Science plays catch-up to sports-doping advances
Two American athletes face charges of drug-use this week. Can testing methods keep up with sophisticated cheats?
In the war on drugs in sports, the drama of accusation and defense often captures the headlines.
But the fight also includes the small core of researchers and testing labs that face a scientific arms race in their efforts to keep drug tests abreast of new compounds that could give athletes an unfair competitive edge.
"It's been a cat and mouse game from the get-go," says Charles Yesalis, a professor of health policy at Penn State University in State College, Pa. Without a larger investment of time and effort, he says, an already difficult problem is likely to grow worse.
This week, two top US athletes are struggling to defend their reputations and titles from drug allegations.
Test results for US cyclist Floyd Landis, who won France's prestigious Tour de France last month, are expected by Saturday. The results will be the second of two tests on a fluid sample he was asked to provide following a stunning comeback on one of the race's most grueling stages. His stellar performance July 20 came on the heels of a poor showing during the previous day's stage.
According to The New York Times, which reportedly received its information from an unnamed source at the French lab testing the fluid, the first of two subsamples displayed a testosterone imbalance far higher than normal and that some of the hormone was synthetic.
Meanwhile, US sprinter Justin Gatlin faces a probe by the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), based in Colorado Springs, Colo., after testing positive for steroids. In acknowledging the test results last weekend, he argued that a disgruntled massage therapist used a testosterone cream on him without his knowledge. The therapist has denied the allegation.
Specialists note that the problem has grown in tandem with the rise of increasingly potent and specialized drugs for legitimate therapeutic use.