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Monday, July 31, 2000
Olympic officials refuse to link EPO heist with Summer Games

 SYDNEY, Australia (AP) -- Australian Olympic Committee officials have rejected speculation that the theft of 1,000 vials of the performance-enhancing drug EPO from a hospital in central Australia is connected with the Sydney Games.

 The performance-enhancing drugs were stolen when the hospital's pharmacy was broken into July 23, a police spokesman said Monday. Detectives are still investigating.

 "We don't have all the details from the police, but it would be (a stretch) to say this crime was Olympic-related," Olympic Committee media director Mike Tancred said.

 EPO, or erythropoietin, boosts the production of oxygen-rich red blood cells and is on the International Olympic Committee's list of banned substances for athletes.

 The Australian Sports Drug Agency, which will test athletes before and during the Olympics, is concerned about the stolen drugs flooding the black market.

 "EPO is a controlled substance anywhere in the world because it does have legitimate uses for medical purposes," agency spokesman Vicki Kapernick said. "But it has been proven to make quite a big difference to an athlete's performance.

 "One of our strategies to counter the use of undetectable drugs is simply to try and restrict the supply. I don't know if there is any connection between this (robbery) and the Olympics but it doesn't help."

 Sydney Games organizers declined to comment.

 Injected in synthetic form, EPO is undetectable using conventional doping tests and is believed to be widely used in endurance sports including cycling and running.

 Australian scientists have developed a blood test to detect EPO and were scheduled to present the test to the IOC's independent medical commission panel in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Monday and Tuesday.

 The researchers hope the blood test will be validated by the IOC and introduced before the Sydney Olympics.

 The IOC has never sanctioned blood tests, relying only on athletes' urine samples.

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