Drugs analysis fails speed test

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The Independent Online
With just 61 days to go until the opening ceremony of the Centennial Olympics, the laboratory which is due to analyse drug tests during the Games is not yet ready for operation.

The Atlanta Laboratory has yet to be granted the international accreditation necessary to conduct drug testing, forcing the organisers of yesterday's Grand Prix meeting in the new stadium to send all testing samples from their event to laboratories in Indianapolis or Los Angeles.

During the 17-day period of the Olympics, officials plan a $2.5m (pounds 1.64m) programme of testing, with every individual medal winner, plus other competitors selected at random, expected to provide a total of nearly 2,000 test samples. That is a volume of testing greater than the commercial laboratory in Atlanta would usually expect in a whole year of normal business.

Therefore, a team from the drug-test laboratory in Los Angeles is being brought to Atlanta to provide its expertise during the Games, while scientists from Germany who have been using the new high-resolution mass spectrometer over the past year are also being drafted in.

The much-vaunted machines have been credited with a quadrupling of positive tests among weight-lifters tested by the Germans in the past 12 months. It is claimed that they have the ability to detect steroid use in small quantities, and to determine when drugs have been used up to three months previously.

"If an athlete is taking drugs now, it is already too late to stop," Professor Arne Ljungqvist, of the International Olympic Committee's doping commission, said.

Although Olympic organisers are confident that the machines will be in place by the time the Games begin on 19 July, Dr Craig Krammerer, who supervised testing at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, fears that the whole testing programme this year is at risk. "It's impossible to get everything done in time," he said.

This is hardly likely to ease concerns of athletes over the introduction of a compulsory Olympic contract which waives their legal rights in the event of a dispute. "I'm an athlete who believes in standing up for my rights," Butch Reynolds, the world record holder for 400 metres, who fought and lost a three-year court case against the sport's authorities over a disputed positive drug test, said. "But the Olympics will go ahead with or without you, so I will sign under protest. But I'm unhappy because it leaves us with no recourse in the case of mistakes."

Only Carl Lewis, winner of eight Olympic golds, has come out in favour of the new contract. "An innocent person, someone not taking drugs, shouldn't be worried about it," Lewis said. "I'm doing nothing wrong, so I have nothing to fear."