SYDNEY, Australia (AP) -- The competition won't only be at the track, pool and playing fields during the Summer Games. A fight for Olympic credibility will be won or lost at the training sites, labs and doping control stations.
With the specter of performance-enhancing drugs hanging over Sydney, Olympic officials have come up with a series of measures to try to catch cheats and instill public confidence in the tests.
The International Olympic Committee medical commission has approved a test to detect the use of the banned synthetic hormone erythropoietin, or EPO, considered the drug of choice for endurance athletes.
For the first time, Olympic officials are conducting unannounced, out-of-competition tests on athletes before and during the games. And independent observers will monitor the entire testing process in Sydney to remove any suspicions of cover-ups.
"I don't think we can stand up in front of the world and say, 'There will be nobody at the games in Sydney who has never used drugs,"' said Dick Pound, an IOC vice president and chairman of the new World Anti-Doping Agency. "But I think some of the people who have used them may not show up, and anyone who has done so is at a much greater risk of being detected and exposed."
Even Gen. Barry McCaffrey, the White House drug policy director who has clashed with the IOC over its anti-doping efforts, believes important strides have been made.
"There's a lot of room for confidence certainly," he said from Washington. "The whole mental dynamic has fundamentally changed in the last 18 months. We have enhanced accountability and independence with the creation" of the World Anti-Doping Agency.
McCaffrey will travel to Sydney to observe the testing system and meet with WADA delegates, athletes' groups and IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch.
"We've come a long way, but we still have a long way to go," McCaffrey said. "We've got to commit ourselves to keeping the IOC's feet to the fire. ... We'd be misguided to do anything but measure this by observed results as opposed to rhetoric."'
Critics remain unconvinced.
Charles Yesalis, a Penn State University professor and author of a book on performance-enhancing drugs, has dismissed the EPO test as a public relations move.
"These games are going to be as drug laden as the rest," he said.
Even if the EPO test proves effective in catching or deterring users, there still is no method for detecting two other widely abused drugs, human growth hormone (hGH) and insulin growth factor (IGF-1).
Many athletes are believed to have turned to artificial hemoglobin products, which can produce some of the benefits of EPO. These include Hemopure, a drug made in South Africa that researchers say can reduce the need for blood transfusions.
EPO, the drug at the heart of the Tour de France doping scandal in 1998, enhances endurance by boosting the production of oxygen-rich red blood cells.
The IOC has approved a combined blood and urine test to be conducted on 300 to 700 athletes in Sydney, on top of the 2,400 standard tests expected. It's the first time blood samples will be tested in the Olympics as part of the official doping control program.
Australian scientists devised the blood test, which provides indirect evidence of EPO. French researchers developed a urine test, which offers direct proof.
"The combination of both tests gives 100 percent certainty," said Jacques Rogge, vice chairman of the IOC medical commission.
While the blood test can detect EPO use dating back several weeks, the urine test only goes back three days. An athlete will be considered guilty of a doping offense only if both tests are positive.
Rogge played down complaints that the system is flawed because it wouldn't catch any athlete who uses EPO more than three days before the test.
"We know athletes have to take injections every three or four days," he said. "Since we are also doing out-of-competition testing, there's a good chance you can catch them."
In today's climate, virtually any world record or outstanding performance, particularly in swimming or track and field, is greeted with suspicion of drug use.
Four years ago, Irish swimmer Michelle Smith came out of virtually nowhere to win three gold medals at the Atlanta Olympics, prompting doping accusations from rivals.
Two years later, Smith underwent a surprise test at her home in Ireland. She was banned for four years after the international swimming federation ruled she had manipulated her urine sample, which was contaminated by whiskey.
While Smith won't be back to defend her titles, several other high-profile athletes were recently cleared to compete in Sydney despite positive tests.
-- Cuba's Javier Sotomayor, the 1992 Olympic champion and world record-holder in the high jump, tested positive for cocaine at last year's Pan American Games in Canada and was stripped of his gold medal and banned for two years. But earlier this month, the sport's governing body, the International Amateur Athletic Federation, reduced the ban to time served, citing "exceptional circumstances."
-- Jamaican sprinter Merlene Ottey, winner of 34 medals at the Olympics and World Championships, was banned for two years after testing positive for the steroid nandrolone last year. The IAAF arbitration panel recently exonerated her on grounds of faulty testing procedures.
-- Dieter Baumann, Germany's 1992 Olympic champion in the 5,000 meters, blamed spiked toothpaste for a positive nandrolone test. He was cleared by his national federation, and the IAAF said he is free to run in Sydney pending arbitration.
Nandrolone, which has produced positive tests around the world in the past two years, remains a source of contention. The IAAF banned former Olympic 100-meter champion Linford Christie and two other British athletes for two years, rejecting British research suggesting that food supplements combined with strenuous exercise can trigger positive tests.
The IOC says there will be no letup in nandrolone testing in Sydney.
