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IOC to retest Athens samples

2012-05-08 19:10
Arne Ljungqvist (File)
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The SA men's hockey side have arrived at OR Tambo after successfully qualifying for the Olympic Games in London.

London - Eight years later, the IOC is considering retesting doping samples from the Athens Olympics to catch any drug cheats who may have avoided detection.

With the frozen samples set to be destroyed this summer after eight years in storage, IOC medical commission chairman Arne Ljungqvist told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the Olympic body is likely to retest some for substances that can now be detected - including insulin and human growth hormone.

"I think we will do something," he said. "In all likelihood, yes."

The International Olympic Committee has previously retested samples from the 2006 Winter Games in Turin and 2008 Summer Games in Beijing.

The Turin samples came back negative, while the Beijing retests led to five athletes being caught for use of CERA, an advanced version of the blood-boosting drug EPO. Rashid Ramzi of Bahrain was retroactively stripped of his gold medal in the 1 500m.

Doping samples from each Olympics are stored for eight years to allow for them to be re-analysed once new testing methods are validated. The eight-year period for Athens will expire on August 29, the date when the games closed in 2004.

The Athens samples are stored at the doping lab in Lausanne, Switzerland.

The move to retest comes after the World Anti-Doping Agency sent a letter to the IOC requesting that the samples be checked again based on the emergence of new testing methods since 2004.

"This is the very message that we wanted when we asked people to store (samples) for eight years," WADA director general David Howman told the AP on Tuesday. "If you cheated and you thought you got away with it, you might have to think again. Don't look yourself in the mirror until the eight years are up."

The Athens Games produced a record 26 doping cases, more than double the previous Olympic high of 12 at Los Angeles in 1984. Six medalists, including two gold winners, were caught in Athens from among 3,600 tests.

Now there is a possibility of even more cheats being added to the list.

"You've got to look and see what are the purposes of doing storage," Howman said. "It is really to allow retesting because science has got better. If we don't use that, then we've wasted a lot of money."

How many and which samples to test and which drugs to search for are issues that remain under consideration.

Ljungqvist said the testing, if approved, could cover from 100 to a few hundred samples. One possibility, he said, is to target "high-risk" sports and medalists.

The IOC has no specific information that certain drugs were being used in Athens that weren't known at the time, but doping officials felt it was still worth rechecking the samples.

"Unlike Beijing and Torino where we had a clear indication that we should analyze for CERA, we don't have a similar intelligence information this time," Ljungqvist said in a telephone interview. "That's why we are consulting a little broader and seeing what people think about it.

"We are now consulting lab specialists to get an idea of whether to do something and, if we do something, what to do before the samples are destroyed."

Ljungqvist said he expects a final decision in the next few weeks.

One substance that wasn't tested for in Athens but can now be detected is insulin, which improves metabolism, he said. A test for human growth hormone, or HGH, was first introduced at the Athens Olympics, but no athletes were caught for the substance at the time. The HGH test has since been improved and could be carried out again retroactively.

"It's an open matter," Ljungqvist said. "In theory, we look at every substance and evaluate. We have to examine what shape the samples are in, both in terms of quality and quantity."

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