SPORTS

Drug police prepare for 2004 challenge

LAUSANNE – Athletes using human growth hormone be warned: The drug police will be waiting to catch you at the Olympics next summer. A test for the previously undetectable drug – considered one of the most widely used banned substances in sports – is all but finalized and likely to be introduced at the Athens Games, World Anti-Doping Agency officials said yesterday. And, even if the test isn’t quite ready for Athens, officials will be able to retest samples later to punish cheaters retroactively. «We’ve never been so close to having a test in our hands,» said Olivier Rabin, WADA’s science director. Human growth hormone, or hGH, works like an anabolic steroid, building muscle mass and helping athletes recover faster from hard training. Although hGH has been around for decades, standard doping controls haven’t been able to distinguish between the naturally produced hormone and the synthetic version used by cheaters. Attempts to devise a test for hGH have dragged on for years, with a number of projects stalled by a lack of funding. Rabin said WADA was now in the final phase of validating two hGH tests developed by scientists in Britain and Germany. Both involve blood, not urine, tests. «We are doing everything we can to bring it in as quickly as possible,» Rabin said in an interview during a WADA symposium. WADA, however, will not announce when or if the test is ready, preferring to keep the drug cheats guessing. Rabin said WADA could also have new tests for blood-based oxygen carriers, illegal blood transfusions, insulin and new steroids. «There will be new substances detected in Athens, there’s no question about that,» Rabin said. «We hope hGH is one of them. But we don’t want to tell the athletes when it’s coming. They know it’s prohibited. The day we catch one or several athletes, then it will be revealed to the world that the test has been validated.» Rabin stressed that if a test is not used in Athens, it will be put into practice shortly after the Olympics. The Athens samples will be stored and re-analyzed for hGH once the test is finalized, he said. Retesting of drug samples took place in several sports last year following the unmasking of the designer steroid THG, the drug at the center of a major US-based scandal. Rabin said WADA had evidence that at least one other designer steroid – devised specifically to avoid detection – was in circulation in the sports world. «We are tracking some of these substances,» he said. «We are asking labs if they see any unusual readings to keep the samples and retest them to identify any unique pattern.» Meanwhile, WADA officials said Kelli White and five other US athletes who tested positive last year for the stimulant modafinil were fortunate to have escaped without two-year bans. White tested positive at the World Championships in Paris, claiming she used modafinil for treatment of the sleep disorder narcolepsy. She faces being stripped of her gold medals in the 100 and 200 meters. The International Association of Athletics Federations ruled at the time that modafinil was a «minor» stimulant and warranted a public warning and disqualification from the event but not a ban. WADA’s list of banned substances, which went into effect on January 1, classifies modafinil in the group of stimulants carrying a two-year ban. WADA medical director Alain Garnier said medical research has shown that modafinil can enhance performance by stimulating the reflex action of the muscles, particularly useful in sprint events. Others who tested positive for modafinil were sprinters Calvin Harrison and Chryste Gaines and hurdlers Chris Phillips, Sandra Glover and Eric Thomas. The cases are being handled by the US Anti-Doping Agency. Despite WADA’s ruling on modafinil, agency and IAAF officials said the athletes would likely be judged by the rules in place at the time. «If Kelli White was to test positive today, she would get two years,» IAAF spokesman Nick Davies said. «But I can’t see how she could be banned for last year’s test.» Also yesterday, basketball’s world governing body became the 24th Summer Olympic federation to adopt WADA’s anti-doping code, which sets out uniform rules and sanctions cutting across all sports and countries. Under the accord, NBA players eligible for Olympic teams will be subjected to out-of-competition drug tests before Athens just like athletes in other sports. Soccer, cycling, volleyball and badminton are the four sports yet to formally enact the code, but WADA director general David Howman said he expects all to sign up as required before Athens.