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.)
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.
- Drug test results came trickling in after the swimming competition
was over. Andrey Korneev of Russia, who placed third in the 200 breaststroke,
tested positive for a banned drug known as bromantan, apparently a designer
stimulant from Eastern Europe that can also act as a masking agent for steroids.
Korneev, who trains in Moscow and was ranked first in the world in the event
last year, was stripped of his medal.
Later still, Russian backstroker Nina Zhivanevskaya got caught in the net
for the same substance. Zhivanevskaya, who has a history of poor performances
away from home, was 8th in the 200 backstroke, 9th in the 100 back, and
led off the Russian women's medley relay that finished 7 th.
While some might still argue that these may be isolated cases, the failed
tests certainly look bad on the entire Russian team. Incidentally, bromantan
was the downfall of another Russian bronze-medal winner, wrestler Zafar
Gulyov, of Russian sprinter Marina Trandenkova, and also of Rita Razmaite,
a Lithuanian cyclist.
- The Olympic flame was barely snuffed out when the news came that both
disqualified Russian medalists, Korneev and Gulyov, had appealed their disqualifications
to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, on the grounds that bromantan was
not a stimulant and not on the list of banned drugs published by the IOC.
More distressing still was the fact that the CAS obliged and overturned
both suspensions; the athletes were reinstated and given back their medals.
Just like that.
We are left wondering what all of this adds up to.
Bromantan, a drug developed by the Russian military and manufactured by
the Russian Pharmacological Institute, was only identified about four months
ago by a Canadian scientist. Christiane Ayotte, director of the National
Institute of Scientific Research in Pointe Claire, Quebec, has been tracking
bromantan for months. She admits that little is known about the drug but
claims that it falls under the banned classes of substances. Drugs are broken
down into groups of like compounds and lists contain several known examples
and end with "and all related substances."
Apparently many Russian athletes were using bromantan as early as the 1988
Olympics in Seoul. According to the IOC, the substance was declared illegal
on June 5 of this year. So why are the cheaters being let off?
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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