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Drug-Testing Lab Gears Up for Games


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Los Angeles, Calif. Nov. 6, 2001 (AP)–A drug-testing laboratory will be using millions of dollars’ worth of scientific equipment to ensure that athletes in the 2002 Winter Olympics aren’t using banned substances.

The lab, which will be operating near Olympic Village in Salt Lake City, will screen the urine of the 2,500 athletes competing in the Games for nearly 400 substances banned by the International Olympic Committee.

“There are very few people who disagree with the statement, ‘Sport ought to be clean,”’ said Dr. Don Catlin, director of Olympic Analytical Laboratory at the University of California at Los Angeles, which will conduct the urine testing. “The reality is, it isn’t. And somebody has to do the work to keep it clean.”

Nearly all of the athletes competing will be tested before the Games begin in February. Another 800 will be tested again during competition.

Urine samples are put through roughly 10 tests, designed to detect narcotics, stimulants, steroids, beta blockers, diuretics and other substances. Another four to five substances are added to the list each year

Cross-country skiers, biathletes, Nordic combined athletes and long-track speed skaters also will undergo newly instituted testing for erythropoietin, or EPO, a hormone that boosts production of red blood cells that carry oxygen to the muscles.

“We’re doing everything we can to make sure it’s the cleanest Games we can produce,” said Michele Brown, doping control program manager for the Salt Lake Organizing Committee.

Use of banned substances is less prevalent in winter sports: Experts predict just 1 percent to 2 percent of athletes will test positive, or about half the rate of summer Olympians.

“If you’re a cynic, one might say that’s because we didn’t have EPO testing,” said Larry Bowers, senior managing director of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

Winter sport has had its share of scandal.

In 1998, Canadian Ross Rebagliati was temporarily stripped of his Olympic gold medal in snowboarding after testing positive for marijuana. In February, six Finnish cross-country skiers tested positive for HES, a banned plasma expander, at the World Nordic Ski Championships in Finland. And in March, U.S. Olympic bobsledder John Kasper was suspended from the sport for two years after testing positive for the anabolic steroid methandienone.

The testing process is rigorous and must withstand legal challenge.

A key tool is mass spectrometry, which uses electrons to bombard test samples and break their molecules into ions. The tests can reveal whether elevated testosterone levels are natural or artificial.

Some substances, such as human growth hormone, continue to elude detection, which can leave anti-doping experts one step behind athletes.

“If athletes find a drug and they think we can’t detect it, they’ll take it,” Catlin said.

On the Net:

U.S. Anti-Doping Agency:

Salt Lake Organizing Committee:

Copyright © 2000 The Associated Press