USADA has begun virtual testing of athletes ©USADA

The United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) has begun testing athletes virtually using video conference software in an effort to plug the gaps in the system caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

A total of 15 American athletes, including sprinter Noah Lyles and five-time Olympic swimming gold medallist Katie Ledecky, volunteered to be part of the unprecedented in-home testing programme.

It has been established by USADA after the COVID-19 virus sparked a near total shut down of drug testing across the world.

Some have voiced concern about athletes potentially exploiting the lack of testing, halted in several countries due to measures implemented to prevent the spread of the virus.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has admitted there may be gaps in the drug-testing system because of the virus, which has infected more than two million people and killed over 135,000.

Conducted using the Zoom conferencing application or on FaceTime, the virtual testing involves doping control officers observing athletes while they provide a blood or urine sample.

Athletes, who are sent the testing kits by USADA, are required to video the full blood collection process but do not have to do so for urine collection to protect their privacy.

Five-time Olympic gold medallist Katie Ledecky is among the American athletes to have volunteered for the virtual testing ©Getty Images
Five-time Olympic gold medallist Katie Ledecky is among the American athletes to have volunteered for the virtual testing ©Getty Images

The athlete must show the USADA officer the inside of their bathroom, through their phone or laptop, before giving a urine sample while the device is placed outside the door.

This differs to the normal urine collection process, where a doping control officer will observe the athlete providing the sample to eliminate the risk of tampering.

The athlete then seals the sample and sends it directly to a WADA-accredited laboratory for analysis.

USADA chief executive Travis Tygart said the organisation had tried to ensure the virtual testing is as close to the in-person process as possible.

"With the exception of actually observing the urine part of it, we've gone to great lengths to make it as apples to apples to in-person testing," Tygart told insidethegames. 

"Clearly it's not, but this is an effort to continue to reinvent. 

"In an effort to further minimise the risk of tampering, enhancements have been made to the system. 

"These enhancements include the athlete showing us the bathroom before providing the urine sample, timing the urine sample collection, and including a temperature monitor in the kits so we can tell it's a body temperature urination."