Allegations surface over drug use

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The Independent Online

Australia's sports minister today ordered an investigation into claims that up to 80 percent of Australia's elite athletes - including some well-known stars - are taking performance-enhancing drugs.

Sports consultant Grant Ellison told the Nine television network's Sunday program that athletes using the drugs were performing at national and international level.

Federal Sports Minister Jackie Kelly said she was surprised by the allegations.

"The Sunday program failed to produce anything more than hearsay evidence to support its claim, Kelly said through a spokesman. "Nevertheless I have asked for a full report into the claims."

The allegations included athletes training at the high-performance Australian Institute of Sport (AIS).

Under the spotlight is synthetic insulin growth factor, or IGF1, which is indistinguishable from that produced naturally by the body.

The television program said Australian Federal Police had investigated illegal distribution of IGF1, including allegations it had been bought and used by individual athletes and coaches associated with the AIS.

Steve Howells, head of the federal government's Therapeutic Goods Administration in Canberra, told the program that intelligence indicated unlawful supply of the IGF was going to the elite sports market.

Ellison, an analytical chemist and who said he was a former user of performance-enhancing drugs, said he had advised about 20 athletes heading for the Sydney Olympics about their drug use.

"(Including) . . . three or four incredibly well-known names," he told the program.

Drug assistance had become necessary to succeed at international levels, he said.

"There will always be a freak who will come out of nowhere and can possibly do it clean," he said. "In general the answer is, no they won't do it.

"They'll still be competitive, they may place third, fourth, fifth, or sixth and there's certainly no shame in coming sixth or seventh at the Olympics, but if you want the gold medal ... in general you need to be taking something," Ellison said.

Ellison said he had advised athletes, who compete in cycling, weightlifting, track and field and rowing, on how to use drugs safely while passing drug tests.

AIS director John Boultbee disputed the claims, saying most Australian athletes were clean.

"We have a very extensive education system for our athletes and also that the basic point is athletes in Australia are very interested in competing fairly and don't think about these drugs," Boultbie said.