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Wednesday, August 2, 2000
Top marks for testing

Canucks applaud EPO crackdown

By STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

  Canadian athletes were flying high yesterday as the International Olympic Committee medical commission approved a double test for the banned drug EPO.

 Until now, there has been no test for EPO, or erythropoietin, believed to be widely used by athletes in endurance sports such as middle-distance running, cycling and swimming. Any athlete at next month's Sydney Olympics could be tested.

 "This makes me very happy because hopefully it will catch more cheaters," Leah Pells, Canada's top female middle-distance runner, told The Toronto Sun yesterday. "It's definitely a step in the right direction."

 "I think we will have a better chance to get a medal (in Sydney), because I believe Canadian cyclists do not use EPO," Czeslaw Lukaszewicz, a leading member of Canada's road team, said. "That's good news for us, and for cycling."

 Pells believes that if the tests for EPO prove reliable, the playing field will be levelled for Canadians, who are tested probably more than any other amateur athletes in the world. The Vancouver runner believes the use of EPO in her event "is huge."

 "I hate saying that because it makes me sound like a whiner," said Pells, who finished fourth in the 1500 metres at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. "But I'm being realistic. Travelling around the (European) circuit, talking to other athletes, hearing what they say, these are reliable sources. You know."

 If the new blood and urine tests, developed by researchers in Australia and France, are approved by legal experts and the IOC executive board, at least 300 tests for EPO will be carried out before and during the Sydney Games, Sept. 15-Oct. 1. Athletes found to be positive will be thrown out of the Games.

 Initially developed during the 1980s to treat anemia in kidney patients, EPO boosts the production of oxygen-rich red blood cells. Experts say it can improve performance by 10%-15%.

 In 1998, vials of the drug were found in an official vehicle of a Tour de France team, leading to the broadest drug scandal in the history of the world's top cycling race.

 "EPO has been the worst of the undetectable drugs that is prevalent in the sporting society," said John Boultbee, executive director of the Australian Institute of Sport. "Now those who cheat with EPO know that they should stop, or not come to Sydney, and those who don't cheat know that we have a level playing field."

 -- with files from AP
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