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171 days until the Opening Ceremonies – Doping Control…

August 24, 2009

So leave it to my dear friend Elspeth to come up with such a hefty topic when asked what about the Olympics and Paralympics she is curious about.  She wants to know the hows, the whens and the whys… and apparently if I am still keen to research things like I was still in Uni.  Now, I am going to disclaimer up front here, this is a small and condensed version of the anti-doping world, as there are several information guides at about 100 pages each.  I asked Elspeth at about 6pm what she was interested in, and I have an unfortunate tendency to not start writing until after 9pm… and… I have my first day of work actually trying to sell things in the Bay Olympic Shop in the morning, so this is, by necessity, short.  However, I hope it will cover most of the questions Elspeth, and anyone else, may have, and if not, at least provide appropriate links to the information should you be interested in reading further!

Random anti-doping image from, as I didn't think anyone wants to see the athletes being tested (assuming I could find a photo of that).

Random anti-doping image from Vancouver 2010, as I didn't think anyone wants to see the athletes being tested (assuming I could find a photo of that).

Vancouver 2010’s Doping Control program is built on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and International Paralympic Committee (IPC)‘s authority and direction and works jointly with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport.  Vancouver 2010 builds its anti-doping platform on testing and education.  Education involves and Athlete Outreach Program (based on WADA’s program) that is delivered at sporting events, conferences and meetings.  The specific anti-doping rules for Vancouver 2010 will be posted on the IOC and IPC websites shortly.  Most of my information on the anti-doping testing process comes from WADA.  For a very quick, but good, summary of WADA, watch their intro video here.

WADA is based in Montreal and is the foundation for anti-doping agencies everywhere.  They do their own research on detecting doping.  They develop education programs for the youngest athlete to the most accomplished Olympian.  They work hard to ensure equality and fairness in sport, leading to their catchphrase “Play True”.  They mean true to other athletes, the sport, your coaches, your family, your fans and yourself.  It seems to me that these people really believe in their work, and that can only be good for sport everywhere.

World Doping Agency

World Doping Agency

I haven’t delved into the education programs of Vancouver 2010 or WADA but I’m sure there’s lots of information out there if you are interested.  Today I am focusing on the actual testing process.  The “how’s” and “when’s” of anti-doping.  Alright, here we go.

Anti-doping testing can take place anytime and anywhere, in or out of competition with no advance notice given.  The testing will either be a blood or urine sample.  Generally, the selection of the athletes to be tested is random.  In the case of the Olympics (based on Turin 2006’s anti-doping regulations) athletes are tested generally at random pre-competition, but post-competition there are more rules.  For individual competitions, the top five placed athletes will all be tested, as well as two randomly selected from outside of the top five.  For pursuit, relay and team sprint competitions, one athlete from each of the top five teams and one athlete from two randomly selected teams will be tested.  For curling round-robins, one sheet of ice will be randomly selected per session, and one athlete from each team will be selected.  For curling semi-finals two athletes per team will be selected.  For curling finals, four athletes will be selected (I suppose this could include the spare player… and not necessarily mean the team as it is on the ice, hmm..).  For hockey preliminaries, two male competitions and/or two female competitions will be selected and one athlete per team will be randomly selected.  For semi-finals, two athletes are selected per team and for finals, four athletes are selected per team.  Outside of these regulations, all athletes that establish or break an Olympic or world record will be tested.  As well, athletes or teams can be selected for targeted testing (I am assuming that targeted testing is with cause of suspicion).

Whew!  That’s a lot of situations, but how about the actual testing process?  Athletes are not warned in advance there is a possibility that they will be tested, there is “no advance notice”.  They need to be clean always.  And they need to be aware of everything and anything that could create an adverse analytical finding, even if it something prescribed by a doctor, or an over-the-counter topical cream, they need to know how it may affect their body.  First, athletes are selected for testing.  They will be notified and given a time limit to report for testing, usually about 60 minutes, this may be delayed for press conferences or medal ceremonies, however, from the time the athlete is notified, they will be escorted by certified anti-doping personnel.

