For the first time at a Summer Olympics, several sports federations will disqualify athletes from competition based on blood tests that may indicate the use of banned performance-enhancing drugs, an official from the International Olympic Committee's medical commission said today.
Cycling, triathlon and modern pentathlon received permission from the IOC to carry out the blood tests, which are controversial but believed by some anti-doping experts to be at least partly effective in controlling the use of the banned drug erythropoietin. Because the test--called a hematocrit test--merely measures red blood cell levels, it cannot conclusively determine whether EPO has been taken. For that reason, athletes whose levels are high are not accused of doping violations; they are simply prohibited from competing for "health reasons."
The International Cycling Union uses this format of blood-testing at all of its major events, including the Tour de France. Patrick Schmasch, the IOC medical director, emphasized that the tests will not be considered drug tests and any athlete prohibited from competing based on the results will not be punished or even accused of a doping violation.
Such tests were used at the 1998 Nagano Olympics and the 1992 Olympics in Lillehammer for cross-country skiers and biathletes, but they have never been used at a Summer Games.
EPO is an endurance-building drug believed to be favored by athletes in distance or endurance events. The IOC announced today that it will award $1.25 million to researchers seeking a definitive test for EPO.
UCLA Olympic laboratory director Donald Catlin will receive $250,000 from the IOC. The U.S. Olympic Committee is expected to match that amount. A lab in Australia received $1 million from the IOC, a figure that will be matched by the Australian government. Those projects are not expected to be completed in time for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.
Samaranch Interview Next Year
IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch apparently has brokered a deal as expected with the Justice Department by which he will meet with federal investigators early next year--rather than during his trip to Washington next week.
In a tersely worded statement read today by IOC Director General Francois Carrard, the IOC stated: "It has been agreed that President Samaranch will make himself available for a voluntary interview at a mutually convenient time after President Samaranch's December trip to Washington."
Carrard declined to comment further and an FBI representative also declined to comment.
Six other IOC members have been interviewed by federal investigators as they conduct a probe into the Salt Lake City Olympic bribery scandal.
Two indictments have been made as a result of the investigation, which involves allegations of vote-buying surrounding Salt Lake City's successful bid for the 2002 Winter Olympics. Carrard said he believes that no IOC members are targets of the FBI investigation.
Samaranch will meet with U.S. drug czar Barry McCaffrey during his visit, arranged so he could testify Wednesday before Congress about the Olympic scandal.
IOC Reveals Test Results
Statistics released by the IOC today said that 1.75 percent of the athletes in Olympic sports tested positive for some banned drug in 1998.
Of the 25 Olympic labs that submitted their results, the lab in Beijing had the lowest rate of positives, 0.76 percent.
The lab in Montreal showed the highest rate, 5.22 percent.
Anabolic agents, such as steroids, showed up most frequently in positive tests (39.3 percent). Nandrolone, a banned steroid found in many over-the-counter products, was the second-most frequently detected steroid, behind testosterone.