The head of the IOC’s war on doping admitted Saturday that the search for a test to detect the performance-enhancing drug EPO has hit another stumbling block.
Speaking after a two-day International Olympic Committee medical commission meeting, Prince Alexandre de Merode said he does not know when a new test for EPO (erythropoietin) will be ready.
A synthetic form of the hormone EPO, which crams oxygen into the bloodstream, is considered the drug of choice in endurance sports, particularly cycling and cross-country skiing.
An Italian doctor, Francesco Conconi, has been working for more than three years on what Olympic officials believe will be a reliable method to detect EPO from urine samples.
In November, De Merode said he expected Conconi’s lab in Genoa to have the test ready within months.
But on Saturday, he said the lab has not been able to create a reproducible form of the antibody needed to detect synthetic EPO.
“I am certainly not going to give any dates. I’ve learned that science is not perfect,” de Merode, the commission head, told a news conference.
He said a laboratory in the United States has created an antibody but refuses to let it be used in anti-doping tests. He did not identify the lab.
In the meantime, other researchers are trying to improve existing EPO tests used in several sports, including one introduced this season by the International Cycling Union (ICU).
If the test shows an excessive level of red blood cells, the cyclist is told to sit out for 15 days. Ten riders have been sidelined under the new process, including four this week during the Giro d’Italia race.
Although De Merode has ruled out blood tests as unreliable, he still lauded the ICU.
“We know this has had results as a deterrent because we’ve seen cyclists’ performances decline,” he said. “We support any test that has a a deterrent effect.”
But, he added, “We don’t plan to use that test in the next Olympics.”
De Merode also announced plans for an October congress in Monaco to discuss ways of promoting education about doping in sports, and a new $250,000 award for doctors making inroads in the anti-doping effort.