The athlete will report to the anti-doping facility with ID and generally another person to stand as the athlete’s witness.  There is a lot of paperwork to go with anti-doping.  A lot.  I am sure that the paperwork takes longer than anything else, although I suppose it is something to do while you are hydrating.  The procedure I’ll talk about here is for a urine sample.  So, paperwork starts getting filled out.  The athlete selects a “sample collection” package and checks it for signs of tampering.  When satisfied that it is compromised, the athlete will open the package and collect the materials, generally a plastic bottle to pee in with a lid for after the sample is collected.  When the athlete is ready to give their sample, they and a certified anti-doping official go to a washroom.  The athlete is not permitted to be clothed from knee to mid-chest or hand to elbow while giving the sample so that the official can ‘directly observe the urine leaving the body’.  This, while I’m sure unpleasant for everyone, is to ensure that there is no tampering with the sample or the possibility of a false sample being submitted.  Modesty is apparently something you cannot have a lot of in the world of high-level sport!

The athlete will cap the sample (generally 75 – 100ml of urine are required) and maintains control of the sample at all times (this is only excepted in the case of a disability where the athlete requires aid and then it will be done by their designated helper).  More paperwork is done.  A sample submittal kit is then selected by the athlete, checked for tampering, and to ensure that all of the sample numbers match.  A small volume of the collected sample is poured into the “B” sample holder by the athlete, then most of the remaining sample is poured into the “A” sample holder.  A small amount is left in the original collection container so that the anti-doping officials can test the specific gravity (SG) and acidity (pH) of the sample immediately.  The athlete then seals their A and B samples into a container for transport.  More paperwork is done, firstly to outline any medications or supplements the athlete is on and secondly to ensure that everyone (anti-doping official, the official that observed the sample being given, the athlete’s witness and lastly the athlete) was satisfied with the process.  If the original sample was not of sufficient volume for testing, the athlete seals it in a partial sample bag, and must remain until enough volume has been collected for testing.  The samples are mixed, and then split into A and B samples for testing.  The athlete retains a copy of the paperwork.  The copy sent to the lab does not include identifying features of the athlete, just sample numbers.

The chain of custody is maintained at all times, to ensure that the samples make it to the designated lab in adequate condition for testing.  The B samples are stored in a cool, secure place for testing if an adverse analytical result is returned from the A sample.  Chromatography and mass spectrometry are used to analyse the samples in certified labs.  As far as I understand, for Vancouver 2010 this lab is at the Richmond Olympic Oval (please correct me if I have this part wrong).  Results from all tests are forwarded to the responsible anti-doping agency (Vancouver 2010 in this case) as well as to WADA.

Doping falls into many categories and includes not just substances, but methods as well.  WADA’s Prohibited List for 2009 is broken down as follows:

Substances and Methods prohibited at all times (in and out of competition)

* Substances – Anabolic agents, Hormones and related substances, Beta-2 agonists, Hormone antagonists and modulators, Diuretics and other masking agents

* Methods – Enhancement of oxygen transfer, Chemical and physical manipulation, Gene doping

Substances and Methods prohibited in competition

* Stimulants, Narcotics, Cannabinoids, Glucocorticosteroids

Substances prohibited in particular sports

* Alcohol, Beta-blockers

The current Prohibited List from WADA is 22 pages including intro and some comments, but it looks extensive to me!  It is quite the process to try to keep sport clean.  As the WADA intro video says, sport brings out the best in people, but it can also bring out the worst, and anti-doping is how we try to keep it fair and equal for all.

Alright E., I hope I covered most of your burning questions.  I am off to bed so that I don’t need to much in the way of stimulants tomorrow.  Hope you all enjoyed reading.

Thank you and merci!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. elspeth permalink
    August 25, 2009 7:38 am

    blimey Andrea, that’s great thanks. Hope you managed to get some sleep afterwards!
    Good luck in hitting your target today;~)

  2. July 12, 2010 2:55 am

    Thanks and ew ew!!
    You’d hope you would get a sponsorship deal as an elite athlete, so that it’s worth the vouyeristic peeing!

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