No excuses now for a positive test at next summer's Games

The Olympic safeguards

No more excuses, lame or otherwise. No more the plaintive plea, "Honest, it didn't say anything on the label about dodgy gear"; no more, "Sorry I didn't do better but I couldn't get this knee injury properly treated".

No more excuses, lame or otherwise. No more the plaintive plea, "Honest, it didn't say anything on the label about dodgy gear"; no more, "Sorry I didn't do better but I couldn't get this knee injury properly treated".

From now on, whether it is sniffing out, so to speak, illegal substances, or providing top-class treatment for a whole range of sporting ailments, long-overdue help is on tap. The opening of a new specialist sports medical unit, run jointly by the British Olympic Association and the English Institute of Sport, means there is now no reason why British competitors should not only be free of injury but of drugs too (unless they have knowingly taken them) for the big events.

The British Olympic Medical Institute in Harrow, north- west London, will help ensure that in Athens next year there will be no repeat of the Paris World Athletics Championships sick-note parade, when Britain's running wounded seemed to be auditioning for stretcher parts in Holby City. Similarly, any athletes - whether track and field, rower, swimmer or weightlifter - who have any doubts about what they have been swallowing with the cornflakes can have their diets, and accompanying supplements, checked by the experts.

In an age when athletes can acquire a taste for EPO, HGH and now THG as easily as learning ABC, even more vigilance is required to stop them taking the tablets - or, more importantly, to prevent them from starting to do so.

It must be emphasised that the OMI plays no part in formal drugs-testing. But it contains a special unit which can advise and counsel and - vitally - clarify what can, or cannot, be used. This is of particular benefit to those who claim they need inhalers for asthma or breathing conditions. "All medications and dietary supplements can be tested before they are used," says the OMI's general manager, Nick Fellows. "From now on, ignorance is no excuse." However, the prime function of the institute is rehabilitation - of the body rather than the habits. For too long, Britain has been the sick patient of world sport, even lagging behind many third-world countries in terms of medical support for athletes.

Now the upgrading of the old BOA medical unit in the grounds of Harrow's Northwick Park Hospital has brought a new dimension to the treatment of sports injuries. It has required £150,000 of Lottery funding - a pittance considering some of the amounts lavished on less worthy projects - but rarely has such a sum been so wisely spent. Britain's crocked athletes can now receive treatment whenever they need it, including residential care and the services of a dozen leading sports doctors, scientists, physios, psychologists and nutritionists.

Replete with a hypoxic (high altitude) chamber, hydrotherapy pool and the latest hi-tech bone-healing machine, called the Magnaton, it leaves no reason for the likes of Paula Radcliffe, who withdrew from Paris after suffering a shin injury and bronchitis, to seek medical help overseas. Indeed, Steve Cram, the chairman of the English Institute of Sport, says: "Paula was a week away from being in Paris. If this facility had been available then she might even have made it. This is the sort of service athletes have been seeking for years."

The immediate aim is to deliver Britain's athletes to Athens in the best possible shape. Heat and pollution will be the main hazards there, and special screenings are being made available in Harrow to check the likely strain on the heart in what is UK sport's only cardiology unit. This is being operated in conjunction with Cry, a charity which researches cardiac death among the young. Dr Gregg Whyte, a former Olympic modern-pentathlon medallist and the OMI's director of research, says: "It is something of a paradox in sport that athletes take part in highly vigorous training without checking what is under the bonnet."

Caryl Becker, the former Yorkshire County Cricket Club physio who is responsible for managing and co-ordinating the rehabilitation programme, says: "Too many potential champions are left behind through injury. We must stop that happening. The worst thing you can tell an athlete is, 'Go away and see how you get on'. Here we can monitor the athlete all the time, for a day, a week or a month."

More than 2,000 Olympians and potential Olympians are entitled to free treatment, including accommodation and food, through the BOA's passport scheme. Non-Olympians can also make use of the facilities, though those in professional sports such as football may have to pay. The cost of these running repairs to sport will exceed £600,000 a year - worth every penny when you consider the comments of just one British athlete who believes she missed out on Paris because of the poverty of the medical system.

"A country like ours, so big on sport, should do better," says the Olympic 400m bronze medallist, Katharine Merry. "I've had to put up with some real rubbish. Compared to other European countries it has been a shambles. I've had to do my rehab in France because there's been nowhere in the UK." Not any more. Sport is suddenly a suitable case for treatment.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
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

Recruitment Genius: Chef de Partie

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This award winning conference venues provider...

Recruitment Genius: Admin Assistant

£12000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An expanding Insurance Brokerag...

Recruitment Genius: Experienced Mechanic / Plant Fitter

£24000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Lancashire based engineeri...

Recruitment Genius: Service Advisor

£16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion and growth of ...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders