What would you do if the Salt Lake Organizing Committee approached you with an offer to be the medical director of doping control for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games? If you’re Doug Rollins MD’73 PhD’73, a professor in the College of Pharmacy and 16-year director of the Center for Human Toxicology, you recognize this as a once-in-a-lifetime chance—and you say yes. With little experience in athletics or doping control, but plenty of experience researching drugs, Rollins jumped into one of the most controversial arenas in the Olympic Games.

During non-Games times, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) oversee drug testing. But once the 2002 Games are underway, Rollins will orchestrate the athletes’ final test. After the medals have been awarded, the anthems sung, and the spotlight dimmed, the gold, silver, and bronze medalists and two randomly selected participants from every competition are given drug tests. Rollins will organize the collection of the specimens, send them to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) lab to be analyzed, and make sure that all results are reported to the IOC.

Sound simple? It’s not. “We have to do things according to IOC protocol, and we’re working in an international arena. Put the two together and you run into some difficulty,” Rollins explains. Simply put, countries vary in the way they do things. Take, for example, the collection of urine samples. In the United States, athletes are generally guaranteed privacy. But in order to prevent cheating, IOC protocol dictates that athletes be accompanied by a chaperone who stays with the athlete during the entire testing process. Given the differing rules, “we have to anticipate the difficulties before they happen,” Rollins says with a smile.

“The entire anti-doping program was developed to protect the athlete,” Rollins adds, “so the athlete must be assured that there will be no foul play.” Thus, every step in the testing process is observed by at least two people; a paper trail follows the sample everywhere it goes; and when it comes to handling the sample, only the athlete gets to touch it. In the end, the athlete gets the last word. “If there are any irregularities in the process, the athlete is given the opportunity to say so,” Rollins explains.

Beyond the politics and the protocol, what has Rollins learned so far? “That there are a lot of drugs out there for an athlete who wants to enhance performance artificially,” he says. Of particular interest to athletes today are substances that mimic naturally occurring hormones in the body. Using current testing methods, these substances are extremely difficult to detect. The most talked about of these drugs are EPO, a substance designed to stimulate production of oxygen-carrying red blood cells in the bone marrow, and growth hormone, which has been shown to increase lean body mass in athletes.

In August 2000, the Olympic Medical Commission announced the adoption of a blood and urine test for EPO that was used for the first time at the Sydney Games. After the EPO scandal that engulfed the Tour de France in 1998—and with the death of 26 cyclists since the mid-1980s due to fatal red blood cell counts—news of the EPO test was welcome.

A test for growth hormone would also be welcome, as it has been shown to cause chronic high blood pressure and diabetes if taken over a long period of time. Unfortunately, synthetic growth hormone still goes undetected. With pressure mounting, Games officials may yet announce an approved growth hormone test for Salt Lake in 2002.

But when it comes to deciding on a test, those officials are faced with a dilemma. On the one hand, approving a flawed test could ruin the reputations of those athletes who fail it. On the other hand, rejecting all possible tests leaves Games officials open to criticism for not doing enough to ensure fair play and to protect athletes’ health. If doping goes undetected, there is a risk that athletes will set new records that cannot be bested without chemical enhancement.

In response, the Olympic Medical Commission states that “the complete elimination of doping from sport is one of the fundamental objectives of the Olympic Movement.” For now, the Medical Commission will continue to investigate all potential tests. And when a new test is announced, Doug Rollins can add it to his 2002 pharmacological arsenal in the fight to maintain the integrity of sport.

Kathryn Austin Maksimov BA'00, former Continuum editorial intern, is a freelance writer in Salt Lake City.