheats get away with using HGH?! Give me a break! Cheats in all forms need to be caught and need to be punished.

    Finally for those of you complaining about the admittance of past users into team GB, as has already been mentioned their hand was forced by WADA winning their case against the BOA. However, I do feel that having served bans and becoming very outspoken about drug use these athletes maybe deserve a second chance, they did something they shouldn't have, were caught, accepted responsibility and served their bans, why should they not get a second crack at it? And why should Team GB not pick those athletes who have proven themselves by meeting whatever standards have been set? Other countries have former drug cheats in their squad, why would we be any different?

  • Comment number 12.

    It's funny that people love to tar cycling as sports 'dirty' neighbour, yet in the last 15 years we've seen performances in cycling drop whilst all other sports have gone forwards in leaps and bounds.

    The best indicator in cycling for performance is Watts produced per kilogram of body weight.
    15 years ago when Lance was ripping up the Tour this figure was about 6.8W per KG.
    This year that figure has dropped to about 6W per KG.

    Be as cynical as you like, but any sport where performances are dropping, even taking into consideration advances in nutrition and training techniques, is a sport that's taking drug cheats seriously.

    So why if there are 10,000 athletes at the London Games are the anti-doping agencies only estimating doing 6,000 dope tests? Surely every athlete should be tested?

    And I wish people would stop burying their heads in the sand that their sport is one that drugs cheats would never prosper in.
    Football is the greatest example of this......
    Are you telling me that the statisticians haven't figured out that footballers are only tested about once every three years, and that the majority of goals are scored in the last 10 minutes of a match? Surely a doped football team (or strikers at the very least) would be running stronger after 80 minutes than a non-doped team. Yes drugs wont affect the skill involved, but in those last 10 minutes it's fitness that counts hence why so many goals are scored then.
    Football (and lots of other sports) have their fingers in their ears and are shouting "la la la, can't hear you" if they think they're squeaky clean.

  • Comment number 13.

    I think Michael Johnson had it right on 5live the other night. Drugs cheats deserve a second chance, but the penalties for cheating are too lean - 2 year ban is a joke. Up it to 4-5 years and athletes will think twice about cheating.

    I wonder how many athletes are caught by a genuine mistake with the wrong type of medication/false reading etc? A life ban on the Olympics would seem harsh in this situation

  • Comment number 14.

    Mike Fay - thank you for correcting my submission. No, I gave up watching the Tour de France many years ago as you never knew you was on drugs and who was'nt and I lost interest.
    My point is that in 2007 Geert Leinders was a member of the medical staff at Rabobank - Michael Rasmussen's team. Dekker tested positive for EPO and we all know what happened to Rasmussen. The team manger Theo de Rooy was sacked and recently rold a Dutch newspaper that doping was an accepted practise at Rabobank during the time that he was boss.
    Just recently Dave Brailsford the Sky General team manager admitted that Leinders has been employed by Sky since 2010 but that they are NOW investigating his past!!
    I will not comment further.

  • Comment number 15.

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  • Comment number 16.

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  • Comment number 17.

    great take advice from one of dirtiest two faced athletes going
    a certain 400m record holder .

  • Comment number 18.

    hgh is not worth the effort ,
    does nada for alot of people ,even makes them worse with insulin resistance .

    so great there is a better test up to 4 weeks !!

  • Comment number 19.

    WHen the anti-doping agencies are testing for banned substances more often than not they will not be testing for a performance enhancing drug, they will be testing a for masking agent. Many of the drugs common in the past are still used today. HGH, Testosterone, anabolic sterioids but some athletes take these drugs in very controlled amounts over very controlled time frames in order to maximise effect and minimise positive tests, they will then take an additional drug, which may not be on the banned list, that will mask the performance enhancing drug. EPO and Nandrolone were not new drugs they had additives in them that made them harder to detect but in essence were still the same steroids etc.

    Most sports have drugs in them. I have competed in a Martial Arts sport and steroid abuse was common. In fact some coaches promoted it as the only way to be "world class" as "everybody was doing it". Even in Rugby Union, there are players at very low level clubs who take steroids to bulk themselves up.

