Tougher drug tests and stiffer penalties for athletes who fail them are needed if the Olympics is to survive public scrutiny following the Salt Lake City bribery scandal, a top U.S. Olympic Committee official said yesterday.

"The Olympic Movement can survive all the kind of stuff we have had" in recent months related to the bribery scandal, said Dick Schultz, executive director of the USOC. "But, if the American public ever thought that our athletes all used drugs to compete, it would die overnight."

While he emphasized that the majority of Olympic athletes do not use drugs, Schultz said Olympic organizers must improve the testing procedures for banned substances.

"If all you do is test at events, the only people you catch are the dumb ones," Schultz told participants in a sports conference at the Freedom Forum in Arlington. ". . . The cheaters have been ahead of the good guys for years."

Some performance-enhancing drugs go undetected, Schultz said, because tests haven't been developed to discover those who abuse them. He added that Olympic organizers hope to have better drug testing in place by the 2000 Games in Sydney, and that the USOC is making progress in its search for an independent agency to administer drug testing in an effort to raise its credibility.

Currently, the USOC has its own drug lab for testing American athletes, and it sends test results to the International Olympic Committee. The IOC reports any athlete who uses a banned substance to the international governing body that oversees that athlete's sport. "We can't hide it, if somebody is positive," Schultz said. "But, yet there's still that perception, 'You're not serious because you do it yourself.' "

Schultz said he is committed to improving drug testing.

"Our athletes want the toughest [drug testing] programs we can come up with and the toughest penalties because there is not that many of them that do it and they really want to nail the ones that are," he said.

Schultz spoke to about 125 sports leaders, athletes, referees, academics and health professionals at a conference on sportsmanship and ethical conduct in sports. The conference is sponsored by USA Today and the Citizenship Through Sports Alliance, a group of 10 amateur and professional sports organizations.