Olympics Prone to Doping Cheats Despite Massive Efforts

 Olympics Prone to Doping Cheats Despite Massive Efforts
The biggest anti-doping effort in history of Olympics will be launched in Beijing, but the omens for a drug-free Games are not good.
Alongside steroids and the blood-booster EPO, testers have promised developments in tracing substances such as human growth hormone, which are undetectable with standard testing methods.

The chairman of the International Olympic Committee's Medical Commission, professor Arne Ljungqvist, said recently: "While it is to our advantage to not release all the details, enhanced testing will be administered in Beijing.

"You can expect continued efforts to detect human growth hormone and EPO."

Regardless of the improved tests, past Olympics have shown that some competitors will risk everything to win medals -- and there is no reason to believe Beijing will be any different.

It is a depressing statistic that in the blue riband Olympic sport, athletics, doping clouds hang over three of the last five men's 100 metres winners.

Canada's Ben Johnson notoriously caused the biggest drugs scandal in Olympic history when he tested positive for steroids after charging wild-eyed to victory in 1988 and was forced to leave Seoul in disgrace.

The reigning champion, Justin Gatlin, is serving a four-year ban for using steroids after the American failed a test two years after winning impressively in Athens.

And 1992 winner Linford Christie was refused a place on Britain's 2012 Olympic torch relay after he tested positive for the steroid nandrolone late in his career, although there is no evidence the Briton was on drugs when he triumphed in Barcelona.

Perhaps no former Olympic champion has fallen as far as Marion Jones, a triple gold medal winner at the 2000 Sydney Games, who is currently serving a six-month jail sentence in Texas for lying to investigators about her drug-taking.

US sports officials hope a line has been drawn under a dark chapter with the conviction in May of athletics coach Trevor Graham -- who guided both Gatlin and Jones -- for lying to federal investigators over the BALCO laboratory scandal which embroiled so many stars.

A doping furore nearly ruined the start of the Athens Olympics four years ago, when home sprint stars Kostas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou were allegedly involved in a motorcycle accident, apparently to avoid taking pre-competition tests.

Once the action got underway, Russia's Irina Korzhanenko was forced to hand back the women's shot putt gold medal after she was found to be taking the steroid stanozolol -- the same substance Ben Johnson used 16 years earlier.

Athletics is far from alone in the Olympics doping hall of shame.

Weightlifting has had a notoriously close relationship with drugs and Bulgaria has already withdrawn its entire weightlifting team from Beijing after 11 competitors tested positive for steroids.

In a major embarrassment for the Olympic host nation, one of China's leading hopes for a swimming medal failed a drugs test in June.

Ouyang Kunpeng, the country's leading backstroke swimmer who won three silver medals at the 2006 Asian Games, has been banned for life for steroid use, although an investigation will establish if the substance was taken accidentally.

The incident re-awakened unease about China's elite swimmers and track athletes, who were embroiled in numerous doping scandals in the 1990s and have been under a cloud of suspicion ever since.

Some observers argue that drugs use is not increasing, but the sophistication of testing is -- which is netting more cheats.

For example, many of the gold medals won in remarkable performances by East Germany's women athletes and swimmers are now widely discredited because the extent of the former communist nation's state-sponsored doping system was only revealed after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989.

The IOC has promised that athletes who fail tests this summer will face increased penalties and will be banned from competing in London in 2012.

But faced with the lure of gold and the potential riches it can bring, it seems inevitable that some competitors in Beijing will still reach for the test tube.


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