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Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 August, 2004, 14:37 GMT 15:37 UK
Athens' war on drugs
By Phil Gordos
BBC Sport in Athens

The Olympic ideal will be tarnished once again in the next few weeks when a number of competitors are booted out of the Games for failing drug tests.

But rather than mourn what will inevitably be another high-profile sporting casualty, we are being urged - by International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge no less - to celebrate when an athlete tests positive for a banned substance.

Every positive case, he suggests, will be another nail in the coffin of the dopers and another significant step towards making the Olympics clean.

Is Rogge guilty of spin, of preparing us for the worst before it has even happened?

Maybe, but another leading figure in the fight against drugs insists he will witness the heat of battle in Athens without worrying if an athlete won gold by fair means or foul.

"When I watch the Olympics, drugs will be the last thing on my mind," says Dr Stuart Cram, who works for the US-based firm Agilent Technologies.

We are at the cutting edge of technology
Dr Stuart Cram, Agilent Technologies

Dr Cram's confidence should help quell the fear that drugs may overshadow the 28th Olympiad, tarnishing the legitimate achievements of the majority of medal winners.

That is because, as a leading figure with the company providing thousands of pounds worth of drug-testing equipment for the Athens Games, he knows just what efforts are being made to catch the drug cheats.

Agilent has overseen the construction of a purpose-built laboratory in the Greek capital, a site that will be staffed by 146 people and remain open 24 hours a day while the Olympics - and indeed the Paralympics - are on.

"It's a major, major project," says Dr Cram, whose work in Athens is now done.

Around 2,400 urine samples and between 600 and 700 blood samples will be analysed in the laboratory and then stored away for retrospective testing.

All medal winners will be tested, as will the unfortunate competitor who finishes fourth.

The IOC will also select other Olympians for testing on a random basis, with special attention paid to athletes who have aroused suspicion in the past.

With more than 400 substances on the banned list, testing is a laborious process.

"It's not like a pregnancy test, where you dip something into urine and it changes colour," says Dr Cram. "We are at the cutting edge of technology."

Yet it still only takes 24 hours for a negative result to be confirmed and just 36 hours for a positive.

In other words, any drug cheat who wins gold could be stripped of his medal before the cheers have died down in his or her home town.

According to Dr Cram, we are unlikely to see any fencers testing positive in Athens.

"There is no advantage to be gained from them taking performance-enhancing drugs," he insists.

Unfortunately, the temptation to stray is a lot stronger in athletics, weightlifting, swimming and shooting.

But at least Rogge and his IOC colleagues are making significant strides in the fight against drugs.

"They are very, very responsive," says Dr Cram.

"There is considerable research and development 365 days a year and a lot of out-of-competition testing is being done."

The war on drugs will continue for some years yet, but the battle for Athens is well and truly on.

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