    I would be removed from posting if I suggested any names but you only need to look at various athletes and see how well they progressed from one season to the next. Some of the improvements are astounding! I would include some huge names in this list!

    Interesting point for discussion, would you include food supplements as performance enhancing? Glucose Tablets, Iron Supplements, "Chinese Herbal Remedies"

  • Comment number 20.

    cant believe there are only 6,000 tests planed
    for the olympics every single athlete should be tested at least once
    and all medal winners tested again, at the very least

    Doping is a common practice in almost all sports, and i mean all sports
    It is rife in football, and FIFA are blind (for examples of fifa being blind see racism)
    It is more common in athletics that you'd think, they just dont get tested enough
    etc. etc.

    Gert Lienders was part of the Rabobank Team when Dekker was caught
    Michael Rasmussen never failed a test, he missed several, and this equates to a failed test. Lienders is now part of Sky, and combine this with several of their riders sudden growth in performance is suspicious.

    I expect 10-20 participants of the Olympics to fail a test, at least. Otherwise WADA and the IOC are not doing enough to stop doping.

  • Comment number 21.

    "..The problem is the cheats always seem to be one step ahead of the testers..."

    Yes, this will always be the case because the potential rewards are high and now (given recent court rulings!) there are no real deterrents for the would be drugs cheats to contemplate! A career in ruins?.... of course not.. just go and rest for a couple of years, come back say you are sorry and 'bob's your uncle'!

    There is a good chance that a significant majority of people paying to watch events in these Olympics will be conned; imagine how disappointed they will be, if, after paying out considerable sums to watch, say a final, they are told later that the person who won was cheating! Do you think they will feel they have had 'value for money'?

    However whilst we continue to stump up the money to watch something we know stands a good chance of being 'nobbled', then it will all continue unabated .... what do they say........ " a fool and his money are soon parted". The trouble is most of us have had no say in this charade, except perhaps to stay away!

  • Comment number 22.

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  • Comment number 23.

    It's good to know every ones comments are so positive about the doping situation at the London Olympics.

    Many comments have been made about cycling's history of doping. Much of this has come from the peculiar nature of the events which make up the professional calendar. Fortunately cycling has made strenuous efforts to clean itself up. I believe it was professional cycling which first introduced blood passports to identify the epo/blood doping cheats with great effect.

    The introduction of power meters, alluded to by other posters, show how performance has declined in the Grand Tours over the last few years instead of improving as all other sports seem to do. In fact the French press were quick to point out how boring the Le Tour was this year as Sky controlled the race with the least effort possible. Yes, there were a couple of positive results but overall, as an average bike fan, I believe they're getting there. That riders themselves want to be clean too.

    The introduction of retrospective testing of samples from up to 8 years ago I'm sure will deter many. How many sponsors, employers, friends or even family will want to know you if they find out you cheated to get your Olympic, world championship medal or broke a world record by sticking a needle in your arm. The record books are wiped clean, you're out of it, only infamy and the self knowledge you weren't really good enough.

    We as sports fans or even competitors have to believe we can clean out the drug cheat otherwise we will never be able to pass on our enthusiasm for our sports to our children. Why be like Bradley Wiggins or even better than him if you can't believe he got their ethically, only with a laboratory behind him. It's because BW and many others will show in London over the next few weeks it can be done which makes it more inspirational. Why the vast majority, probably 99.5% of the athletes walking around the Olympic village are just like him - CLEAN. Wanting to be hailed for their performance achieved by sheer bloody hard work, dedication and self sacrifice.

    As for the cheaters who've been allowed back in to the fold, we know who they are, what they've done and they will forever carry that stain with them for the rest of their lives. Cheating at sport is not murder, rape or child abuse therefore I think we can apply something called forgiveness to for admitting their guilt, serving their 'sentence' and because they love their sport so much, a willingness to put themselves above the parapet again for the critics to shoot at them.

    Let the games begin and I'm going to bloody well enjoy them.


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