Athletics: Golden Four abandon blood tests

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Abandoning blood testing at the elite Golden Four athletics meetings would appear to be the latest sign that officials are retreating in the war on drugs.

The meetings in Oslo, Zurich, Brussels and Berlin, leading events on the grand prix circuit, introduced blood testing amid much fanfare when they were launched in 1993.

Now blood tests, widely regarded as a significant advance in the battle against cheats, have quietly been dropped.

"We stopped the blood tests because there didn't seem any point in continuing," Wilfried Meert, director of the Ivo van Damme meeting in Brussels, said yesterday.

"We expected the international federation to introduce a new rule that allowed blood testing, that our tests would be a first step. But that never happened and the International Amateur Athletic Federation's own experts kept telling us that urine samples give just as good results.

"There were also difficult legal aspects. We never received the results of the tests - there was no reason why we should - but in the end it was very expensive and we agreed that it is the sort of initiative that ought to come out of the international federations, not from individual meeting organisers."

Results from analysing 99 samples taken over the first two seasons were only recently released. The findings indicated that three of 36 women athletes tested had testosterone levels above the normal range, including one which was three times above the accepted level.

The presence of extra testosterone, the male sex hormone, could lead to a four-year suspension if detected under the IAAF's standard urine analysis. However, no disciplinary action could be taken because the IAAF's rules have never allowed for blood testing.

Since the Golden Four are contested by some of the world's top athletes, the three positive tests may have included world record holders or Olympic champions.

But when the sport's governing body appears to back down from taking action against drug cheats, it may be expecting too much of meeting promoters to take a stand.

Last year the International Olympic Committee admitted it had thrown out five positive steroid tests discovered during the Atlanta Games. The five ignored tests followed the investment of $3m (pounds 2m) in much-vaunted new machinery, which proved far less reliable than had been hoped.

Only two athletes, both non-medallists, were sanctioned at the Centenary Games after nearly 2,000 tests.