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The 2000 Olympics: Games of the Drugs?

Faster, higher and stronger, that's the Olympic ideal of pure competition between the world's best athletes. But what is the reality? According to some Olympic insiders, the summer games opening this week in Sydney Australia may be a competition between whose performance-enhancing drugs are better than the rest.

Drug testing for Olympic athletes is supposed to be the strictest it has ever been. The Sydney summer Games are supposed to be the "cleanest" of any games. But what is the reality? Athletes and insiders say this is the "dirtiest" summer Games ever, and that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) are in on the scam.

Prevalence of drug use by Olympic athletes

Just how prevalent is the use of performance-enhancing drugs by Olympic athletes? According to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), it's a tiny percentage. According to a $1 million White House study released last Friday (Sept 8), in some sports it's closer to 90%.

Werner Reiterer, a discus thrower for Australia, was one of his country's best hopes for a medal at the Olympics that begin this Friday. In January, Reiterer was about to take a mandatory urine test when he confessed "by the way, I'm presently full of drugs." Reiterer was using eight banned substances--including anabolic steroids, human growth hormone (hGH) and insulin growth factor. Unbelievably, when the test result came back a few days later, Reiterer got a clean bill!

However, Reiterer ignored the test result and followed his conscience --he retired last spring. In the meantime, he wrote a book called <em>Positive</em>, detailing his drug use as an athlete. "I was training my guts out every day, exhausting myself, risking injury and being beaten again and again by guys I knew who were on drugs," says Reiterer. "It's the way a lot of us get involved (using drugs), seeing the cheats win, knowing they got away with it."

Drug use by US Athletes

Dr. Wade Exum, former Director of drug control for the USOC for the past nine years, alleges that "scores" of US athletes have gone on to win Olympic medals even after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs in the Olympic qualifications trials. Exum says he was forced to resign following battles within the USOC over its silent approval of athletes' drug use. Exum alleges that the USOC turns a blind eye to violations, and it even warns athletes when and what kinds of tests will be administered, which gives athletes time to clean up their urine (and now blood) samples.

Exum's predecessor as USOC Director of drug control was Dr. Robert Voy, who also resigned in 1989 over a flap over drug use by Olympic athletes. Dr Voy wrote a book DRUG, SPORTS And POLITICS in 1991. Voy says he hoped to help the USOC by pointing out weaknesses, but he ended up being "blackballed" by the USOC.

Background on drugs and doping

Blood doping is an old-fashioned way of doping. Months before competition, an athlete stockpiles his own blood or someone else's blood and distills the red blood cells. Then weeks before competition, the red cells are injected into the athlete's blood stream. This increases performance by 5% to 15%.

HGH--human growth hormone, is a peptide hormone that athletes in power events including sprints, throw, and weightlifting, commonly use between steroid cycles to build muscle and improve strength. It is a naturally occurring doping agent; synthetic hGH is more powerful than anabolic steroids. Since hGH is UNDETECTABLE, it has become a popular and expensive doping agent NO test for human growth hormone will be given at the Sydney Olympics.

The late Florence Griffith-Joyner set record times at the 100 and 200-meter sprints at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, and her 200-meter record still stands. But Joyner died under mysterious circumstances at age 38. Abnormal heart size, noted in her autopsy, is a possible side-effect of hGH.

EPO--Erythropoietin, is a blood cell growth factor to increase stamina by packing their blood with oxygen-carrying red blood cells. EPO normally is found in blood and urine, so developing a reliable detection test is difficult. However, there will be 300 urine-and-blood tests administered in Sydney, but it will only detect EPO if the athlete has taken it within 72 hours. The best time for an athlete to inject EPO is several weeks before competition. Cynics claim the announcement was made far enough in advance of the games to allow athletes to stop using EPO in time to clear their bodies of all traces of the drug. The 300 tests will not necessarily be taken from medalists, and BOTH blood and urine tests must come up positive for an athlete to be "dirty."

Athletes would die to win

Several years ago, 198 athletes were asked if they would take a performance-enhancing drug if they knew they would NOT be caught and they would win, 195 said they would take the drug. The second question revealed a more frightening scenario. The athletes were asked if they would take a drug that would ensure they would win every competition for five years and wouldn't get caught, but the side effects would kill them--more than HALF said they would take the drug.

Interview with Dr. Charles Yesalis, Sc.D., PhD,

What do you think about the new "Anti-doping Agency?"

I don't know. But this problem, doping, has been epidemic for 40 years. So I have a jaundiced view of the competence and the integrit of the USOC involving this matter.

Do you believe it is finally an independent agency?

No. It only exists now because of a litany of sordid scandals during the 1990s.

Do you think Joyner's death is part of it?

Even in death she is wrapped in rumors. Somebody recently came forth accusing her of having doped as an athlete. But it doesn't matter. Look at Mark McGuire, look at the Tour de France, look at Peter Corda.

What is the Olympic rule on doping?

Anything that an athlete would use to enhance performance. It's very broad. An oxygen chamber, by that standard, would be an augmentation of performance. Sounds great, but when you try to enforce the rule, it gets messy.

Is the Anti-doping agency going to be effective?

These people (USOC) have been so disingenuous for so long, and I assume them guilty until proven innocent. If this were a problem five years ago, I'd have a different tone. But it's been around and well known for 40 years. They've just stuck their heads in the sand.

Do you agree with former Australian discus thrower Reiterer, who claims doping is prevalent?

I agree with the Sports Illustrated study in 1996 and 1997, which concluded that only a small percent of athletes do not use drugs. Only a small percent who use drugs get caught. And a majority of athletes use drugs and don't get caught. I love sports, and I've been in this business for 20 years. If you live with it, it's even more discouraging. I long ago gave up hope of cleaning up sports.

Who sees the money?

There is too much money. NBC paid $3.5 Billion to cover the Games through 2008. The NCAA, NBA, NFL, and IOC are all multi-billion-dollar organizations. In great part, bigger than life people do bigger than life things. Performance enhancing drugs have enabled them to do bigger than life feats. That's the connection.

The paltry amount of money that IOC has made for available for research, it's smoke and mirrors. Developing tests that will stand up i a court of law, $2 million dollars at a major biological problem is chump change. Can you imagine, let's spend $2 million dollars for AIDS, you'd be laughed out of office. Probably in the past three or four years, IOC has spent $2 million dollars, but they probably need to spend $100 million dollars over a five-year period.

How many people would turn on the TV or fly to Sydney if they knew that sitting on the stands if they would hear "you've just witnessed the 154th fastest time of the 100-meter dash." Who would cough up the big bucks for that? The NFL and WWF are starting to morph into one. That's what sells, and it is entertainment.

Do you believe USOC actually ENCOURAGES use of drugs?

It's subtle encouragement, by turning a blind eye.

Is the Agency independent?

It was created for public relations reasons - they had to do something. They're way more concerned with public image than with the health of the athletes.

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