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Monday, August 28, 2000
IOC approves EPO tests for Sydney

 LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) -- The drug of choice in sports is officially on the hit list for the Sydney Olympics.

 The International Olympic Committee gave final approval Monday to tests for the performance-enhancer EPO at the Summer Games next month.

 Between 300 and 700 EPO tests will be carried out between Sept. 2, the day the athletes' village opens, and the closing ceremony Oct. 1, said Prince Alexandre de Merode, the head of the IOC medical commission.

 The number of tests depends on laboratory capacity, and about 400 are expected to be done.

 "I think it will be a very good impact on the many athletes who do not cheat," said Kevan Gosper, an IOC vice president from Australia. "For those who do cheat, I hope it scares the heck out of them."

 De Merode said a total of 3,800 drug tests can be expected before and during the Sydney Olympics. Urine samples taken as part of the EPO testing will also be used to test for substances such as anabolic steroids.

 The IOC executive board backed a recommendation from IOC legal experts that the tests should be allowed to go ahead.

 The combined urine and blood test for EPO, or erythropoietin, was backed earlier this month by the IOC medical commission and outside scientific experts. But final authorization was required by the juridical commission and executive board.

 "It's been 14 or 15 years that it's taken to come up with this valid test," de Merode said.

 He stressed that athletes who refuse to take the tests will not be allowed to compete.

 "If they don't want to accept the rules, there is no obligation on them to take part," he said.

 The IOC's action came the same day as the International Cycling Union announced that Thomas Frischknecht of Switzerland will be awarded the 1996 mountain bike world championship after French rider Jerome Chiotti, the original winner, admitted using EPO. Norway's Rune Hoydahl will receive the silver medal and Italy's Hubert Pallhuber the bronze.

 EPO, the drug at the heart of the Tour de France doping scandal in 1998, is believed to be widely used by athletes in endurance sports and events such as long-distance running, swimming and cycling.

 De Merode said that no particular sport would be singled out for testing at Sydney and athletes will be chosen at random.

 The IOC hope that the tests in Sydney will encourage sporting federations to use the procedure.

 "Of course we're recommending it," de Merode said. "It's probable that the Olympic Games will be a particularly favorable for this type of experiment."

 Injected in synthetic form, EPO enhances stamina by increasing the number of red blood cells, which carry oxygen to the muscles. Experts say it can improve performance by up to 15 percent.

 Until now, there has been no test for detecting EPO use. French researchers developed a urine test which can provide direct proof of EPO use, while Australian scientists devised a blood test which offers indirect evidence.

 Australian sports minister Jackie Kelly called the IOC decision "a breakthrough in the fight against drugs in sport."

 "It puts blood testing squarely on the anti-doping landscape," Kelly said in a statement. "That is a tremendous legacy in itself."

 In Sydney, an athlete will be considered guilty of EPO use only if both urine and blood tests are positive.

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