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    Wednesday, February 11, 1998

    Many athletes have fallen to drug tests

     TORONTO (CP) -- Talk of mixing drugs and sports immediately brings one name to mind -- Ben Johnson.
     But Snowboarder Ross Rebagliati, who has just been stripped of his Olympic gold medal after testing positive for marijuana, is another in a long line of elite Canadian athletes caught in the web of drug tests.
     But unlike many of the athletes caught before him, he is accused of taking a restricted drug -- not performance enhancing.
     Olympic rower Silken Laumann, who was eventually exonerated, is an example of one of the extremes. She lost her gold medal at the Pan American Games in 1995 after testing positive for using a banned substance.
     Laumann's problem arose when she used the over-the-counter cold remedy Benadryl decongestant, which contains the banned stimulant pseudoephedrine.
     She had been given the OK by doctors who hadn't actually seen the package, which clearly stated that pseudoephedrine was part of the compound.
     And Canadian weightlifters were singled out by Charles Dubin's inquiry into drugs and sport as having a "disgraceful history of drug use."
     Four of seven weightlifters selected to represent Canada at the 1988 Seoul Olympics were disqualified for cheating.
     The disqualified athletes went so far as to try and dupe officials conducting drug tests by inserting another person's urine into their bladders.
     Two Canadian weightlifters were disqualified at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics for steroid use. Jacques Demers, who won a silver at those Games, later admited to steroid use but hadn't been caught at the time.
     And NHL players have had the spectre of drug use hanging over their heads as they lace-up in Nagano.
     Victor Lachance, the executive director of the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport, recently reminded the pro players that "no sport is immune from drug abuse."
     Lachance and Dr. Christiane Ayotte, director of antidoping at the National Institute for Scientific Research, have both cautioned professional hockey that it is ignoring a stimulant-abuse problem that starts at the junior level and continues through the pro ranks.
     But disgraced sprinter Ben Johnson stands alone.
     He failed last year in a bid to get a court to overturn a lifetime ban.
     Ontario Judge Moira Caswell dismissed his application saying "the ban is reasonable""and necessary to ensure fair sports competition.
     An athlete needs "to know that the race involves only his own skill, his own strengths, his own spirit and not his own pharmacologist," she said.
     The ban was imposed by Athletics Canada and the International Amateur Athletics Federation after Johnson twice tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs.
     Johnson was stripped of his 1988 Olympic gold medal for the fastest 100-metre dash in history -- 9.79 seconds -- when he tested positive for steroid use in one of the most embarrassing incidents in Canadian sporting history.
     He later returned to running, but a positive drug test in 1993 that showed an elevated level of testosterone resulted in the lifetime ban.
     For the NHL players representing a number of their home countries at the Games the stakes are high.
     Sports Illustrated set off a storm recently after a report suggested 20 per cent of NHL players were using cold medications, such as Sudafed, as "uppers""to give them an agressive edge. It cites several players who admit taking the medication prior to games.
     The article has drawn denials from the league and NHL Players Association.
     The use of stimulant-based cold medications by hockey players has become an issue because the drug contained pseudoephedrine -- the drug that got Laumann in trouble.
     While the International Ice Hockey Federation suspends the player involved following a positive test, the International Olympic Committee suspends the team. A positive test in the medal round eliminates all results for that team.
     Because hockey players will be drug tested at the Olympic Games in Nagano the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport was contracted last fall by Canadian Hockey, the sport's national governing body, to conduct random tests.
     Players' association executive director Bob Goodenow said abuse is not a problem with the players.
     "We're not aware of any problem with abuse," Goodenow said. "The pre-Olympic test) results suggested drastically lower numbers than what appeared in the (Sports Illustrated) story."