MONTREAL — Two dozen international athletes have already tested positive for high levels of banned performance-enhancing drugs and many could be expelled even before the Winter Olympic Games begin next month in Salt Lake City, the World Anti-Doping Agency said Friday.
Dick Pound, chairman of the Montreal-based independent anti-doping watchdog agency created less than two years ago, said the elevated test results, commonly known as "lab positives," had not yet been verified.
Nevertheless, he expects a number of athletes to be ousted just ahead of the Games, which begin on Feb. 8.
"We do not want anybody who has been the subject of a positive test to be taking part in the Olympics in Salt Lake and thereby spoiling the competition for the honest athletes," Pound told reporters.
Some 3,500 out-of-competition drug tests by the agency will have been completed on athletes from 75 countries in the 12 months before the Games begin, according to the agency. About 900 to 1,000 have yet to be done.
Pound said one of those with a high test result was a non-Canadian National Hockey League player.
Swedish Olympic Committee spokesman Bjorn Folin told the Associated Press that Mattias Ohlund, a 25-year-old defenseman with the Vancouver Canucks who is a member of the Swedish team, tested positive for an undisclosed banned drug after eye surgery in December.
Pound declined to identify any other sports or countries implicated in the positive tests, but he noted that curling and figure skating had tested clean so far.
Folin said Ohlund was given the medicine by doctors in Canada. "It could mask anabolic steroids, but Mattias didn't know that it contained a banned drug. We don't consider this a doping case, at least not with the information we have now."
The names of other athletes with elevated levels of prohibited substances will not be released until the final test results are in, but that certainly will happen before the Games begin, Pound said.
The substances found include steroids, which enhance strength and endurance and speed up healing from injuries, and plasma expanders, which can be used to dilute the concentration of banned substances in an athlete's blood.
Despite the 24 high test results, Pound said he expects the vast majority of athletes at the Games will be drug-free.
Pound outlined what he said was tighter doping control and testing heading into the Games, aimed at making them the most drug-free in Olympic history.
The agency has stepped up test procedures for banned products such as erythropoietin (EPO), which can increase the delivery of oxygen in the body by up to 10 percent and is difficult to detect. EPO screening will include both blood and urine testing, Pound said.
During the Games, the International Olympic Committee has exclusive authority for all in-competition drug testing of athletes, but Pound said 12 independent observers from the agency will oversee IOC testing. The agency will monitor the IOC laboratories and observe discussions of the committee's medical commission and executive board on findings and sanctions against athletes.
Pound said there have been suspicions that in past Olympics, officials did not take action on all positive test results.
The agency has reached agreements with 34 of the 35 International Sports Federations, including those governing all seven winter sports, on conducting their own drug tests. It has not yet signed a contract with the Federation Internationale de Football Association, or FIFA, which governs soccer, but the two have an agreement-in-principle on testing.
The sports federations are also allowing the agency to conduct tests at any time without notice.
"The message that will come from that to anybody who might be inclined to cheat is you can run, but you can't hide anymore," Pound said.
Contributing: Associated Press