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 youre Doug Rollins MD73 PhD73, 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 chanceand
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? Its not. We have to do things according to
IOC protocol, and were 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 1998and with the death of 26 cyclists since the mid-1980s due
to fatal red blood cell countsnews 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.