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Sports

Tour de France, Olympics Overshadowed by Doping in 2008

Many athletes were cheered on in 2008 -– including those who took part in the Olympic Games in Beijing. But not all of them deserved the applause.

Tour de France racers biking uphill

The Tour de France is still the world's most prestigious bike race -- but tainted by doping

When it came to doping in sports, cycling proved to be at the epicenter -- again.

Italian biker Riccardo Ricco crying

Riccardo Ricco tested positive for the use of EPO

Even before the Tour de France was over, five racers were exposed as doping offenders, among them Riccardo Ricco from Italy who won two stages before being caught.

For some athletes, like German professional Jens Voigt, the doping revelations are painful, but necessary.

"This is the turning point," he said. "We will sort them all out, send them home and hopefully we don't ever have to see them again."

Lance Armstrong returns

This might as well prove to be wishful thinking -- it is very likely that doping offenders like Ivan Basso will return in 2009.

Lance Armstrong holds the winner's trophy

Seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong

Another cyclist who has been suspected of doping has announced he will compete again in the world's most prestigious bike race in 2009, Lance Armstrong.

While the Texan has won the Tour de France seven times, he has always been surrounded by doping suspicions, said Tour director Christian Prudhomme.

"Ever since winning what many called the fight of the century, his battle against cancer and then the Tour de France in 1999, there have been allegations of doping," Prudhomme said. "But at the same time the fight against doping has become tougher and less compromising."

After the Tour 2008 was finished, two more cyclists tested positive for doping. Austrian Bernhard Kohl, who was third overall.

Success for doping investigators

scientist examining samples

Doping investigation methods are improving

Gerolsteiner teammate Stefan Schumacher, a double stage winner in this year's race, also tested positive. As a consequence, team Gerolsteiner was dissolved. Public broadcasters in Germany decided to halt their live coverage of the Tour de France in 2009.

Kohl and Schumacher were tested positive for the new generation of the EPO blood booster, CERA -- a success for doping investigators such as professor Wilhelm Schaenzer from Cologne.

"I think those tests took them by surprise," Schaenzer said. "Apparently they thought the medication could not be traced.”

But doping was not just limited to cycling.

Before the Olympic Games in Beijing had even begun, seven Russian athletes were convicted of using performance-enhancing drugs. During the games, eight athletes failed doping tests, among them German show jumper Christian Ahlmann, whose horse Coester tested positive.

Usain Bolt poses next to a scoreboard

Jamaica's Usain Bolt set a new world record in the Beijing men's 100-meter final

American swimmer Michael Phelps and Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt displayed spectacular performances -- but also left the world wondering. German scientist Mario Thevis was part of the doping control team in Beijing.

"Some doubts remains if they reached their results without any enhancement drugs," Thevis said. "But as long as we cannot prove it, I consider the athletes innocent."

Additional tests ordered

Over the course of the Olympic Games, 5,000 samples were taken. Currently those are being preserved in Lausanne, Switzerland, where the International Olympic Committee is based. In January, additional tests with new methods will be conducted to discover the blood booster CERA and insulin, which camouflages doping. But Armin Baumer, head of Germany's anti-doping agency NADA, played down the extra tests. "We will not ever have perfectly clean sports," Baumert said. "There is no clean society, so there won't be clean sports. That's an illusion. But it can become cleaner."

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