Killing the dream
In light of the many recent high profile doping scandals and the resulting drama, it is evident that there is a lot of curiosity out there. I have decided to dedicate this week’s column to giving a strictly factual explanation of the process of drug testing in sport for the general public. It can also be and an educational guide—for our athletes who aspire to have the privilege of representing their countries—about the responsibilities of being subjected to drug testing, because with privilege comes responsibility.
I have been subjected to constant drug testing since 2001 as a result of being ranked among the World’s top 10 for 12 years in a row. I have been tested countless times, both in-competition and at unannounced surprise out-of-competition visits. I have been drug tested too many times to remember.
Strangers just show up wherever I am in the world unannounced, roust me out of bed in the pre-dawn hours and demand to watch me pee, take my urine, and now in the last two years, like vampires, they also come for my blood. It’s really quite creepy when you think about it, but it is something that we athletes must willingly submit to. It is the price we must pay if we want to compete at the elite level of sport on a level playing field.
Drug testing in sport is intended to catch cheaters by enforcing the World Anti Doping Agency’s (WADA) Prohibited List, which is an annually updated list of all the things that athletes are not allowed to put into their bodies. The list prohibits the use of the following types of substances and methods that are used to cheat:
• Anabolic agents, otherwise known as “steroids”.
• Peptide hormones and growth factors.
This includes things like EPO and human growth
• Beta-2 Antagonists and stimulants. This part of the list prohibits things that aid the cardiovascular system.
• Hormone and metabolic modulators. This part of the list basically prohibits artificial substances that are aromatase inhibitors, meaning things that prevent testosterone from being converted to oestrogen by the body, thus artificially raising free testosterone.
• Diuretics and masking agents. These are used to rid the body of other banned substances or hide them altogether.
• Cannabinoids, the substances found in cannabis.
• Prohibited methods: This prohibits things like blood transfusions, tampering with samples and the mysterious methods of gene doping.
• Glucocorticosteroids, naturally produced hormones that inhibit inflammation.
In addition to having mandatory drug testing for medal winners an random participants at high level
competitions in all sports and in all countries worldwide, the World Anti-Doping Agency runs a programme known as “Whereabouts” in which top-ranked athletes must submit very detailed information about where they are at all times to facilitate unannounced out-of-competition testing.
This is done to ensure that no cheating is taking place out of competition. For example, in track and field this programme is targeted at athletes who are ranked in the top 50 in the World, and for swimming, in the top 25.
Athletes must provide their exact location and be at that location for one hour each day so that the testers may find them to take samples of their urine and/or blood. The samples are then sent in sealed containers to be tested anonymously at labs, identified only by a number that corresponds to one given to you at the test. If the testers show up, and the athlete is not at the designated location at that time, it is deemed a missed test. Three missed tests in a period of 18 months is considered by the World Anti-Doping Agency to be a positive test, resulting in a minimum ban of two years.
The threat of missing a test is a constant low grade stress in the lives of these athletes who must diligently deal with the headache of updating a database on the internet known as ADAMS of their intended locations, travel plans, competitions and daily activities, even if their plans change from day to day and at the last minute.
The World Anti-Doping Agency holds the athlete responsible for anything illegal that is found in his or her sample. It is true that some over the counter and doctor prescribed medications contain substances that are on the banned list and that ingesting them would result in a positive test.
Take for example, the popular over the counter cold medication for sinus pain and congestion called Sudafed. This medication contains Pseudoephedrine which is on the WADA prohibited list because it is a stimulant and will result in what is known as an adverse analytical finding or a positive test requiring a minimum ban from competition of two years.
The onus in on the athletes to know the contents of the WADA prohibited list and to be conscious of what they are putting into their bodies at all times.
I never take anything without first learning what it is and then checking to see if it is allowed. The status of medications may be checked to see if it is safe for use at the website, Global Drug Reference Online www.globaldro.com.
Partly because of the need to keep up with their few counterparts who are cheating, many athletes consume legal dietary supplements such as vitamins, protein, etc., with the intention of optimising their health and ability to recover from strenuous workouts.
As I have said before and will stress again, the onus is on the athlete to ensure that they know exactly what they are ingesting and that it complies with the World Anti-Doping Prohibited list. There are many supplement brands out there. Some are trustworthy and the companies test each batch of their products to ensure that they are safe. These are usually more expensive because this extra cost is passed onto the consumer. However, most brands that many people blindly trust, pay no attention to quality and solely seek to maximise profit.
Many of these brands make a wide range of products, including some that are obviously illegal in sport and are targeted at the bodybuilding industry. With such brands, it is not unlikely for a little dust residue of a banned supplement on one conveyor belt to get mixed up unintentionally with a supposedly legal supplement. There have been many instances of athletes testing positive, being banned, yet claiming it was unintentional, and the result of a cross contaminated supplement of ill-repute.
We have all seen athletes like Marion Jones win 12 Olympic and World Championship medals, and Lance Armstrong dominate the Tour de France year after year, who in the process have undoubtedly taken countless drug tests for banned substances, yet found ways to beat the tests and never tested positive. Repeated cases like this have caused us all to lose faith in the process of drug testing and as result of this, we are now so jaded that we can’t help but be sceptical when we see people come along, absolutely dominate the competition and do amazing things.
Deep down inside, we want to believe that we as people are capable of such feats, that maybe, just maybe we too have or had the potential, but sadly, we aren’t so naive anymore.
The cheaters are killing our dream.