Drugs in Sport: Samples are starting to tell the story: The Sports Council opens the doors to its drug-testing laboratory. Mike Rowbottom reports

THE clock on the wall of the Sports Council's drug testing laboratory at Chelsea showed 2.05pm. It was in fact 10 to three. Happily for the wider sporting community of this country, the centre's investigative gas chromatographs appear to be operating more reliably than their chronometers.

Of the average of 4,000 samples processed each year by this lab, around 20 per cent are deemed worthy of further investigation and 1 per cent yield positive results.

The actual figure for positive tests across all sports domestically has fallen slightly over the last three years. In 1992-93 there were 48; in 1993-94, there were 41.

'These figures are reflected in the 90,000 tests that are conducted annually, worldwide across all sports,' said Dr David Cowan, who is the director of the Drug Control and Teaching Centre.

'I see it as a victory rather than a defeat,' he said. 'In sports where there is a testing programme, fewer people are taking drugs.'

Once a urine sample is taken from a competitor, the container, with a number etched into it, is sealed and delivered to the laboratory - preferably within three days. It is then divided, with half - the B sample - being frozen and stored for possible future use as a check.

Cowan recalled an occasion when a batch of samples from Ireland were held up at customs in Liverpool and arrived at the lab a month late. They were not fit to be tested. But once a sample is frozen it should not degenerate. 'We tested one sample satisfactorily a year after it had come in to us,' Cowan said.

The part of the sample which goes forward to immediate analysis - the A sample - is split again into several components before undergoing a process of increasingly thorough screening.

A portion tested for the presence of banned stimulants is put through a gas chromatograph, which resembles a small oven. Here it is processed through a silicon tube at temperatures of up to 270C. Heating and gas flow are constant, and as the sample breaks up, its components take differing times to be detected at the end of the tube - known as reduction times.

These times are known. With ethedrine, for instance, the relative pointers are 2.8 and 3.1 minutes. Its proportion within the overall sample can be measured at the same time.

Testing for drugs in the steroid class - generally present in far smaller quantities than stimulants - involves a similar process of gas chromatography and also employs a mass spectrometer, which can provide a more detailed profile.

In every case, the first testing of the A sample represents a screening process. If the presence of a banned substance is suspected, another part of the A sample is tested as a check. Often it can be treated in a way which makes it easier to confirm the suspect chemical involved.

Of course, the battle of wits between the testers and those attempting to remain one step ahead goes on. But there was some encouraging news from the front yesterday from Dr Cowan, who reported that researchers were about to finalise a test for dihydro testosterone and human chorionic gonadotrophin, naturally occurring substances which are taken artificially to improve athletes' stamina and endurance.

'I think we are making some impact,' Cowan said. 'I used the analogy of drilling metal. We are going three forward, two backward. But overall we are advancing.'

(Photograph omitted)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
ESPN footage showed a split-screen Murray’s partner Kim Sears and Berdych’s partner Ester Satorova 'sporting' their jewellery
tennis
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballThe more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
News
i100
News
business
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee