'Sooner or later we'll get you,' IOC warns dopers
The International Olympic Committee is adjusting its tactics at the Sochi Games to send a stark warning to potential doping offenders -- if we don't get you now then we will catch you later - by Fabrice Coffrini
The IOC will be overseeing almost 2,500 doping tests at these Winter Olympics, with a reduced emphasis on post-competition tests and more on pre-competition in a bid to catch potential offenders unawares.
Meanwhile, greater use is being made of intelligence from various sources –- including governments –- to carry out target testing on suspect athletes.
Testers are also being helped by new rules that will expand the statute of limitations on drug test samples to 10 years, meaning that the IOC will be able to carry out tests on the urine and blood samples taken in Sochi using new techniques that may arise.
"The message to athletes is that if you cheat and if we don’t find you now, we may find you later. But we will certainly find you sooner or later," IOC medical commission chairman Arne Ljungqvist said in Sochi.
"This is an important deterrent message."
The IOC's medical director Richard Budgett said while the Olympics body was in charge of the anti-doping campaign, the actual testing was being carried out by the Sochi organisers and Russian anti-doping agency RUSADA.
Rejecting concerns about RUSADA's record, he said its Sochi lab had full accreditation from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).
"We are absolutely confident that that is protected and that is safe," he said.
-'Armstrong used standard substances'-
Ljungqvist said that a key change for the Sochi Games was the increase in the number of tests that are being done pre-competition as opposed to the "traditional" post-competition tests.
Of the 2,453 tests that are to be conducted in Sochi, some 50 percent will be pre-competition, he said.
"We focus more on testing athletes outside of their competitive schedule," he said.
He said that disgraced cycling champion Lance Armstrong –- who finally admitted to doping last year after years of denials –- had used no substance that was undetectable but had simply been careful to evade detection around testing time.
"Armstrong and his people, they were using the standard substances that we can analyse.
"The only reason why they were never caught was because the labs never got the right samples. There were ways of doing away with it," said Ljungqvist.
"So the unannounced, out of competition testing, is critical."
In an intriguing innovation, the IOC is making greater use of "intelligence in the fight against cheats" collecting information from various sources including national anti-doping organisations, international federations and governments.
Ljungqvist said even more use was likely being made of such intelligence than at the London 2012 Olympics, without giving further details.
"We use intelligence information coming from various sources... about suspicious behaviour which can result in targeted testing on athletes or groups of athletes," he said.
-'10 year threat of being found'-
The change in the WADA statute so that samples can be tested within a 10 year period means new detection techniques can be used over the course of time.
"The athletes know that if they get away with it today, they are steadily, for a 10 year period under the threat of being identified," said Ljungqvist.
Budgett said that usually the IOC would wait until the end of the 10 year period to re-analyse the samples, to use the newest methods.
"But where there is new evidence and where there is specific intelligence we will consider doing a re-analysis earlier."
While it may not be clear for many years exactly how clean the Sochi Games were, Ljungqvist said he was confident that the IOC had the edge on cheats.
He said after a period of Winter Olympics throwing up few or no positive tests, there had suddenly been seven positive tests apiece at Salt Lake City in 2002 and Turin in 2006.
But since then the trend was down again, something Ljungqvist says was a positive sign.
"Who knows who is smarter? The athletes and their entourage, or us and our scientists? I put my money on our scientists," he said.