20 January 2012

Olympics: no chance for dopers

More than 6 000 urine and blood samples will be analysed during the London 2012 Olympics. Officials are confident cheats will be caught, and the testing will stand up to scrutiny.

More than 6 000 urine and blood samples will be analysed during the London 2012 Olympics, and scientists say the task of getting them from athlete to laboratory and back to Games officials is a race that demands speed, skill and security.

Athletes can be tested anytime and anywhere, whether they're in the official villages or in private residences and whether they're inside or outside of the UK.

London 2102 officials are confident cheats will be caught, and their testing will stand up to scrutiny.

"We're going to be fast, we're going to be sensitive, we're going to be efficient, and we're going to be right," said David Cowan, head of the Drug Control Centre at King's College London and the man in charge of the anti-doping lab for London 2102.

Samples to be sent to lab hourly

Unveiling the new laboratory, which is being provided by the British drug maker GlaxoSmithKline, Cowan said that during the Games, the idea is that the journey of a sample should be as swift and secure as possible.

An athlete will be approached by an official and told they have been selected for an anti-doping test. From then on they are accompanied by a chaperone at all times until they get to the doping control station where samples are taken.

The athlete provides a sample, which is then split into A and B so that one can be used for back-up testing if results on the A sample are queried. The athlete seals the bottles and fills in the paperwork – a protocol designed to minimise the risk of contamination.

On an hourly basis throughout the Games, anonymous samples will be sent via secure courier to the GSK anti-doping lab in Harlow, east of London, where more than 150 international technicians will be working around the clock.

Positive results to be reported within two days

The samples arrive at the lab in a blue silver-lined box and have the barcode scanned in before testing begins. The first task is to open and analyse sample A, and freeze and securely store sample B.

Sample bottles are sealed with tamper-proof tops that can only be opened using specialised equipment in the lab.

In total, the liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry testing equipment will screen each sample for more than 240 banned substances in less than 24 hours.

Negative results will be reported to the International Olympic Committee within 24 hours, and most positive samples should be reported within 48 hours.

'Most high-tech labs in history of Games'

Thousands of athletes, including all those who win a medal, will be dope-tested and many of them will face repeat tests during the Olympics. The lab can screen up to 400 samples a day, and expects to analyse around 6 250 in total.

But most of all, Cowan hopes his state-of-the-art lab will have scared off most potential cheats in advance.

"These laboratories are the most high-tech labs in the history of the Games," he said. "The person who thinks they can beat our drugs test had better watch out."

(Kate Kelland, Reuters Health, January, 2012) 

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