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2010 Winter Olympics: IOC is winning war against doping

VANCOUVER — Organizers will not go so far as to say no athlete involved in the 2010 Winter Olympics used performance enhancing drugs, but year-round testing has made the Games more fair than they were just a decade ago.

"I usually do not speak in terms of winning a war," said Dr. Arne Lundqvist, chairman of the International Olympic Committee's medical commission. "But the relative absence of doping — it is of course, a very encouraging message. It really tells us that efforts by national federations and world anti-doping agencies is more and more efficient."

He's not concerned that cheaters have just gotten better at masking the performance enhancing drugs.

"Then we would find no cases at all," he said. But outside of major competitions, like the Olympics and world championships, anti-doping agencies are still finding positive tests. He said of the 250,000 to 300,000 athletes tested each year, about 2,000 athletes test positive.

Comprehensive efforts, which include testing outside of competition and the use of intelligence in deciding whom to test and when, has helped them get the upper hand in a never-ending battle.

"It's steadily been improving," Lundqvist said. "I think it's an experience that most organizers of world events are making, namely that the cheats are out before they arrive. This indicates that the most important anti-doping work is being conducted by the international federations and the national anti-doping federations."

The Olympic testing, he said, "Is to check to see that those people who are here are clean as far as we can make sure."

While the Vancouver Organizing Committee and the IOC haven't had to deal with issues of drug use, they have had problems ranging from weather that delayed competitions and forced organizers to cancel nearly 30,000 spectator tickets, to the death of a 21-year-old luge athlete that prompted the IOC's president to request a comprehensive safety study.

"We've had some accidents," said Lundqvist. "A very tragic one. We don't know yet the interpretation of those. Preliminary review tells us that they are not remarkable in the sense of frequency related to earlier games. But as usual, the accidents that do occur in the Winter Games are generally a little more serious than those during the Summer Games. Some sports here incur more risk factors than many of the summer sport."

Lundqvist said he will lead a post-Games investigation into the accidents and injuries and will compare them to information from Salt Lake City and Torino. The findings could result in rule changes, something that has happened before.

IOC President Jacqus Rogge said the responsibility for the safety of the Whistler track lies with the sport's governing body and VANOC.

"But we are morally responsible," he told Great Britain's Daily Telegraph. He also said the IOC will contribute to building a luge track in Nodar Kushmaritashvili's hometown in the Republic of Georgia.

As for drug use, Lundqvist said he hopes advancing technology and better testing strategies would give organizers the upper hand.

He said the impact of performance enhancing drugs in the Olympics and other world events was evident when comparing sports that don't have variables.

He pointed to the 2009 track and field world championships. In the hammer throw, the gold medalist in that event would not have even qualified for finals 25 years ago.

"Where you have measurable data, you will find that something has happened," he said.

Asked if all of the results of the 1970s and 1980s were tainted, he said yes.

"Yes, of course," he said. "That's the conclusion and we all know it. It's a fact of history. It's no secret that the fight that some of us were conducting in strong headwind in the '80s changed to some support in the '90s and now is in strong tailwind with (the World Anti-Doping Agency). The political establishments are with us now, rather than indifferent — or in worst case, against us."

e-mail: adonaldson@desnews.com