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Drug passports for U.S. athletes?

Plan would simplify, harmonize test histories

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Although they're not traveling out of the country, American athletes attending the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City may still carry a passport: A new drug-test passport that will show when they were tested for banned substances, who tested them and what the results were.

It's an idea used by Australian competitors on a limited basis during the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney. And the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), the independent testing agency for Olympic sports in the United States, likes it a lot, according to spokesman Richard Wanninger. So do a number of other countries, among them Germany, China, and South Africa, which are considering issuing their own "passports."

Even the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) may "harmonize everything" so that all the drug-test-history passports from different countries would be similar, with slight adaptations, such as a national logo. WADA hopes to have them routinely used within 18 months.

"It is important for clean athletes to be able to show, 'These are the dates I was tested and I was clean every time,' " said Wanninger, who added that the U.S. "passports" would include additional educational material.

USADA plans to begin a pilot passport program in the fall, hoping that the majority of the approximately 300 athletes on the U.S. Olympic Team will use them by the time the Winter Games start in February.

It's all part of an increasing emphasis on substance-free athletic competition, Wanninger said. USADA has been testing American athletes with a goal of conducting more than 5,000 tests by the end of the year. The number of out-of-competition tests, which give the athletes no advance notice, has increased, he said. Testers might show up at the track where an athlete is training, at his home or anywhere else.

It's not usually hard to find the athletes for the no-notice tests because each athlete who is part of a sport governing body pool of athletes has to provide a report periodically stating where he or she can be found at certain times. For instance, training schedules, when they're likely at home, or "Fridays I swim at this address."

Monday, USADA released its second-quarter testing figures. During April, May and June, USADA did 1,637 doping control tests in 41 sports. Of those, 298 were out-of-competition tests, 144 were short-notice (less than 24 hours) tests and the other 1,195 tests were connected to events. It's an increase of 47 percent over the first quarter, when 1,112 tests were done across 30 sports.

Wanninger said it's impossible to tell how the testing numbers or the results compare this year with previous years because testing was done before by both the U.S. Olympic Committee and the various sports federations. This year could be a baseline for future comparison.

Not all positive results lead to a sanction. Of the 25 adverse laboratory findings in the most recent quarter, 15 cases were for samples for which the athlete had "prior notification records" on file for use of a medically needed restricted substance and the results are regarded as negative. But there's no question that some athletes are being snared by the drug testing.

Two cases in the second quarter involved the use of prohibited stimulants, amphetamine and ephedrine, and three involved anabolic steroids. Three of the cases involved international athletes, and those cases were referred to the responsible international federation.

In the past few weeks, a number of athletes have tested positive for use of banned substances and were given penalties ranging from a public warning to a two-year suspension from competition. In event testing, the athletes were stripped of any wins in the events where the testing occurred. Violations occurred across a broad range of sports, including track, diving, fencing and bobsled.

So far, the testing has been for the same list of banned substances and methods used during the 2000 Olympics, Wanninger said. In September, several changes will be made to the list.

E-mail: lois@desnews.com