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Friday, 26 October 2012

Drug Testing for Dummies

With all the controversy surrounding drugs in sports like cycling it seems that everyone has become an expert.  But let's clarify a few misconceptions when it comes to drug testing.

1.  Drug testing is like alcohol testing.
Drink too much, drive, get breathalyzed and suddenly you are in a lot of trouble.  Performance drug testing doesn't work that way.  

Imagine going out and drinking a ton of white wine - being completely intoxicated.  You get pulled over and the police ask you if you have been drinking any RED wine.  You can honestly say No.  Drug tests test for specific drugs and if you dont have those drugs in your system or have a drug that isn't being tested for then you will not record a positive response.

2.  The drugs are in the system all the time.
Many drugs like EPO have a glow time (while it is in your system) and an efficacy time.  In the case of EPO it is in the athletes blood stream for about 3 days but the red blood cells take about 17 days to mature.  So by the time the benefit is realised the drug is out of the system and wont appear in any test.

3.  All drugs are tested for.
Virtually all drugs that are used in performance sports were never originally designed for that purpose.  EPO was created for patients with kidney failure, clenbuterol for horse asthma.  The lead time between athletes realising its advantages in their sport, WADA finding out about it, developing a test for it and getting the test approved, sanctioned and rolled out can be up to six years in which time the athletes have already moved onto another substance.

4.  Athletes can and are tested 24x7
This is technically true but is also a factor of mathematics (number of testers compared to athletes) and the nature of the tester.  These are typically public servant type people who work from 9-5, Monday to Friday which may coincidentally coincide with when the athlete just happens to be out training.

Athletes often joke that drug testing isn't a drug test - it is an intelligence test.  If you look at the most famous cases this is very much the case.

Ben Johnson - ignored the time that steroids are still in the system and kept taking Decadurabol right up to 4 weeks before the Olympics (Interestingly 7 out of the 8 finalists in the 100m sprint that Johnson was disqualified for have subsequently tested positive.

Tyler Hamilton - given someone else's blood to re-infuse into his body

Floyd Landis - Took testosterone the night after a stage and then finished in a position which meant mandatory testing.

Ironically if it wasn't for Tyler and Floyds brain fades the whole Armstrong investigation may never have occurred.

DISCLAIMER.  Under WADA it clearly states that it is the athletes sole responsibility to guarantee that the products they consume contain no banned substances.

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