SWIMNEWS ONLINE: August 1996 Magazine Articles

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Karin Helmstaedt

The drug-testing lab in Atlanta was touted as being the best in the world. Staffed by experts from International Olympic Committee-accredited labs in Los Angeles, Cologne, Indianapolis and Sydney, the lab was given the official green light on July 5.

More than 2,000 urine samples were to be tested throughout the Games, using three high-resolution mass spectrometers (HRMS) valued at $600,000 (U.S.) each.

First used at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, the HRMS are the most sophisticated machines available for steroid detection. The IOC medical commission chairman Prince Alexandre de Merode, a man with a questionable commitment to the fight against drugs and no apparent credentials for the position, stated that the machines could detect three times as many cases as traditional methods.

But while the HRMS are extremely sensitive to steroids, they are still unable to detect two widely used problem substances, human growth hormone (HGH) and the ever-elusive erythropoetin (EPO). Both are synthetically manufactured and their use not only enhances performance but also carries a certain risk.

The problem has not changed: cheaters use more and more sophisticated drugs and somehow remain a step or two ahead of testing technology. To make matters worse, once tests are conducted at the Olympics, the release of results is in the hands of the IOC. Given their record of unreported positives and shredded documents in 1980, 1984, and beyond, it is frustrating to think that all the technology in the world might not make a difference at all. Had someone not leaked the information to the press in 1988, Ben Johnson's failed test would more than likely have remained a secret.

The drug-related incidents in Atlanta were discouraging, to say the least. There were some positive tests, but we did not see the marked increase that was expected. There were just enough to make the lab look like it had served some purpose and justified all that expensive equipment.
It is now clearer than ever that all the hoopla about drug-testing technology in Atlanta was simply empty rhetoric. Given the results, or non-results, we are left wondering why so much money is sunk into such an utterly useless venture. Why test at all if every test will be overturned by a court whose bias is becoming more and more evident? And how many failed tests will be arbitrarily withheld this time around, we will never even know.

Until the testing agency is fully independent, and the test results become first-hand property of each individual sporting federation (such as FINA), there is no credibility to the whole operation. The CAS will overturn everything, and no matter what the sport bodies try to accomplish, it won't matter.

The Olympics have to look clean. That's all there is to it.

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