"We know there are food supplements that have precursors of nandrolone," Rogge said. "If you take contaminated food supplements, you are in trouble. It's the responsibility of the athletes. They know what they are taking."
The IOC, still recovering from the Salt Lake City bribery scandal, finds itself in a difficult situation. If a slew of athletes are caught, the image of the Olympics will be tarnished and Sydney will go down as the "Drug Games." If few are nabbed, the IOC will be accused of being lax.
Since drug testing was introduced at the 1968 Olympics, only 48 positive tests have been recorded. The most famous case involved Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson, who was stripped of his gold medal and world record in the 100 meters after testing positive for steroids at the 1988 Seoul Games.
Following the world drug summit in Lausanne, Switzerland, in February 1999, sports and government officials worked together to create the World Anti-Doping Agency to coordinate a global program of out-of-competition testing, considered the best method for catching cheaters.
All 28 summer Olympic sports federations have signed up for pre-games out-of-competition tests. WADA has set a target of carrying out around 2,000 tests before the start of the games on Sept. 15.
In addition, WADA has appointed 12 independent observers to monitor drug testing in Sydney for a public report.
Among the observers will be Rob Housman, one of McCaffrey's top aides in the White House drug control office.
"It's hard to believe all this has happened in only 18 months," Housman said. "If somebody 18 months ago said we would have not just one, but two EPO tests, that we would have an oversight team on the ground in Sydney with unfettered access, and that ... random, unannounced out-of-competition tests were being done, I think people would have laughed at us."
By The Associated Press
Key facts and figures about drug testing at the Sydney Games:
For the first time, athletes will be subjected to random, unannounced, pre-games testing. A new test is being introduced to detect the banned endurance-boosting hormone EPO, which includes the collection of blood samples for the first time. Independent observers will monitor the drug-testing process.
A total of 2,400 athletes (out of a total 10,200 competitors) to be tested in and out of competition by standard urine tests, and 300 to 700 will undergo the EPO test.
Tests will be administered by the International Olympic Committee and analyzed at the accredited laboratory in Sydney.
List of banned drugs includes stimulants (such as amphetamines and ephedrine), narcotics (heroin, methadone, etc.), anabolic steroids (nandrolone, stanozolol, androstenedione, etc.), beta-2 agonists (clenbuterol), diuretics (furosemide, bumetanide), peptide hormones (EPO, human growth hormone, insulin), masking agents (bromantan, diuretics), and cannabinoids (marijuana). Prohibited methods include blood doping.
Athletes found guilty of a doping offenses are disqualified and sent home, their results wiped off the books.
No tests are available to trace popular performance-enhancers such as human growth hormone (hGH) and insulin growth factor (IGF-1).
Many athletes are believed to have turned to artificial hemoglobin products, such as Hemopure, which can produce some of the effects of EPO.
Twelve observers designated by the new World Anti-Doping Agency will monitor the entire chain of doping control, watching as samples are collected and analyzed and sitting in on hearings for any athletes testing positive. The observers will also prepare a public report after the games.
By The Associated Press
History of drug tests and positive doping cases at the Summer Games, according to official records of the International Olympic Committee. (Drug testing began in 1968).
1968, Mexico City
667 tests; 1 case -- alcohol in modern pentathlon.
2,079 tests; 7 cases -- 2 of amphetamines in weightlifting and judo, 2 of coramine in cycling, 3 of ephedrine in basketball, swimming and weightlifting. (U.S. swimmer Rick DuMont was stripped of his gold medal in the 400-meter freestyle).
786 tests; 11 cases -- 1 of amphetamines in shooting, 1 of fencamfamine in weighlifting, 1 of phenylpropanolmine in yachting, and 8 of anabolic steroids (7 in weightlifting, 1 in track and field).
645 tests; no positive cases.
1984, Los Angeles
1,507 tests; 12 cases -- 1 of ephedrine in volleyball, 7 of nandrolone (5 in weightlifting and 2 in track and field), 2 of metenolone in volleyball and wrestling, 2 of testosterone in volleyball and track and field.
1,598 tests; 10 cases -- 1 of caffeine in modern pentathlon, 4 of furosemide (2 in weightlifting and 1 each in wrestling and judo), 1 of propanolol in modern pentathlon, 1 of pemoline in weightlifting, 3 of stanozolol (1 in track and field and 2 in weightlifting).
Four athletes were stripped of their medals -- three gold medalists (Ben Johnson, Canada, 100 meters; and Bulgarian weightlifters Mitko Grubler and Angel Guenchev), and Kerrith Brown, Britain, bronze medalist in judo.
1,848 tests; 5 cases -- 1 of strychnine in volleyball, 1 of norephedrine in track and field, 2 of clenbuterol in track and field, and 1 of mesocarb in track and field.
1,923 tests; 2 cases -- 1 of methandienone and 1 of stanozolol in track and field.
Five athletes were initially disqualified after testing positive for bromantan, but the results were overturned and the athletes reinstated by an arbitration court.
Total Positive Cases