The doping samples collected during the 2004 Olympics are to be binned this summer. But with new doping test methods available, calls to re-examine the "forgotten samples" are mounting.
Ahead of the 2012 London Olympics (27 July - 12 August) the focus is not just on the various sports contests but also on a clean competition. Doping controls are an integral part of any major sports event these days, and the London Olympics are set to break a new record with over 6,500 planned doping tests.
It's worth taking a look back: The 2004 Olympics in Athens broke new ground after introducing the procedure of freezing test samples collected during the games. This is now standard practice. Experts have eight years to re-examine the samples with improved testing methods, in accordance with the practice laid out by the World Anti-Doping Code.
Over 15,000 blood and urine samples taken during four Olympics (Athens 2004, Turin 2006, Beijing 2008 and Vancouver 2010) are currently stashed away in the Swiss anti-doping laboratory in Lausanne.
Athenssamples to be binned
In about three months the test samples collected during the Athens Olympics are to be destroyed and replaced with samples from the London Olympics. But according to German broadcaster ARD, the samples have never been re-examined. It would appear that 3,667 urine and blood samples have been gathering dust in Lausanne for over eight years.
The head of the IOC's medical commission, Arne Ljungqvist, is responsible for post-testing the samples. When quizzed as to why the Athens samples had not been re-examined, he responded: "Why should we have done that? What should we have been looking for? The tests back then were more than sufficient. There's no indication that athletes took any prohibited substances back then that may have escaped our notice."
New test methods
However, experts have a completely different take on Lausanne's "forgotten samples." Many laboratory executives of labs accredited by the IOC say there are new and more sophisticated test methods that should be used for post-examination of samples. "Back then athletes would take a substance and stop taking it a week or two before the games," says Professor Mario Thevis of the Cologne doping control laboratory. "The test methods used in 2004 would have failed to detect this, but with today's methods we can still find the substance or at least traces of it."
David Howman, Director General of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in Montreal, Canada, was surprised both by the ARD report and the IOC's reaction. Howman points out that his agency has invested over $50 million (66 million euros) in improving doping detection tests. "Our aim is to trace as many doping substances as possible, and today's tests are a lot better. It's quite obvious that tests conducted today on samples taken in 2004 would most likely detect forbidden substances," Howman explains.
Howman wants the executive committee of WADA, which plans to meet on May 18, to call on the IOC to re-examine the samples immediately. Ultimately it's up to the IOC, which owns the samples, to decide on re-testing. But Richard Pound, himself a member of the IOC, hopes his colleagues will give the green light. "This has to happen now before the eight years are up. We should use the new test methods, which will most likely detect quite a few forbidden substances. But even if they don't, we as the IOC should do it anyway, otherwise it would have been completely farcical to store these samples for so long."
Author: Florian Bauer / nk
Editor: Gabriel Borrud