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Copyright 2000 St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Inc.  
St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Missouri)

July 23, 2000, Sunday, FIVE STAR LIFT EDITION

SECTION: NEWS, Pg. A11

LENGTH: 753 words

HEADLINE: CHEATERS KNOW HOW TO THWART DOPING TESTS, EXPERTS SAY;
THOSE WHO GET CAUGHT ARE "CARELESS OR STUPID PEOPLE";
DODGES HAVE GROWN SOPHISTICATED

BYLINE: Andrew A. Skolnick; Special To The Post-DispatchDRUG ABUSE; OLYMPIC ATHLETES; PROFESSIONAL ATHLETES; OUTSMARTING TESTS; MASKING USAGE

BODY:
As the science of drug testing becomes more sophisticated, so does the cheating.

The doper's method of not getting caught may be as crude as substituting "clean" urine for his or her own during a drug test. Because the urine collection must be observed by an official, some athletes resort to hiding a bag of "clean" urine in their rectum or vagina. Some even risk dangerous infection by filling their own bladder with another person's urine through a catheter.

Among the more sophisticated strategies is the use of other drugs that interfere with the effectiveness of urine tests. That practice led to the addition of these masking drugs to the growing list of banned substances.

Another strategy requires athletes to carefully medicate themselves while periodically testing their urine to make sure that the level of banned substance in their urine stays below the limit.

The official limits for some drugs such as muscle building testosterone are high enough to allow many athletes to build themselves up without getting caught, anti-doping experts say.

Indeed, the relatively few athletes who get caught are "careless or stupid people," said doping expert Charles Yesalis, a professor at Pennsylvania State University.

It's so easy to get away with doping, it's surprising when someone does get caught, Yesalis said.

The old method of "blood doping" - in which the athlete stores his or her own blood and then reinfuses it before competition - is hard to detect. And so is the latest method of blood doping using the drug erythropoietin (EPO).

Many elite athletes have been taking this blood cell growth factor to increase their endurance by packing their blood with oxygen-carrying red blood cells. Because EPO is normally found in blood and urine, developing a reliable test has been difficult.

While several tests have been developed, and one is already being used to eliminate possible cheaters at the almost-completed Tour de France (three suspect cyclists were sent home during the qualifying race), the International Olympic Committee is reluctant to approve their use. The International Committee still hasn't agreed to use EPO testing in Sydney in September.

Human growth hormone (hGH) is another new, naturally occurring doping agent. Because no test is even on the horizon to catch athletes who are pumping themselves up with this drug, it has become a popular, but expensive, doping agent.

"Athletes are a walking laboratory, and the Olympics have become a proving ground for scientists, chemists and unethical doctors," said Dr. Robert Voy, director of the U.S. Olympic Committee's anti-doping program from 1983 to 1989. "The testers know that the drug gurus are smarter than they are. They know how to get in under the radar."

The doping industry has become a big business, which caters to athletes from Olympians down to grade-schoolers. Said Yesalis: "Experts are being paid to make sure that athletes don't get caught."

This industry employs black-market manufacturers and suppliers of steroids, human growth hormone, EPO and other banned substances, and physicians willing to provide them. It also employs researchers who continue to develop chemical variations of banned substances that still will boost performance but not be prohibited - at least until their use becomes a recognized problem.

And, of course, there are the many coaches, lawyers and others who work to defend the athletes who get caught.

Last year, Texas legislators enacted a law making it illegal for grade-school coaches or other school employees to sell or provide performance- enhancing drugs or supplements to schoolchildren.

The law doesn't apply to college athletes. "My university buys (the body building food supplement) creatinine by the tub load for its athletes," said John Hoberman, professor of Germanic studies at the University of Texas at Austin and an authority on sports doping.

And now, thanks to the power of genetic engineering, the specter of Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World" - where superathletes are conceived in test tubes - is looming on the horizon. Many experts say we are losing this drug war and that sports as we've known them are not going to survive.

"Doping is a cancer for all sports," says Dr. Don Catlin, who runs the drug-testing lab at the University of California at Los Angeles - one of the two U.S. testing labs approved by the International Olympic Committee. "However, I'm convinced that science can develop the means to defeat it."

LOAD-DATE: July 23, 2000




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