Olympic officials refuse to link EPO theft with Sydney games

Australian Olympic Committee officials have rejected speculation that the theft of 1,000 vials of EPO from the Alice Springs hospital in central Australia was connected with the Sydney 2000 Olympics.

Australian Olympic Committee officials have rejected speculation that the theft of 1,000 vials of EPO from the Alice Springs hospital in central Australia was connected with the Sydney 2000 Olympics.

A spokesman for Alice Springs police said today that the performance-enhancing drugs were stolen when the hospital pharmacy was broken into on July 23. Police detectives were still investigating the incident.

Initial media reports, which emerged in the week after the heist was reported to police, said the EPO would be worth millions of dollars on the black market leading into the September 15-October 1 Olympics.

But AOC media director Mike Tancred said it was impossible to link the robbery with a growing demand for the banned substance by athletes preparing for the Sydney games.

"We don't have all the details from the police, but it would be drawing a long bow to say this crime was Olympic-related," he said.

EPO, or erythropoietin, boosts the production of oxygen-rich red blood cells and is on the International Olympic Committee's list of banned substances for athletes.

Injected in synthetic form, EPO is undetectable using conventional doping tests and is believed to be widely used in endurance sports including cycling and running.

Australian scientists have developed a blood test to detect EPO and were scheduled to present the test to the IOC's independent medical commission panel in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Monday and Tuesday.

The researchers hope the blood test will be validated by the IOC and introduced before the Sydney Olympics.

The IOC has never sanctioned blood tests, relying only on athletes' urine samples.

The Australian Sports Drug Agency, which will conduct doping tests before and during the Sydney games, said it was concerned about having a large quantity of stolen drugs flooding the illicit market.

"EPO is a controlled substance anywhere in the world because it does have legitimate uses for medical purposes," ASDA spokesman Vicki Kapernick said. "But it has been proven to make quite a big difference to an athlete's performance.

"One of our strategies to counter the use of undetectable drugs is simply to try and restrict the supply - I don't know if there is any connection between this (robbery) and the Olympics but it doesn't help," to combat doping.

Kapernick said the only way of ensuring athletes weren't tempted to use EPO was for the IOC to validate a test capable of detecting it.

Sydney 2000 organizers declined to comment on the theft or its ramifications.

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