Blog: Keeping the London 2012 Olympic Games clean using the latest technology

27 July 2012

On the eve of the London 2012 Olympic Games, the Minister for Sport Senator Kate Lundy and ASADA’s CEO Aurora Andruska have been featured in an anti-doping story by Channel Seven’s Today Tonight. Watch the video here. or read full transcript below:

KYLIE GILLIES:
Now to the Olympics and the question of who will be the next Ben Johnson or Marion Jones, the drug cheats of the 2012 London Games. The anti-doping program will be intense. Every medallist will be tested and more than 6000 samples will be taken. Laura Sparks reports on the technology making it tougher than ever for cheats to win.

AURORA ANDRUSKA:          
There are always going to be rogue chemists out there. We’re talking about the high end of sport, we’re talking about a lot of money.

JON HARRIS:                         
We will be providing a state-of-the-art laboratory that’s the best of the best. If it’s detectable then we will detect it.

CHRISTIAN SPRENGER:       
There’s always that thought that people may be cheating.

REPORTER:                           
Drug cheats, they ruin fair competition and take what is not rightly theirs.

MELANIE SCHLANGER:       
I’d like to think everyone that I race is 100 per cent clean, because you know, it does sort of ruin the competitive nature of being an athlete.   

REPORTER:                           
In almost every Olympics someone is shamed. The most famous example the fastest man alive in 1988 at the Seoul Olympics, Canadian sprint star Ben Johnson, tested positive for steroids after winning gold in the 100 metre dash. He had to give up his gold medal.

SENATOR KATE LUNDY:      
The great dream of course is that it is a fair playing field.

REPORTER:                           
The London Olympics will be the most drug-tested of any sporting event ever, with more than 1000 staff involved including 200 doping control officers from around the world. Once the samples are taken they become the property of the International Olympic Committee, kept for eight years as security against the smart drug cheats who think they’re ahead of the game. If a new drug does come to light the old samples can be rescreened. Our Australian team is one of the most drug-tested of all countries.

LEISTON PICKETT:
We get drug tested so often and so irregularly and so out of the blue, and so randomly that like for me personally, I can’t see how it could happen.

THOMAS FRASER-HOLMES:
I believe what goes around comes around eventually they will get caught.

REPORTER:                           
But London’s head of anti-doping, Jon Harris, is not taking any chances. The drug-testing laboratory, on loan from pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, is the size of seven tennis courts.

JONATHAN HARRIS:            
The laboratory will be open 24/7 so that we can turn around samples as quickly as possible. Negative results will provided within 24 hours. Positive results will be provided within 48 hours.

REPORTER:                           
London will also boast new technology: human growth hormone or HGH made famous by Chinese swimmer Yuan Yuan at the 1998 World Swimming Championships in Perth has been an elusive drug to pick up. The old doping technology could only detect the hormone within a few days of taking it, meaning most athletes escaped conviction.

AURORA ANDRUSKA:          
What this new test will do is identify the use of HGH when it’s been used even up to a couple of weeks earlier.

REPORTER:                           
Aurora Andruska is CEO of the Australian Sport Anti-Doping Authority, ASADA. She explains why athletes take performance enhancing drugs to increase their chance.

AURORA ANDRUSKA:          
Stimulants, what they can do is actually increase energy and therefore running power, sustainability, so that’s an issue. On the other hand, some of the blood doping products, what they will do is mean that you will have more red blood cells in your body which means you can carry more oxygen which means that you can go harder and faster.

REPORTER:                           
The effectiveness of anti-doping testing became world news just last week when Frank Schleck was expelled from the Tour de France after taking a banned diuretic, a timely reminder to all athletes. Aurora believes the London Olympics is the best equipped yet to catch out doping cheats.

AURORA ANDRUSKA:          
The technology is better than what it was four years ago, the range of tests that can be done is bigger than four years ago and the information that we’ve been able to use to target our testing is greater than what we’ve ever had before.

REPORTER:                           
Australian doping officials now working with Customs and Federal Police to track any illicit performance enhancing drugs from the minute they hit our shores. And there’s a greater advancement in blood tests. It’s called the Athlete Biological Passport. Federal Sports Minister, Kate Lundy.

SENATOR KATE LUNDY:      
In that way a passport is like a blood signature of each individual athlete and small changes can be detected.

AURORA ANDRUSKA:          
In the past we would have needed to actually detect a particular substance in the sample, whether it was a blood or urine sample. Now, with the passport, what we can do is if we can see changes in the blood parameters, that’s enough to get an anti-doping rule violation.

REPORTER:                           
Already two top Russian athletes have been banned for two years after their biological passport came back abnormal. But there is now almost 100 new copycat synthetic pills that mimic the real thing. So, the cheat list is mounting, although drug testers believe the Athlete Biological Passport will pick up even these. Our own Olympic swimmers can only hope for a clean games. Butterfly specialist, Chris Wright.

CHRIS WRIGHT:                   
You’ve got to believe everyone’s clean. You don’t want to suspect anyone is dirty. You know, I wouldn’t want anyone thinking that I’m dirty, you know.

REPORTER:                           
One hundred metre freestyler, Melanie Schlanger.

MELANIE SCHLANGER:       
I’d really like to believe that come London and the 100 free final that I’d be standing on the blocks next to seven other girls who are 100 per cent clean and fair and it is a race for gold on an equal playing field.

DENIS COTTERELL:               
It seems like the good guys have closed the gap on the cheats. You know the scientists, there are a lot of scientists batting for the right side.

REPORTER:                           
Swim coach Denis Cottrell is Grant Hackett’s former mentor. He hopes if his latest swimmer, Thomas Fraser-Holmes, makes it into the 400 individual medley finals this Saturday, he won’t be diving in next to a dope fraud. Thomas can’t even believe anyone would try it.

THOMAS FRASER-HOLMES:
I don’t think there’s anyone that would be game enough to do that and I don’t think about that at all.

REPORTER:                           
But if the past is anything to go by, drug cheats will try their luck again.

SENATOR KATE LUNDY:      
I think everyone has the right to be confident that the athletic performances they’re seeing are pure performance and not enhanced with doping or cheating in any way.

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