Anti-doping lab readies for Vancouver Games
It may be temporary, but it sure isn't makeshift.
The state-of-the-art laboratory dedicated to foiling athletes who cheat at next month's Vancouver Olympics received its official certification Wednesday, the first time a temporary facility has been given accreditation by the Standards Council of Canada.
The certification was handed over at a ceremony at INRS Doping Control Laboratory in Laval, Que., which will run the Olympic Games lab in Richmond, B.C., as a satellite operation.
The Olympic lab, with a staff of about 40 trained technicians, will work round the clock during the Vancouver Games, processing about 2,500 urine and blood samples, each within a mandatory 24-hour turnaround time. The lab will also do the doping-control work for the Paralympics, which follow in March.
Officials hoping for perfect record
"I would take pride in seeing nothing — no positives, " lab director Christiane Ayotte said after the ceremony. "Because then I would get the feeling that they were scared enough by our reputation so that they would have been more careful."
But after nearly three decades in the field, Ayotte appears ready for anything.
Her staff will test specimens for a range of banned substances. As always, the chief suspects are anabolic steroids used to build muscle mass and strength and blood-doping techniques and products used to stimulate red blood-cell production and boost endurance.
"Now, is there a possibility that something new could be used and not detected by the lab?" Ayotte asks. "Yes. But it's remote. I think we're quite confident that we've put in place everything that could be done.
"That said, it's not going to give anyone a certainty that no athletes could have doped in the month prior to the Games."
Michel Girard, director of strategic relations for the standards council, said the accreditation process puts a lab through its paces.
The process involves checks on things such as whether there is a backup power supply and whether emergency preparedness plans are in place. It also insures approved procedures are followed, tests are validated and equipment is calibrated, he said.
This latter element is key, explained Jacques Girard, director of the Bureau de normalisation du Québec, the province's equivalent of the national council and the group that actually did the accreditation checks. Athletes need to know that doping tests are uniformly accurate, he said, because a lot rides on the results.
"You need to do the testing according to methods that are validated, so that they can produce results that are reliable time after time," Jacques Girard said.
"A gold medal, if we take the Summer Games for the 100 metres [race], it's worth $30 million," he said, estimating the endorsement value of the marquee event of the Olympics. "So when you give the result saying 'You cannot keep your gold medal,' you have to be very sure of what you're doing."
Labs that do drug testing for the Olympics are required by the World Anti-Doping Agency to have this strict accreditation.
The Standards Council of Canada accredits about 400 public and private-sector laboratories in Canada. Michel Girard said the Olympic lab, which is located under the speedskating oval in Richmond, is the first temporary lab the agency has accredited.