Australian Olympic swimming champion Susie O'Neill is urging young athletes to work harder instead of doping in light of new research that suggests competitors as young as 12 are using performance or image enhancing drugs.
The 40-year-old, who will lead her nation's 89-strong team as Chef de Mission at the Nanjing 2014 Summer Youth Olympic Games insisted that taking banned substances "is not worth it".
"I don't want young athletes to think that [performance enhancing drugs] is the path they have to take if they want to win," said eight-time Olympic medallist O'Neill.
"It is hard work and technique.
"You can't give up just because others are taking drugs."
Her comments come after the revelation that about four per cent of elite junior athletes have admitted to using performance enhancing drugs, according to a three-year study by Griffith University and the University of Canberra.
"The report shows it is only a small minority who have taken drugs," O'Neill said.
"Athletes need to know you don't have to take drugs to win at that level.
"During my career I raced against alleged drug cheats and I did beat them."
O'Neill, who claimed that every Australian gold medallist competing during her career - from 1992 to 2000 - did so cleanly, said she does not understand how athletes get any satisfaction about winning if they have done so by taking drugs.
She also said it is "warped and really sad" that almost five per cent of junior athletes have been offered performance enhancing drugs and more than 10 per cent believed they competed against athletes who used drugs such as steroids, according to the research report.
"It is very important athletes are educated about the risks and ramifications associated with use of performance enhancing drugs," O'Neill added.
"Young athletes need to meet Olympians, other high level athletes, and discuss these issues."
Members of the Australian Youth Olympic team must complete the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) online education anti-doping programme and will participate in a one-hour anti-doping education session at a team camp prior to leaving for the Youth Games.
All athletes will also be subject to Nanjing 2014's doping control programme.
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