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Monday, September 11, 2000
IOC defends test for performance-enhancing EPO

 SYDNEY, Australia (AP) -- The International Olympic Committee on Monday defended its test for performance-enhancing EPO against allegations it would catch only the "silliest athlete in the world."

 A scientist from the Australian Sports Drug Laboratory contends the test approved by the IOC will be ineffective in catching EPO cheats at the Sydney Games because it can detect the substance only if it was taken 72 hours before a sample is collected.

 Another test that can detect EPO taken one month before a sample is collected was more effective, but was rejected by the IOC in preference for the 72-hour test, said Dr. Peter Larkins, a member of the medical team advising the Sydney Games organizers.

 "It's going to be totally ineffective," Larkins said of the IOC-approved test.

 "I mean, you have to be the silliest athlete in the world to get caught on these tests in the 72-hour period," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

 IOC medical director Patrick Schamasch confirmed Monday that the blood and urine test approved for the Sydney Games would be effective only if EPO was taken three to five days before the test.

 But he said an independent panel of scientists had found the other test unreliable, and that positive results might not stand up to legal challenge.

 "This test was accepted unanimously," Schamasch said of the sanctioned method.

 "It's been always very clear the combined test may allow the lab to detect the intake of EPO within 4-5 days," he said.

 Schamash stressed the EPO tests were being conducted only as out-of-competition controls, when they would be more likely to catch cheaters.

 "We have been pushed by everyone for two years to have a test," he said. "Now we have a test in place and we are being criticized."

 The IOC position was backed by the Australian research team that developed the test, which issued a statement rejecting media reports that "suggest that some members of the research team were unhappy with the outcome."

 "Our research was the subject of a thorough and proper examination of all the scientific and legal issues," said Drew Carke, a spokesman for the team. "The testing protocol recommended ... which was adopted by the IOC was one of the options we presented. Their decision was prudent and we fully accept and support the protocol that is now in operation."

 The IOC approved the test for EPO last month after exhaustive debate and legal advice.

 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.

 EPO is believed to be widely used by athletes in endurance events such as long-distance running, swimming and cycling.

 Until the Australian-devised blood test and French urine test were sanctioned, EPO was undetectable using conventional doping methods.

 Officials said Monday that they had completed 215 drug tests ahead of the Sept. 15-Oct. 1 games, 57 of them for EPO. No positive results had been recorded.

 Meanwhile, IOC officials expressed concern that genetic engineering could become the new frontier in doping.

 Prince Alexandre de Merode, chairman of the IOC medical commission, said the IOC has been in contact with gene therapy companies for two years to monitor advances in the field.

 "This could be a Pandora's box for a new type of doping," he said.

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