Open Mic: IOC Fails to Catch Drug Cheats at Beijing Olympics 2008

Alex GuestContributor IAugust 21, 2008

I remember how easy Ben Johnson made it look in 1988, taking the gold in the 100m with a new world record of 9.79.

That was Stanozolol, a synthetic anabolic androgenic steroid derived from testosterone. It is approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for human use, but is banned both in and out of competition by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

Johnson was certainly not the first to win a running race with external influence. Way back in ancient times, when the Greeks were besieging Troy, Achilles hosted an athletic contest in honour of his friend Patroclus, who was killed by the Trojans.

The foot race was contested by Ajax, Odysseus, and Antilochus. Ajax, the favourite to win, was out in the lead. Odysseus was close on his tail but unable to get ahead.

So he calls on the goddess Athena Nike to make his limbs light. She duly responds, magically slipping onto his bare feet a pair of Air Pegasus and he takes the first prize.

Okay, I made up the bit about the shoes. Still, she helps him win.

When I was a teenager with ambitions of competing at the Sydney Olympics (What a joke!), my hero was Linford Christie and I was inspired by his awesome performance in taking 100m gold in the Barcelona Games of 1992.

Seven years later, while in semi-retirement, he tested positive for Nandrolone and his whole career fell under a dim light.

I used to worship Carl Lewis too. Now it seems his talent might also have been drug-assisted. Doing the 100m and 200m double Olympic gold in one year has a tainted history.

I hope this young man, Usain Bolt, has not “blotted his copybook.”

The reality is that drugs testing is a cat-and-mouse game.

Everyone remembers the Soviet and Eastern bloc programmes to enhance the performance of their Olympian weightlifters by injecting them with testosterone.

How many realise that the US responded with their own synthetic anabolic steroid, methandrostenolone, with similar properties to testosterone but with fewer side effects?

Since then, many more synthetic and naturally-occurring substances have been developed specifically to aid the performance of athletes, as well as for other medicinal reasons. The list of banned substances is lengthy.

Yet banning the substance is only half the game. There also needs to be a test to detect it. Tetrahydrogestrinone (THG) was undetectable until one of the coaches providing the drug to his athletes blew the whistle and provided a sample to the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA).

Now the IOC is battling with human growth hormone (hGH). There’s a long list of American athletes—not Olympians—who have been caught simply because they had the product mailed to their homes.

Last year Silver Stallone was caught with a number of vials containing hGH in his luggage at Sydney airport.

Slightly brighter athletes can get away with using it easily because it's a naturally-occurring substance in the bloodstream and the current IOC test reputedly will only detect hGH in the bloodstream for 24 hours after it is injected.

Another test has been developed that will, according to the claims of the developer, increase the time period to three weeks. However, the IOC has rejected it due to lack of scientific approval.

So, how many of the breathtaking, world-record-shattering performances have been produced with the assistance of hGH or some other chemical? No one will ever know. Yet you can be sure that drug-taking is virtually institutionalised in the US and other countries.

People are questioning British women’s 400m gold medalist Ohuruogu's legitimacy because she skipped three drugs tests. Nevertheless she has been allowed to compete on the basis that she is clean.

Her finish was powerful but her time was not very impressive. Perhaps if the competition had been better she'd have won in the same way with a more impressive time. Who knows?

Meanwhile, lesser-performing athletes are still being caught for the use of other banned substances. Spanish track cyclist Maria Isabel Moreno was the first competitor to be busted for using erythropoietin (EPO), another naturally-occurring hormone.

Even a horse was caught! Tony Andre Hansen, part of the Norwegian bronze medal-winning team in the show jumping, was suspended after his horse, Camiro, tested positive for the banned substance capsaicin. Three other equestrians have also been suspended for doped-up rides.

The athletes bet on getting away with it. The IOC knows that the odds are in their favour. It’s just the public that’s being conned.

Or are we?