Exclusive: No guarantee that drug cheats won't medal at London 2012, says blood doping expert
Tuesday, 22 May 2012
May 22 - The high volume of drugs tests to be conducted at London 2012 provides no guarantee that cheats will not win medals, according to a blood doping expert.
Much has been made of the level of testing planned for this summer's Olympics and Paralympics, with around 6,000 samples set to be analysed, more than at any previous Games.
Yet Professor Carsten Lundby (pictured below) of the Zurich Centre for Integrative Human Physiology (ZIHP), has told insidethegames that he thinks it "unlikely" that doped athletes will not claim medals.
"I do not think that the large number of tests conducted during the Games is a valid guarantee that a doped athlete will not win a medal," Lundby said.
"If, for example, an athlete decided to dope with erythropoietin [EPO], this would be done weeks or months ahead of the Games.
"By the time of the Games any trace of EPO [pictured top, being tested] would have vanished, but performance would still be enhanced.
"Also, no test exists against autologous blood transfusion [in which athletes extract and then reinject their own blood], which is known to be the procedure, along with EPO doping, that increases endurance performance the most."
Asked how difficult it was nowadays for a disciplined and well-informed drug cheat to evade detection, Lundby said that with autologous blood transfusion, the risks of getting caught were "minimal".
With EPO, he added, the risks were "a bit higher".
Lundby continued: "Recent scientific studies have demonstrated that it is possible to inject EPO over several months in healthy volunteers without this leading any of the participants to show abnormal blood profiles sufficient to flag a suspicious value.
"Hence the Athlete Biological Passport [ABP]'s ability to reveal EPO doping is virtually zero."
The ABP is based on the idea that if you monitor certain biological variables in an athlete over time, unusual variations in those measurements might betray a change in behaviour, such as recourse to doping.
There have been many calls in recent months for stiffer penalties for drug cheats.
However, in a recent scientific paper, authored with two other specialists – Paul Robach and Bengt Saltin – Lundby argues that anomalies detected as a result of ABP programmes should trigger
only the withdrawal of the athlete in question from any imminent competitions, rather than a longer term ban.
"I do not think that with the ABP it can be said with 100 per cent certainty whether a given athlete has doped or not," Lundby stressed.
"A two-year penalty is something many athletes never return from.
"Hence I think that a penalty of a few weeks or months is more appropriate."
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April 2012: UK Anti-Doping to share blood information on athletes with international swimming body
March 2012: Alan Hubbard - Doping in sport seems to be a war that cannot be won but the good guys must fight on
March 2012: Exclusive - Competitors at London 2012 have 1:2 chance of being drug tested, warns head dope buster
January 2012: David Owen - Does new London 2012 lab workload suggest we are picking up the wrong end of the syringe?