Canadians march into the London Olympics squeaky clean after passing a pre-Games series of tests “driven by intelligence” designed to cut off doping attempts.
The tests – some on blood and some on urine – caught no Canadian athletes among the 85 per cent of Olympics-eligible athletes tested in the past six months from a long list, Paul Melia, president and CEO of the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport said in an interview.
They echo international tests which IOC president Jacques Rogge said have kept 107 athletes out of the Olympics as the IOC continues its crackdown on performance-enhancing substances. The positives have included leading marathon runner Abderrahim Goumri of Morocco, caught with the aid of the Athlete Biological Passport program.
“Intelligent testing” is another way of targeting athletes at a high risk for doping, said Melia.
“In the past, the approach was to randomly test athletes. We had sports organized by risk,” he said. Anti-doping sleuths have moved to checking not just for steroids and blood-boosting EPO (erythropoietin) but for manipulation of blood that can be a sign of performance enhancement.
A biological record of an athlete, some dating as far back as the 2004 Athens Olympics, is used in conjunction with suspicious events – like a sudden improvement in performance or an athlete constantly changing training venues. The CCES is in frequent contact with the World Anti-Doping Agency, national anti-doping bodies, and border agents to track performance-enhancers, and where they might be going, Melia said.
The CCES, born in the dark days following the steroid scandal involving Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, directs Canada’s anti-doping national policy and provides education to athletes and their support personnel to make them aware of their rights and responsibilities in London.
The CCES implemented sophisticated pre-Games tests for the highest-risk athletes at the most effective times, Melia said. “We’re aware of micro-dosing, now – athletes can get the benefit of performance enhancement, yet get the stuff to clear their system within 48 hours.”
Detection of cheating out of competition can cost up to $800 a test by the time one reckons lab fees, sample collection equipment, collection staff, couriers and security of the sample, Melia says. But the system is more savvy and proactive than in the past. “Deviation from normal blood and urine parameters can be a tip-off. We don’t need to find the substance to determine manipulation,” he said.
Even with modern technological tools to find cheaters, developing countries don’t have the resources or legal system to implement a water-tight anti-doping policy, Melia said.
“We’ve tried to change the culture away from win-at-all-cost,” he said. “Our education and anti-doping program is second-to-none,” said Melia. “It allows clean athletes to compete on a level playing field and deters cheaters from sullying the good name of true sport.”
Rogge said the international sweep was “a good sign for the fight against doping… We are continuing to test and test again before competition. We will be testing of course during the competition. I would say this is proof the system works, is effective and the system is a deterrent one.”
There will be around 6,250 samples analyzed at the Games, more than any other Olympics.