Winter Games marred by doping cloud

The casual viewer of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, which begin on Friday, could be forgiven for wondering just how many athletes are doping after a raft of recent revelations in winter sports, despite “every effort” to crack down.

Endurance sports such as cross-country skiing and biathlon have come under the most scrutiny, but — much like the Summer Games — no discipline has been left unscathed in the build-up to this month’s Winter Games in South Korea.

Russian athletes deemed “clean” will compete under a neutral flag after their country was banned for a well-orchestrated drugs cheating system four years ago.

Speaking on the eve of the Games, World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) president Craig Reedie attempted to assuage the concerns of athletes who fear their rivals could dope their way to gold. There had been “very substantial” testing ahead of the Games, he said.

But recent Winter Games reveal grounds for scepticism.


Ahead of the Olympics, British newspaper the Sunday Times and German broadcaster ARD said they had been passed a database showing that more than 50 cross-country skiers set to compete in South Korea had returned abnormal readings between 2001 and 2010.

Following Salt Lake City in 2002, the International Olympic Committee increased its scrutiny after Spain’s Johann Mühlegg and four others were caught doping.

At the 2006 Turin Games, doping products were discovered in a chalet used by a coach involved with Austria’s cross-country skiing team.

Yet, the Winter Olympics reached its nadir four years ago in Sochi, when allegations of state-sponsored doping in the Russian team surfaced.

The former director of the Moscow anti-doping lab, Grigory Rodchenkov — now in exile — admitted he fine-tuned a muscle-building cocktail of steroids to ensure Russian competitors won medals. And they inevitably did, as Russia soared to the top of the medals table.

Wada commissioned Canadian professor Richard McLaren to compile a report that focused suspicion on hundreds of athletes, with skating, ice hockey, biathlon and even curling on a long list of Olympic sports under scrutiny.

Endurance athletes in PyeongChang will be tested for the endurance booster EPO, and anti-doping officials fear that athletes have taken to using tiny, so-called “micro” doses to avoid detection.

In response, testers will be taking ever more frequent samples, Xavier Bigard, of France’s national anti-doping agency, said.

Anabolic steroid use is also under the microscope. “One positive test in two is for anabolics and these offences happen in a wide field of disciplines,” Bigard added. “EPO and anabolics can be used together to get both endurance and power. A cheat would be well advised to use both.”

According to Wada data, ice hockey has produced by far the most positive tests and alpine skiing emerges almost as white as snow.

But fans would be forgiven if they no longer believed in winter sports’ Snow White fairytale. — AFP

Subscribe to the M&G for R2 a month

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

And for this weekend only, you can become a subscriber by paying just R2 a month for your first three months.

Related stories

How Chadwick Boseman inspired Africa’s first black skeleton racer

Inspired by Chadwick Boseman’s portrayal of King T’Challa in ‘Black Panther’, Akwasi Frimpong set out to make his look, and impact, rich, black and cross-cultural

Where do Africans study abroad?

China is becoming the preferred destination for countries such as Ghana and Nigeria

No proof of Covid-19 reinfection, yet

Some people report testing positive for Covid-19 after initially having the disease and then testing negative. Scientists are still trying to understand if this means that reinfection is possible

Invest in children to give them a better world

This entails putting them at the centre of national strategies, but doing it without high CO2 releases

Covid-19: Free the evidence

Governments need to provide the modelling and data informing the strategy to control the spread of the novel coronavirus

Government’s Covid-19 science mask is slipping

The government’s professed reliance on science to justify its response to the pandemic reveals both its overconfidence and its insecurities about getting citizens to cooperate
Advertising

Subscribers only

ANC: ‘We’re operating under conditions of anarchy’

In its latest policy documents, the ANC is self-critical and wants ‘consequence management’, yet it’s letting its members off the hook again

Q&A Sessions: ‘I think I was born way before my...

The chief executive of the Estate Agency Affairs Board and the deputy chair of the SABC board, shares her take on retrenchments at the public broadcaster and reveals why she hates horror movies

More top stories

Between dark and light was Maradona

The life of Diego Armando Maradona, who died this week, will always remind us that the smell of shit is as important as the perfume of flowers, writes Niren Tolsi

Public protector’s ‘mistakes’ were made to nail the president, court...

Busisiwe Mkhwebane discarded facts that were inconvenient to her when she investigated the CR17 campaign, Cyril Ramaphosa’s lawyers argued

Student funding scheme gets new chief executive and board

The National Student Financial Aid Scheme has been under administration for two years after its board was dissolved and its boss resigned not even halfway through his term

General Council of the Bar slams Zuma Foundation

Another summons has been served on Jacob Zuma at his Nkandla residence, requiring the former president to appear before the Zondo Commission next year
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…