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London Strives for a Drug-Free Olympics

By Josephine Power on Fri 20 January 2012

"We cannot absolutely guarantee that these will be a drug-free games, but we can guarantee that we have got the very best system possible to try and catch anybody who even thinks of cheating." UK Minister for Sport and the Olympics Hugh Robertson

A new laboratory, hailed as the most high-tech in the history of the Olympic Games, has been unveiled in Essex. It will be used to combat the use of prohibited drugs by athletes in the upcoming Olympics in London. Not only is the lab better equipped than any other facility ever used for this purpose, it will also carry out more tests than ever before, operating around the clock to test all medallists and in total about 50% of competitors. A record-breaking 5,000+ tests for performance enhancing drugs will be carried out over the events duration.

As part of its £20 million donation to the games, pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline equipped the lab. This is the first time that a pharmaceutical company has sponsored an Olympic anti-doping lab but the company insists that there is no conflict of interest. GSK Chief Executive Sir Andrew Witty explains “our involvement is the support and delivery of the facility; we have no role in the testing process."

The best experts and anti-doping scientists from all over the world will carry out the key lab-work at the facility, assisted by a number of volunteers. Intelligence, along with a routine testing and random selection, will be used to decipher what athletes are tested and when. The anti-doping officials will meet daily during the games to analyse the intelligence and decide where to focus their tests. Sources of information will include cleaners and venue staff who will be briefed on what to look out for and instructed to report on suspicious behaviour and materials. There have been several instances in past Olympics of cleaning staff coming across materials associated with doping.

Not only this, the 2012 Olympics in London will be the first summer games to use "biological passports". These detect doping by monitoring performer’s blood over a long period of time. The International Olympic Committee confirmed that some competitors in London will be using them. Changes in blood variables can be attributed to the intake of substances and may raise suspicion and the need for testing.

The team of doping experts and scientists will be led by Professor David Cowan from King's College London. He is confident the London Games will be as drug free as is possible and believes that athletes who use the courts to challenge the process of testing will be wasting their time. "We are going to be fast, sensitive and efficient, and we are going to be right."

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