USOC Going Deeper Into Doping Fight

Sunday, July 1st 2007, 3:41 pm
By: News On 6

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) _ The U.S. Olympic Committee will take a more aggressive approach with its anti-doping strategy, putting more emphasis on testing athletes in high-risk sports such as track and cycling, increasing unannounced testing and pumping more money into research.

Not satisfied with progress being made in the increasingly high-profile fight against doping, the USOC signed a new agreement with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency through 2010 that gives the USOC a more active role in expanding research.

The USOC created USADA as an independent anti-doping agency in 2000 in an attempt to avoid appearances of conflicts of interest. Now, the USOC again plans to call more of the shots, especially with research. It still will depend on USADA for some components but also will look into other sources, including possible corporate support, for financial help.

Even before the new contract, details of which will be made public Monday, the USOC and USADA had what is largely regarded as the most extensive anti-doping system in American sports.

``I don't think the USOC ever intended to fully remove itself from the fight,'' said Jim Scherr, chief executive officer of USOC. ``The USOC has always had a responsibility for the anti-doping process. We've always been in the fight. We want to make sure that in the new agreement that we're actively involved.''

Under the new contract, USADA still will receive about $3 million a year from the USOC, which represents about 25 percent of its approximately $12 million annual budget, said USOC spokesman Darryl Seibel. The rest comes from the federal government. USADA will remain the tester and prosecutor of American athletes suspected of doping.

Athlete testing will be retooled to more effectively target high-risk sports, which will be identified and reviewed on an annual basis.

In 2006, 39 percent of USADA's tests were performed on athletes in cycling, track and swimming.

Also scheduled to increase will be the number of tests done without advance notice and the number of blood tests. Blood testing is the only way to identify human growth hormone, which has grown in popularity in recent years.

Meanwhile, the number of tests in sports that don't pose as many problems likely will decrease. In 2006, USADA ran 241 of its more than 8,400 tests on athletes in table tennis, archery, bowling, badminton and ``roller sports.''

The USOC has also put in language that calls for greater emphasis on nabbing coaches and agents who assist athletes in cheating.

USADA general counsel Travis Tygart said the new contract calls for enhancing, rather than revamping, many testing procedures USADA already uses.

``The better term for it is 'intelligent testing,''' said Tygart, who will replace Terry Madden as CEO this fall. ``We're going to use all available information that's relevant to when and how athletes would use doping products, and we're going to aim those tests based on the knowledge we have.''

USOC's increased presence comes almost a year after positive drug tests for American sprinter Justin Gatlin and cyclist Floyd Landis. Though Landis was not an Olympic athlete, USADA and the USOC were responsible for the case. Both cases put a black eye on Olympic sports, and the Landis affair _ complete with his outlandish arbitration hearing _ gave an unflinching look at the imperfect world of the anti-doping fight.

USOC chairman Peter Ueberroth has been more vocal about his concerns over the last several months.

In April, he said more money needed to be spent to attack the problem.

``The tiny bits of research we're doing now is a joke,'' he said, acknowledging cheaters spend much more money to get ahead of the drug police.

He said the Olympic movement should find a ``higher ideal'' to combat the use of performance-enhancing substances.

The retooled arrangement with USADA, along with some upcoming attempts by the USOC to raise money for research, reflects some of the changes Ueberroth has been pushing for.

Scherr lumped baseball's drug problems and the possible links to steroids in the recent death of pro wrestler Chris Benoit as part of a trend that undermines sports as a whole.

``There's a big problem in this country, a big problem in sports,'' Scherr said. ``Someone needs to step up, say enough is enough, and we're going to do what we can do to combat that problem.''