Five Things Everyone Should Know about Doping in Sport

By Track & Field Athletes Association

Doping and the fight to eliminate it from sport seems to cycle in and out of the news. Unless you’re an expert in the subject, it’s hard to understand the current challenges facing clean athletes. To catch you up to speed, we’ve highlighted some of the most common ways dopers have beaten WADA, how WADA has adapted and what flaws remain.  In this article you will learn about:

  1. Managing Half-Lives
  2. Microdosing
  3. Designer Drugs
  4. Disappearing Positives
  5. The McLaren Report(s)

Disappearing positives and the findings of the McLaren Report cover the most recent scandal involving Russia’s government supported doping programs.  

#1 What is “managing half-lives” methodology?

Just like the food we eat, drugs have a shelf life too known as a half-life. A half-life is the time it takes for a specific amount of a substance to fall to half of its original value. In context of PEDs, dopers need to know how long it takes for a substance to break down in the body to a point when it is no longer detectable by testing methods. They would use this information to determine when they would stop taking a banned substance. In some countries, athletes would not be allowed to travel to the competition until they tested clean.

WADA implemented out-of-competition testing, a 10-year statute of limitations to retroactively test samples, and whereabouts forms to combat this issue.

FLAW:  Not all countries are compliant with WADA code, nor do all countries have their own independent anti-doping associations (ADA). As a result, doped athletes are often warned when drug-testers enter the country or the region, providing ample time to take appropriate countermeasures.

#2 What is “microdosing”?

Dopers realized that WADAs out-of-competition, random testing and missed test policies made the “managing half-lives” method mostly obsolete. They also realized that a little bit of doping goes a long way. So instead, the dopers began taking the smallest amounts of a PED that could yield performance enhancing benefits over the course of a training period while still at a low enough level as to make them impossible to detect.

WADA recognized that current testing may not be sensitive enough to detect well-designed microdosing programs, but WADAs researchers knew that new advancements in testing would allow tests to detect smaller and smaller amounts of banned substances. There is now a 10-year statute of limitations.

FLAW:  Like almost all aspects of doping control efforts, it’s reactive. Retroactive testing is proving effective at detecting doping, as more than 100 athletes have now received retroactive bans. However, the clean athlete recognizes an emotional and financial loss that’s difficult, if not impossible, to offset. Medal exchanges replace medal ceremonies.  And many sponsors now include a clause that does not allow for upgrades of bonuses in the event of a retroactive drug test changing a past result.

#3 What are “Designer Drugs”?

Designer drugs made national headlines around 2002 and 2003 when it was revealed that high profile athletes were working with the Bay Area Lab Company (Balco). Through relatively simple changes to chemical structures of well-known PEDs, scientists were able to create new drugs as part of cocktail that would allow athletes to compete doped without worrying about testing positive. According to well-known, anti-doping expert Dr. Don Caitlin, there are more than 2,000 variations of a steroid molecule that could yield desirable, performance enhancing benefits.  

Designer drugs aren’t limited to hormone manipulation – like steroids, growth hormone and other pro hormones. There are drugs to manipulate red blood cells such as EPO and drugs that manipulate the genes that determine how much and what type of muscle fiber you develop. Put another way, steroids build a bigger and stronger engines. New types of designer drugs build bigger and more efficient spark plugs, fuel lines and exhaust systems to turbo charge that engine.

WADA began working with pharma and biotech companies to identify specific compounds that may be used for performance enhancing benefits in the future. In addition, they implemented the biological passports to create profiles of athletes.  

FLAW:  The code used to be based on the principle that any substance – whether officially listed on the banned substance list or not – that went against the spirit of clean sport was banned. Cheating athletes can hide behind the excuse that “it wasn’t on the banned substance list.” Doping control will need to find a way to engage athletes, coaches and others to incentivize whistle blowing on newly developed designer drugs.  

#4 What is the “Disappearing Positive Methodology”?

Disappearing Positive Methodology (DPM) is a term coined by Richard McLaren, author of the recently published McLaren reports that detail Russia institutionalized doping plan. This program referred all positive tests found by the Moscow laboratory to the Russian deputy minister for sport along with the athlete’s name. The minister of sport would then “save” the sample or “quarantine” it. Saved athletes would continue to compete.  Quarantined athletes would be processed through the regular laboratory analytical process.

