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Wednesday, September 13, 2000

Drug cheats a fact of life

Limpert says problem will never go away

  SYDNEY -- Canadian swim team star Marianne Limpert figures there are three certainties in life -- death, taxes and athletes who use banned performance-enhancing drugs.

 And no matter what propaganda the International Olympic Committee dishes out, the problem likely never will go away.

 "I'll be really honest," Limpert said yesterday at the athlete's village. "I don't think they'll ever catch everyone. The (cheats) are too smart for that. (Cheating) is pretty sophisticated at this level (and) it's pretty big business (so) while they'll probably catch a fair amount, they will never catch everyone."

 The IOC has made a big deal in the weeks leading up to the Sydney Games about their wonderful new tests for the banned substance EPO and the recently implemented out-of-competition tests.

 But athletes such as Limpert, competing in her third Games, are not buying into IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch's feel-good campaign.

 Limpert, 27, has every right to be jaded, losing the gold medal at the 1996 Atlanta Games in the 200 metre individual medley to Irish swimmer Michelle Smith de Bruin, who later was charged with tampering with a urine sample but was not stripped of the medal.

 Still, the Fredericton native is surprisingly content with her lot in life, particularly in regard to what happened in Atlanta.

 Limpert's skepticism about drug use is not based on anger or resentment. She just understands that cheaters probably always will remain one step ahead of the testers.

 Case in point: Despite all the IOC's pronouncements about finally finding a test for EPO, it was revealed this week that organizers only will be using the test that detects EPO use from 72 hours back. An Australian test that reportedly detects the drug weeks back has been shelved. EPO is essentially a training drug and only a fool would use the stuff in the days leading up to an event.

 "And they're adding more prize money into (swimming) and I think once you do that, it's going to turn into track and field," Limpert said. "Once there is money, there is even more incentive for people to cheat."

 For that reason, Limpert, who has won gold medals at virtually every level of international swimming, competes with the understanding that the playing field will not always be level. But that doesn't mean swimming, and sport in general, isn't any good.

 "It just seems that if there is a way to cheat, they'll take advantage of it, which is really kind of sad," she said.

 So would she put her (future) child in the sport?

 "That's a good question. I definitely would give them the option to do anything they want. The tough answer would be to put them in a sport where they could make some money," she said with a laugh. "Pro sports."

 Limpert is ranked eighth in her best event this season, the 200 individual medley, but having been pre-selected for the Games, the out-going swimmer really hasn't had to nail a big swim yet this season. And having already proved herself to be a big-event performer, she isn't worried about what lies ahead.

 "The big thing I learned in Barcelona in 1992, I was ranked in the top four in the world, so people said 'you can win a medal.' So I didn't do anything. I didn't go to the opening (ceremonies), I didn't walk around too much, I didn't enjoy myself at all.

 "And I didn't swim well. And then I came out of the Games and I had nothing. So that was my big thing in Atlanta. I said no matter what the results are in the pool, I'm going to come away with some great memories. And I think that's probably the biggest thing (in winning the silver)."