There is an old proverb which states that 'cheats never prosper', but this is clearly not always the case in top-level sports. For every Ben Johnson or Marion Jones or Dwain Chambers, who really knows how many others slip through the net?
The anti-doping authorities do the best they can to pursue the cheats, but it has always been - and will always be - a chase in which those who choose to take the most sophisticated performance-enhancing substances will always have a head start. Billions of dollars go into the development of these drugs (many of them designed for clinical rather than athletic use) and for every new one that is launched, there is inevitably a time lag while a reliable test is devised and then agreed by the powers that be. For sure, the gap is closing and the window of opportunity for potential cheats grows ever smaller, but for those willing to take the risk there is still an advantage to be gained.
So it was with great delight that I read yesterday that the IOC had retested 948 samples from the Beijing Olympics using a newly ratified test for Cera, a modified form of the blood-booster EPO. In so doing, they unearthed six positive results, including the Italian Davide Rebellin, who 'won' silver in the cycling road race, and 1500 metres runner Rashid Ramzi, 'winner' of Bahrain's first ever track and field gold.
Better late than never.
While it is only recently (i.e. post-Beijing) that the procedure for tracing Cera has been validated for global testing, in actuality one has existed since last summer when ASO, the organisers of the Tour de France, chose to enforce the new Cera test as part of their anti-doping measures, resulting in the disqualification and subsequent banning of double stage-winner Riccardo Ricco.
It was a brave decision by ASO, who effectively decided to plough a lone furrow in advance of the rest of the sporting world, and in so doing caught out not just Ricco but several other riders who thought they were cheating with impunity by taking a supposedly undetectable drug. (It was a decision which scarred the 2008 event in the short-term, with its mass disqualifications and suspicious 'retirements', but was unequivocally the right thing to do for an event which is trying to rebuild its credibility as being 'clean'.)
While it would of course have been better if the tests had been in place for Beijing, the message this week's news sends is definitely a positive one. Use performance-enhancing substances and there is a good chance you will get caught either immediately or subsequently. Even after the medals have been handed out, this means the cheats will always have to be looking over their shoulders ... and not just at the undoped athletes behind them whose glory they are unfairly denying.
And to that I say: good.
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