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Page last updated at 15:58 GMT, Tuesday, 6 May 2008 16:58 UK

US stars lead anti-doping battle

By Matt Slater

US track star Felix believes a new generation of athletes are competing clean

An elite group of US Olympians has volunteered to take part in an intensive anti-doping programme to prove that medals can be won clean.

The plan, dubbed Project Believe by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (Usada), involves extra tests for 12 athletes likely to star in Beijing.

One of those athletes, 200m ace Allyson Felix, told BBC Sport she felt it was vital to participate in the scheme.

"This is a definitely a difficult time for track and field," said Felix.

"It's a volunteer programme in which you are required to do more blood and urine tests - twice a week for a month and then another phase.

"The thinking behind it is telling everyone that we are against doping and that we are willing to make sacrifices and go beyond what we are required to do.

To see some of the people who have been caught doing drugs, it hurts us

Olympic champion Jeremy Wariner
"It's extremely intense - they take five vials of blood and urine and it is done away from the house. It is a tremendous sacrifice but I feel it is necessary.

"We are willing to do it, we are going in on our days off and we are driving far from our houses to do these tests. I want children to know that they can do it on their natural ability."

The Usada pilot project is similar to the 'athlete passport' professional cycling has introduced in an attempt to address its doping crisis.

Samples are utilised to create a profile for each athlete that can then be used as a baseline for subsequent tests. But unlike cycling's blood-only programme, Usada also collects urine samples and tests for a wider set of parameters.

This type of profiling, which is sometimes called longitudinal testing, is believed by many to be the future of anti-doping.

A spokesman for UK Sport, the body that runs Britain's "drug-free sport" programme, told BBC Sport it hopes to introduce 'athlete passports' after the Beijing Games. A request for the additional funding needed to do this was sent to the government in April.

Allyson Felix
Fast, good-looking and drug-free, Felix is the new darling of US sprinting
Usada chief executive Travis Tygart explained the idea for Project Believe was born two years ago. Alarmed by a spate of high-profile doping cases that involved US sports stars, Tygart wanted to "push the science on and protect our clean athletes".

He is confident the programme can do that and is grateful for the commitment shown by the likes of Felix.

"I congratulate all those who have agreed to take part because it is an imposition on their time and very inconvenient but it is an advance and we think it will prove to be worth it," Tygart told BBC Sport.

Usada had been hoping to keep details of the project under wraps but Felix and fellow volunteer Bryan Clay, who won a silver medal in the decathlon at the 2004 Olympics, gave the game away at a recent press conference in Chicago.

Swimming sensation Michael Phelps, who won six gold medals in Sydney and will be trying to break Mark Spitz's Olympic record of eight in Beijing, is another competitor reported to be participating in the programme.

Felix, who like Clay won a silver in Athens, was moved to speak out because of her frustration at the spate of high-profile drugs cases that have damaged US sport's credibility, particularly in track and field.

The run of negative headlines that started when the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (Balco) doping ring was first discovered in 2003, has continued in recent years, with the dramatic falls from grace of sprint stars Justin Gatlin and Marion Jones.

The American public has also seen baseball's wholesome reputation dashed to pieces, a growing number of allegations about gridiron's "steroid culture" and cyclist Floyd Landis stripped of his 2006 Tour de France victory.

Felix, who won the 200m and two relay gold medals at the World Championships in Osaka last year, believes it is time clean athletes said enough is enough.

"I would definitely inform on cheats," confirmed the 22-year-old. "We are so against doping - I think that is the difference with this generation.

"I am very confident our team in Beijing will be clean. I've been assured that the testing is advanced and everyone is submitting to those tests.

"It's undeniable (the public) is going to be suspicious when there is a great performance. I think that's really unfortunate because the clean athletes are out there working hard every single day.

Jeremy Wariner
Wariner led an American 1-2-3 in the 400m at the 2004 Games
"It's unfortunate we have to pay for the poor decisions that other athletes have made.

"I would not be tempted (to take drugs). Track and field is important to me but it is not my life. I'm going to go as far as I can on my natural ability."

Felix's stance was backed by fellow Beijing favourite Jeremy Wariner.

"To see some of the people who have been caught doing drugs, it hurts us - especially knowing how much work we are putting in every day to get where we are and they are taking short cuts," said Wariner, who won Olympic golds in the 400m and 4x400m relay in Athens.

With athletes now almost guilty until proven innocent, the 24-year-old Texan told BBC Sport he understands why fans are sceptical of what they see on the track these days.

"Unfortunately, yes - there have been people who have won that have later been caught cheating," he said.

"In the eyes of the spectators, they are thinking, 'Well, he's on something, he has to be, there is no way he could do that'.

"It is an unfortunate thing that we go through but, ultimately, my family and friends know I do it the right way and that is all that matters to me really."

see also
Make doping a crime, says Lewis
06 May 08 |  Athletics
Conte labels Olympics 'a fraud'
06 May 08 |  Athletics
Mihir Bose blog
06 May 08 |  Athletics

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