"We are on their heels." (March, 2002). Keeping Track, International Track and Field Newsletter, 117.

Testers Strike Gold

With that understanding, doping officials must have felt that they struck gold when urine tests on a trio of gold medalist cross country skiers came up positive for darbepoetin, a new drug better known by its brand name, Aranesp. The Amgen product only became available last October and it's not yet on the IOC's banned list. It is similar to EPO and is considered a "related compound" (belonging to the banned peptide hormones classification), making its abuse a doping violation.

Aranesp is ten times more powerful than EPO and is injected fortnightly, not three times a week like EPO. It also stays in the system longer than EPO, making it easier to detect in the urine test. Until the final day of the Salt Lake Games, when positives were announced, "it was widely reported scientists were 18 months to three years away from devising a test to detect it," writes Christopher Smith of the Salt Lake Tribune.

Arne Ljungqvist, the IAAF vice-president who is also chair of the IOC's medical commission, told the Associated Press, "This (catching the three skiers for darbepoetin use) is a strong statement to those who say we are far behind. We are on their heels."

Ljungqvist noted that while the test for Aranesp is new, "this is not new methodology, however. It's the evaluation or interpretation of the data we collect for EPO."

Tainted Medals

While the Aranesp positives resulted in two athletes each returning one gold medal, the trio of skiers still took home a total of six other medals, including three golds. Because the athletes had passed drug tests for their other events, the IOC was unable to disqualify their results.

IOC president Jacques Rogge addressed the problem:"They may technically be Olympic champions; morally it's a very different issue."

In light of the clamor to strip athletes of Olympic medals if their doping eventually comes to light (as in the case of East Germans), it may be time for the IOC to consider disqualifying an athlete from all of his or her events in the face of a single positive drug test at the games. Richard Pound, head of WADA, says, "If you're disqualified from the games you should be disqualified from the games for everything."

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