Hormone test for Salt Lake Games

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The Independent Online

The 2002 Winter Games should be the first Olympics where athletes are tested for human growth hormone, U.S. anti-doping officials said today.

The 2002 Winter Games should be the first Olympics where athletes are tested for human growth hormone, U.S. anti-doping officials said today.

White House drug policy director Barry McCaffrey and Frank Shorter, the former marathoner who will head the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, said they fully expect a test for the banned performance-enhancer to be in place for 2002.

"I think it's just a question of how sophisticated the test will be," Shorter said.

In a related development, the U.S. government pledged dlrs 3.3 million to fund anti-doping programs for the Salt Lake Games.

McCaffrey and Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala made the announcement Saturday on the first full day of competition at the Sydney Games.

"This funding reflects the governmentwide commitment of the United States to protecting the integrity of sports and the safety of athletes, young and old, amateur and elite," McCaffrey said.

HGH, which was designed to treat dwarfism, is used by athletes to build muscle. It is believed to be widely used in track and field, swimming and other summer sports, while its properties are less useful in winter events.

The respected science journal "Nature" said last week that athletes can use hGH "with impunity" in the Sydney Olympics and criticized the IOC for focusing its anti-doping effort on the banned endurance-boosting hormone EPO.

An Uzbekistan track and field coach, Sergei Voynov, is to appear in court next week on charges he tried to illegally bring hGH into Australia.

Voynov, who could face expulsion from the Olympics and severe legal penalties in Australia, was stopped after airport customs officers found 15 vials of hGH in his luggage.

The president of the Uzbek national Olympic committee contends Voynov brought hGH into Australia for personal use as part of his treatment for a skin disorder.

In January 1999, a consortium headed by Peter Sonksen, a London endocrinologist, told the IOC it had found a "very credible test" for hGH.

Sonsken said validation studies would cost about dlrs 5 million, which the IOC called too high and declined to fund. The IOC instead directed research funds toward developing a test for EPO.

McCaffrey praised the IOC for instituting the EPO tests in Sydney, saying they have acted as a significant deterrent. But he said the system needs to be improved to detect the use of the drug going back more than a few days.

"It is clearly not where we need to be," he said.

McCaffrey confirmed that the World Anti-Doping Agency had recorded 20 suspected positives among 2,045 out-of-competition tests conducted around the world since April.

He said the tests were for an "array of illegal substances" but declined to give further details. He said it was up to individual sports federations to deal with the cases according to their own rules.

"You've already seen people withdrawing before the Olympics," McCaffrey said. "The deterrent is terrific. But we've got to do a lot better. We're a third of the way to where we want to be."

McCaffrey said the Sydney Games mark a turning point in the fight against drugs.

"This is an era where victories are the product of hard work, dedication and natural talent, not pharmacology," he said. "We owe it to the athletes to build on the successes of Sydney and raise the bar still higher."