Olympic Warning for 2012: Compete Clean or Get Caught

David Cowan, the man leading the anti-doping program for the Olympics, noted the London games will be the “riskiest” ever for drug cheats. Read on to find out about all the new tests.

Even though the drug manufacturers try to stay one step ahead of the drug testers, it looks like their bus may come to a screeching halt this fall in London. Speaking at a press briefing at the British Science Festival (published in the British Medical Journal), Professor David Cowan, Director of the Drug Control Center at King’s College London, offered a warning to athletes competing in the London Olympic Games: Beware: if you’re a 2012 Olympian, you better compete clean or you’ll get caught.

Cowan, the man leading the anti-doping program for the Olympics, noted the London games will be the “riskiest” ever for drug cheats. Here is what they’ll face:

  • New tests for growth hormone, gene doping, and possibly autologous blood doping. In autologous blood doping an athlete’s own blood is extracted, stored, then reintroduced at a later date.
  • 150 anti-doping scientists will carry out the tests, with the help of approximately eighty temporary assistant analysts.
  • More use of “targeted testing” based on intelligence gathered before the games.
  • Around 6000 blood and urine tests will be executed.

Cowan stated, “Huge advances have been made in what we can detect to control drugs in sport. So much so that I think we can say before 2012 that it is better not to take the drugs.”1

A test for gene doping has been developed and is currently awaiting approval. Researchers are also “well on the way” to having a new test for growth hormone ready for the 2012 games. Unlike previous tests this would not detect growth hormone directly but would measure levels of two key biomarkers – IGF-1 and PIIINP – thereby allowing illegal drug use to be detected for much longer after administration.

“By having knowledge of how those two markers change under normal conditions we can show the difference between what would be allowable and what would say that you are a cheat,” said Cowan.2

A test for autologous blood doping is also in development. This will detect unusual RNA patterns seen in stored blood. Cowan stated, “As the blood cell ages out of the body, the pattern of the RNA varies, and one can actually see a different pattern. It’s part of the natural ageing process, but the cell is not in its natural environment anymore.”3

Professor Cowan was hopeful the new test will be ready for the Olympics, but could not guarantee it. Nevertheless, he emphasized that blood taken during the Olympics would be stored and could be tested retrospectively. This is another reason not to gamble with performance enhancing drugs.

The actual Olympic drug testing will take place at GlaxoSmithKline’s research and development facility in Harlow, Essex. GlaxoSmithKline signed an agreement with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) to share confidential information on drugs in development that could potentially be misused by athletes in the future.

WADA sure could help spread substance misuse information so that all athletes are well-informed. If there is a risk a drug could end up on the prohibited list once it is marketed, then WADA will be advised so they can work towards the most sensitive detection tests.

I hope this sends a message to all other sports and competitions because I am not an advocate of improved performance through better synthetic chemistry. Give it everything you have, naturally. It’s old school, but you won’t be banned from the Olympics.