Road To The Olympic Games

Olympics Winter

Olympic officials testing for drug cheats

After winning the downhill at the 1992 Albertville Winter Games, Canada's Kerrin Lee-Gartner said the hardest part about being an Olympic champion was peeing in the bottle.

After winning the downhill at the 1992 Albertville Winter Games, Canada's Kerrin Lee-Gartner said the hardest part about being an Olympic champion was peeing in the bottle.

But it comes with the territory.

Drug testing has become as much a part of the Games as lighting the Olympic flame or awarding medals. The International Olympic Committee has established policies, guidelines and procedures aimed at keeping the Games clean while weeding out dirty athletes.

Each time an athlete tests positive for a banned substance it means the system has worked. That may bring relief, but not joy, to the people overseeing the anti-doping programs.

"It's always sad to find an Olympic athlete doped," Arne Ljungqvist, chairman of the IOC Medical Commission, said from his home in Enebyberg, Sweden. "It's not nice. It's a job that needs to be done.

"At the same time, you feel satisfied that this athlete was identified and actually removed."

The IOC is responsible for doping control during the Vancouver Winter Olympics. The actual samples will be collected by staff from the Vancouver Olympic Games Organizing Committee, known locally as VANOC.

The samples will be tested at a laboratory at the Richmond Olympic Oval. Overseeing the lab will be Dr. Christiane Ayotte, who is director of the Quebec-based Institut national de la recherché scientifique-Institut Armand-Frappier, which is accredited by the World Anti-Doping Agency.

The anti-doping budget for the 2010 Games is $16.4 million. That includes $8.9 million for the lab and $7.5 million for operations.

A minimum 2,000 tests are expected to be conducted during the Olympic in-competition period, which runs from Feb. 4 to Feb. 28. That's an increase from the 1,500 conducted at the 2006 Turin Olympics.

"It will certainly not be less than that, but it may exceed that," said Ljungqvist. "Any world records can not be [recognized] unless there is a doping control on the athlete conducted at the same time."

Olympic watchdogs

VANOC will have 130 doping control officers and 70 blood collection officials. There will also be 300 chaperons.

During the Olympics, any athlete can be asked to supply a test at any time.

"There may be reasons for us to target particular athletes," said Ljungqvist. "It is at our total discretion to test anyone at any time."

The top three finishers in each event at the Games are automatically selected for testing. Ljungqvist said more can also be targeted.

Doping control stations are located in each competition venue and at the medal plaza in both Vancouver and Whistler. There also will be stations in the athletes' village in Vancouver and Whistler.

Each station consists of a large waiting room, with a television, along with two or more processing rooms for the collection of urine and/or blood.

While collecting a urine sample, a doping control officer watches the athlete urinate into a bottle to ensure the sample isn't tampered with. The control officer must be the same sex as the athlete they are testing.

Once a sample is collected, it is taken to the lab.

"Our work starts at the moment the sample reaches the lab," said Ayotte.

The samples are divided into an A and B bottle. Both are coded so lab technicians have no idea who the athlete is.

"That gives us a bit of confidence that the work is going to be objectively conducted," said Ayotte.

A person at reception makes sure the containers are tightly sealed and the paper work is in order. The B sample is frozen. During an Olympics, the lab has 24 to 36 hours to produce its results. This means work goes on day and night. A portion of the A sample is checked for hundreds of prohibited substances, including medications and drugs.

"One test can tell us if there are traces of 150 substances," said Ayotte.

If technicians find something suspicious, they go back to the bottle and run more tests. A mass spectrometry or liquid or gas chromatograph may be used.

"The goal is to extract from the urine sample what we want to see, and get rid of the potential interferences," said Ayotte.

"We have instruments we call tandem spectrometry which can see the equivalent of a drop in an Olympic swimming pool. It can see really small traces. Then we look at it and see if we should go for the verification process, which is looking for a specific substance with great precision."

If the lab confirms a doping infraction, the IOC is informed. An IOC official will then determine to whom the sample belongs.

At that point, the chef de mission of the athlete's delegation is informed of the positive test.

The athlete can request the B sample be tested. The athlete, or his representative, can witness the testing.

Once a positive test has been confirmed, the IOC will establish a disciplinary commission. Ljungqvist said the goal is for an athlete to be sanctioned within 24 hours of testing positive.