Sports

IAAF official scoffs at 'narcolepsy epidemic'

If recent test results are anything to go by, THG isn't the only drug being abused by elite athletes.

Modafinil, the drug which sprinter Kelli White claims she took for a sleep disorder, has become the "fashionable" stimulant of choice among certain American athletes, track and field's top anti-doping official said Monday.

"It's a little odd to find an epidemic of narcolepsy in top athletes," said Arne Ljungqvist, medical commission chief of the IAAF, track and field's governing body.

"The disorder of narcolepsy is not that frequent."

Ljungqvist's comments came after 400-metre runner Calvin Harrison became the latest athlete identified as having tested positive for the stimulant.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Ljungqvist said the current wave of positive tests for modafinil suggests the substance is part of a pattern of doping abuse in the United States along with the new designer steroid tetrahydrogestrinone, or THG.

THG was discovered after an anonymous coach turned in a used syringe containing the substance.

UCLA's doping control laboratory made a test for the previously undetectable steroid and since then, some samples taken from athletes at the U.S. track and field championships have come back positive for THG, and several other samples have been positive for modafinil.

Ljungqvist said the IAAF had been "directly or indirectly" informed of between six and eight modafinil cases.

"What emerges now is a pattern," said Ljungqvist, who is also head of the IOC's medical commission. "People have taken THG for obvious reasons -- it's been designed with the intent not to be discovered. And modafinil seems to have become a fashionable stimulant among certain athletes as well. It's a pattern I've seen before, where drugs have become popular and we find them."

Modafinil first came to light in August when White tested positive for the drug at the world track and field championships in Paris.

She could be stripped of her 100-metre and 200-metre titles.

Modafinil is a stimulant, however, it was not on the IAAF's banned substance banned list.

White said she took the drug on advice from her personal doctor to combat narcolepsy.

The IAAF has charged White with a doping offence and submitted her case to U.S. authorities for disciplinary action.

Harrison, an Olympic and world relay gold medallist, tested positive for modafinil at the U.S. track championships last summer, a source told the Associated Press on Saturday.

He is still awaiting the result of his backup B sample.

Another U.S. athlete, Chris Phillips, who finished fifth in the 110-metre hurdles at the worlds, also tested positive for modafinil at the Paris meet.

Ljungqvist said the IAAF's penalty for modafinil is a public warning and disqualification from the competition where the test took place, but at the moment, there is no ban.

with files from Associated Press

now