All endurance athletes to undergo blood tests in Salt Lake City

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The Independent Online

All endurance–sport competitors will be blood–tested before the Salt Lake City Winter Games, and athletes with positive results will then undergo a decisive urine test for EPO, the IOC said on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the IOC also reported that 15–20 percent of food supplements it has studied so far were contaminated with banned substances.

EPO is one of the most abused banned drugs in sports.

The IOC medical commission said it will test all athletes upon their arrival at the Olympic Village in Salt Lake, which opens January 29.

This is a separate initiative from urine tests being carried out on athletes by the Salt Lake City Organizing Committee, the World Anti–Doping Agency and innternational federations.

IOC medical director Patrick Schamasch said he will meet at the end of October with three winter sports federations – the International Ski Federation (FIS) for cross country skiing and Nordic combined, the International Skating Union (ISU) for speed skating, and the Biathlon Federation – to finalize procedures for blood screening.

"One hundred percent of endurance athletes will be screened by blood," he said. "Those who have results above certain established parameters will then be tested by urine."

A conclusive urine–only test for EPO, or erythropoetin, is expected to be ready by mid–November, Schamasch said. The new test will replace a bulkier combination test of blood and urine that was used at the Sydney Olympics, where no athlete tested positive.

EPO artificially increases the level of red blood cells, enhancing aerobic and endurance capacity. The drug is suspected of widespread use in endurance sports, and federations for cycling, speedskating and biathlon already use a urine test.

"All endurance athletes will be tested but we didn't say the other athletes won't be tested," Schamasch said.

He also warned athletes they would not be able to use conclusions from a study on diet supplements as a loophole at the Salt Lake Games.

The study – performed on 600 different brand products bought randomly off the shelves, sent to Cologne, Germany, and analyzed – is only partially complete, with just over 200 of 600 samples tested so far.

But even this early on, the results have been staggering, Schamasch said.

"It's a huge number," he said. "It's higher than we expected. If any athletes were to take this product, he or she would test positive."

Schamasch said a wide series of banned substances were found in the samples, with nandrolone leading the list.

There were 343 positive tests in 1999 in all sports for nandrolone, which builds muscles and strengthens bones, with most athletes claiming they hadn't knowingly used the drug.

Several top names in sport have tested positive for the steroid, including former 100 meter Olympic champion Linford Christie, American shot–putter C.J. Hunter and Jamaican sprinter Merlene Ottey.

"Athletes know this is a problem," Schamasch said. "If they want to be clean, they don't have to take a supplement."

He said the IOC could not yet divulge the names of brands found to be contaminated, since there may be more than one chain of production and a product in one country may not have the same composition as in another. Also, he said, the contamination may or may not be intentional.

The IOC also announced a new streamlined procedure for dealing with positive drug tests at the games.

Until now, an athlete failing a test would face a hearing before the entire IOC medical commission. Then the case would go to the executive board.

Under the new system, a small panel of a 4–5 people will investigate any positive case and question the athlete. The process must be completed within 24 hours.

A small executive board delegation will then have 12 hours to make a recommendation on possible sanctions to the full body.

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