October 9, 2008 in City

IOC will retest samples for drugs

By STEPHEN WILSON Associated Press
 

LONDON – Any athletes who thought they got away with doping at the Beijing Olympics shouldn’t rest easy. The drug police are coming back.

The International Olympic Committee said Wednesday it will retest samples from the games to search for a new blood-boosting drug at the center of the latest Tour de France scandals.

The move reflects the IOC’s aggressive attempts to nab drug cheats not just during an Olympics, but weeks, months and even years later once new tests become available. Results and medals could be at stake.

“Our message is very clear,” IOC president Jacques Rogge said in a statement. “The IOC will not miss any opportunity to further analyze samples retroactively. We hope that this will work as a strong deterrent and make athletes think twice before cheating.”

The Beijing samples will be reopened and tested in particular for CERA, a new generation of the endurance-enhancing hormone EPO. The substance boosts an athlete’s performance by increasing the number of oxygen-rich blood cells.

No test for CERA was available during the Beijing Games. But a new blood test developed by the French Anti-Doping Agency has since detected CERA in samples of Tour de France riders, and the IOC now wants to go back and check whether it also was used in Beijing.

The IOC has shown increasing willingness to retroactively punish doping cheats. U.S. athlete Marion Jones had to return her five medals from the 2000 Sydney Olympics after she admitted in court last year that she had been doping.

In the months before the Beijing Games, the IOC, the World Anti-Doping Agency and international federations carried out a rigorous program of out-of-competition testing to weed out drug cheats. More than 40 athletes were caught and kept out of the games.

Any athletes caught by new tests can be sanctioned retrospectively and be stripped of their results and medals.

“All undiscovered cheats will be shaking now,” said Michael Vesper, director general of the German Olympic Sports Union.

IOC spokeswoman Emmanuelle Moreau said the idea was to “retest across the sports, not solely on cycling. They will retest for all the new substances that are currently detectable, not only CERA.”

IOC medical director Patrick Schamasch said the IOC will test blood samples for CERA, but other tests will also be carried out to detect new drugs that he declined to identify.

“We have indication of other substances,” he said.

The IOC freezes and stores samples from the Olympics for eight years, leaving open the possibility to retest them when new detection methods are devised.

All Beijing samples are being sent to the Olympic doping lab in Lausanne, Switzerland.

IOC medical officials haven’t decided yet how many or which samples will be opened for reanalysis.

“You don’t do it just by random,” IOC medical commission chairman Arne Ljungqvist told the Associated Press. “You have to base it on some suspicion. A number of blood samples were taken in Beijing. We will look into where we may have some suspicious parameters. Endurance events are of particular interest.”

The time frame for the testing process hasn’t been finalized. Logistics have to be worked out, including whether the tests will be analyzed in Lausanne or other labs.

“Our hope is to have this done during the coming few months,” Ljungqvist said.

Any athletes caught by new tests can be sanctioned retrospectively and be stripped of their results and medals.

“Since we store the samples and have them at our disposal, we will not hesitate in doing further analysis,” Ljungqvist said. “This is a message to people who are tempted to cheat that there may be something coming up soon or later.”

Andy Parkinson, head of operations of Drug-Free Sport in Britain, said the initiative “sends a great message.”

“Long gone are the days when an athlete gets a negative test after a competition and disappears with the medal forever,” he said. “Athletes who cheat are not safe even eight years after competitions.”

Officials confirmed Tuesday that German rider Stefan Schumacher and Italians Riccardo Ricco and Leonardo Piepoli had tested positive for CERA at the Tour de France. The three riders combined to win five of the Tour’s 21 stages.

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