London Olympics: Where athletes face the ultimate blood test

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LONDON — Big Brother with test tubes was pouring forth here Wednesday.

If you are an Olympic athlete, he will be watching you. Actually, he will be watching you urinate in a bottle or roll up your sleeve for his needle insertion.

His name is WADA, short for World Anti-Doping Agency, and his message is crystal clear: Cheating at the London Games will be hazardous to your health, especially your psychological health. Asked what sort of stigma a British athlete might face with a positive doping test, the answer was as pointed as a javelin.

Said John Fahey, the very proper, mince-no-words Aussie, who is president of WADA: “There would be 57 million Brits to face. You have to know that you’d have this stigma for the rest of your life. You are an outcast, an absolute disaster.”

This, of course, is not a new thing. Sadly, Ben Johnson made the Olympics, once the model for great athletic performance, a model for greatly enhanced athletic performance. Johnson won the 100 meters in Seoul in 1988, but he finished a distant second to the guys in the testing labs. Johnson certainly wasn’t the first cheating Olympic athlete, nor will he be the last. But his discovery remains an Olympic hallmark.

It was interesting to note that Wednesday’s gathering of the media here, in a big room with a long dais and reporters everywhere, was a similar setting to the standing-room-only circus in Seoul, where the shocked Canadian delegation had to announce that Ben had been bad. It was also a similar huge ballroom in New York, before the Athens Games in 2004, where Marion Jones looked 500 reporters in the eye, denied ever enhancing her performance and threatened to sue anybody who got in the way of her competing in Greece.

We know how that turned out.

Fahey, and his running mate, New Zealander David Howman, WADA’s general secretary, spoke and answered questions for an hour from reporters from all over the globe. But the message could be boiled down like this:

The London Olympics will be the cleanest Games ever. There will be more testing here than ever before in an Olympic setting.

You can almost feel those Bulgarian weightlifters shaking. Expect no threats to those clean-and-jerk records at these Games.

Fahey had done sort of a preamble to Wednesday’s briefing by releasing a July 10 statement that talked tough, threatened and even demeaned. “A doping athlete cannot achieve success,” the statement said. “It is a complete contradiction.... He would never be able to look himself in the mirror and say, ‘Well done.’ ”

Wednesday, he said that 107 athletes had already been caught in pre-Olympic testing, and that is the result of 71,649 tests worldwide, some of them urine tests, some of them blood tests. He said that, following International Olympic Committee stipulations, the top five finishers in each event will be tested. Then, others from the same event will be randomly tested. Then, if that isn’t enough, WADA will rely on “intelligence” to do even more.

The “intelligence” is exactly what it sounds like. Drug cops all over the globe have fed information to WADA, and once WADA determines that information has credibility, it will put the athlete in a double-check bank. Take U.S. sprinter Justin Gatlin, for example. Caught once for using performance-enhancing drugs after the 2004 Games, and now competing again, Gatlin has a good chance here of spending as much time with doping cops as with dopey reporters.

The WADA officials said that 40% of recent positives have resulted from intelligence, rather than simple test-tube discovery. Clearly, those with rap sheets must beware.

Fahey also keynoted the effort to keep the cheaters in dread for the foreseeable future. Drug samples taken during the London Games will be kept for the next eight years. As technology advances, the test tubes can be revisited time after time.

“If somebody thinks they are home free after 15 days of the Games,” Fahey said, “then they better hold their breath for the next eight years.”

An IOC doping fact sheet, updated this month, lists some interesting numbers. The first year the Olympics tried drug testing was in 1968 in Mexico City. One athlete was sanctioned in 667 tests. By Montreal in ‘76, the number was 11 in 2,054. Los Angeles in ’84 had 12 in 1,507, and Athens in 2004 had 26 in 3,667, although some of those 26 were for procedural violations.

The only “clean” Olympics, according to the IOC statistics, were the 1980 Moscow Games, where 645 tests were conducted and nobody was found to have cheated.

You may roll your eyes now.

So it appears that the IOC, through WADA and hard-liners such as Fahey and Howman, has drawn a line in the sand against the legacy of Ben and Marion and many others. That line is right here in London.

“We hope to successfully protect the rights of clean athletes,” Fahey said.

Fahey also admitted that, having said all this and having been very loud, pointed and direct about what is going on, he knows human nature and its tendency to seek an edge.

So, starting Saturday, it is “game on” in London.

May the best test tube win.