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Wednesday, August 2, 2000
Olympic hosts hailing EPO tests as major breakthrough

 SYDNEY, Australia (AP) -- Australians are hailing the likely introduction of blood testing to catch drugs cheats at the Sydney Olympics as a sporting breakthrough.

 Not since Sydney edged Beijing in 1993 for the right to play host to the 2000 games -- its winning campaign hinged on the promise of a clean, green games -- has local opinion been so undivided about an issue concerning the Olympics.

 The International Olympic Committee's medical commission approved Tuesday a double test to detect the performing-enhancing substance EPO, reportedly one of the most abused drugs in sport.

 After two days of meetings with researchers and scientists in Lausanne, Switzerland, the commission said it would recommend that the IOC sanction an Australian-devised blood test and a French urine test before the Sydney games next month.

 If the recommendation is carried by the IOC board later this month, after scrutiny by legal experts, at least 300 tests for EPO will be conducted randomly before and during Sydney 2000, in addition to 2,400 conventional doping tests.

 The pre-Olympics testing would start Sept. 2, when the athlete's village opens.

 Australian Sports Commission chief executive Jim Ferguson said the new tests would wipe out the illicit use of EPO.

 "It will provide the public and competing athletes with the confidence that there is a level playing field and that you don't have widespread cheating in sport," he said.

 Swimmer Ian Thorpe, a multiple world record-holder, has volunteered to be first in line to give a blood sample for EPO.

 Australian Swimming president Terry Gathercole has backed the 17-year-old Thorpe's bid to clear his name against persistent doping allegations and said his entire team would be happy to be tested.

 "I think it is something our athletes would volunteer for without any hesitation," he said.

 Gathercole said the tests should get final approval by the IOC executive, adding: "I would think with the science being accepted, it would take brave people not to allow it to go ahead."

 Thorpe said the medical commission took a major step against drugs in sport, but still had a long way to go "in the total eradication of doping."

 He said the illegal use of Human Growth Hormone should be the next target.

 "I think everyone would like to see a test for HGH, that's obviously the other contentious drug."

 EPO, or erythropoietin, has been undetectable using conventional doping techniques. IOC officials have warned that athletes caught using EPO faced being thrown out of the Olympics.

 Experts say EPO, which boosts the production of oxygen-rich red blood cells, can improve performance in endurance events by 10-15 percent.

 The Sydney 2000 organizing committee said it has been preparing for three years to implement a combined urine-blood test for EPO.

 "The important thing is there's a test," said Nikki Vance, doping control manager for Sydney 2000. "We already have a large proportion of the equipment in place."

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