WADA has a system checks and balances that should minimize the risk of institutionalized corruption.  

FLAW:  WADA failed on multiple levels to react quickly or effectively.  

#5 What is the McLaren Report?

WADA commissioned Professor Richard McLaren to establish:

  1. Whether there has been manipulation of the doping control process during the Sochi Games, including but not limited to, acts of tampering with samples within the Sochi Laboratory.
  2. Identify the modus operandi and those involved in such manipulation.
  3. Identify any athlete that might have benefitted from those alleged manipulations to conceal positive doping tests.
  4. Identify if this modus operandi was also happening within Moscow Laboratory outside the period of the Sochi Games.
  5. Determine other evidence or information held by Grigory Rodchenkov.

Key Findings of the first Report:

  1. The Moscow Laboratory operated, for the protection of doped Russian athletes, within a State-dictated failsafe system, described in the report as the Disappearing Positive Methodology.
  2. The Sochi Laboratory operated a unique sample swapping methodology to enable doped Russian athletes to compete at the Games.
  3. The Ministry of Sport directed, controlled and oversaw the manipulation of athlete’s analytical results or sample swapping, with the active participation and assistance of the FSB, CSP, and both Moscow and Sochi Laboratories.

Key Findings of the Second Report

Institutionalized Doping Conspiracy and Cover-Up

  1. An institutional conspiracy existed across summer and winter sports athletes who participated with Russian officials within the Ministry of Sport and its infrastructure, such as the RUSADA, CSP and the Moscow Laboratory, along with the FSB for the purposes of manipulating doping controls. The summer and winter sports athletes were not acting individually but within an organized infrastructure as documented in the Report.
  2. This systematic and centralized cover-up and manipulation of the doping control process evolved and was refined over the course of its use at the London 2012 Summer Games, University Games 2013, Moscow IAAF World Championships 2013 and the Winter Games in Sochi 2014. The evolution of the infrastructure was also spawned in response to WADA regulatory changes and surprise interventions.
  3. The swapping of Russian athletes’ urine samples further confirmed in this Report as occurring at Sochi, did not stop at the close of the Winter Olympics. The sample swapping technique used at Sochi became a regular monthly practice of the Moscow Laboratory in dealing with elite summer and winter athletes. Further DNA and salt testing confirms the technique, while others relied on Disappearing Positive Methodology (DPM).
  4. The key findings of the 1st Report remain unchanged. The forensic testing, which is based on immutable facts, is conclusive. The evidence does not depend on verbal testimony to draw a conclusion. Rather, it tests the physical evidence and a conclusion is drawn from those results. The results of the forensic and laboratory analysis initiated by the IP establish that the conspiracy was perpetrated between 2011 and 2015.

The Athlete Part of Conspiracy and Cover Up

  1. More than 1,000 Russian athletes competing in summer, winter and Paralympic sport, can be identified as being involved in or benefiting from manipulations to conceal positive doping tests. Based on the information reported to International Federations through the IP to WADA there are 600 (84%) summer athletes and 95 (16%) winter athletes.

London Summer Olympic Games

  1. Fifteen Russian athlete medal winners were identified out of the 78 on the London Washout Lists. Ten of these athletes have now had their medals stripped.

IAAF Moscow World Championships

  1. Following the 2013 IAAF Moscow World Championships, 4 athletics athletes’ samples were swapped. Additional target testing is in progress.

Sochi Winter Olympic Games

  1. Sample swapping is established by 2 female ice hockey players’ samples with male DNA.
  2. Tampering with original sample established by 2 [sport] athletes, winners of four Sochi Olympic Gold medals and a female Silver medal winner in [sport] with physiologically impossible salt readings.
  3. Twelve medal winning athletes (including the above 3) from 44 examined samples had scratches and marks on the inside of the caps of their B sample bottles, indicating tampering.
  4. Six winners of 21 Paralympic medals are found to have had their urine samples tampered with at Sochi.

About the TFAA
The Track & Field Athletes Association (TFAA) is a 501(c)(4) organization formed to support the rights and interests of professional track & field athletes. We are the Athlete’s Voice.

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