PYEONGCHANG,12 FEBRUARY 2018 (INSIDE THE GAMES)—New drug tests will be developed soon to help detect use of erythropoietin (EPO) over a far longer period, International Olympic Committee (IOC) medical and scientific director Richard Budgett hopes, he revealed here today.

At present, tests for erythropoietin stimulated agents (ESA’s) can only detect traces of substances for several days after taking them or, at the most, a one-week period.

This means that it is far harder to catch athletes using the blood boosting products through out-of-competition testing and potentially undermines the effectiveness of the programme carried out by the IOC and other bodies before Pyeongchang 2018.

A total of 16,760 tests have been carried out in winter sports since April 2017 but it remains unclear how many positive cases there have been.

EPO is particularly beneficial in endurance sports as it stimulates the faster production of red blood cells.

Budgett hopes that new omics testing technologies looking at genes, protein and metabolites will eventually lead to improvements.

“I think that will be the big thing, as you say, if we can get a test for ESAs that is longer,” the Briton, a coxless four rowing Olympic gold medallist at Los Angeles 1984, said here today.

“At least there is a test [now], but a test that can detect the use weeks or months before would be ideal.

“There is the promise of that, with the ‘omics’ test, which uses ‘proteomics’ and ‘metabolomics’.

“The theory is there, but putting it into practice is hard.

“”We and [the] WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) are supporting scientists with that.”

Unlike with anabolic steroids, which are more useful in speed and power oriented events, there have not been any major breakthroughs in EPO testing in recent years.

A new test, developed in 2016 following assistance by former Moscow Laboratory director Grigory Rodchenkov, detected the use of steroids over a period of months rather than days.

This led to dozens of medal winners in several sports, including athletics and weightlifting, being caught following re-analysis of frozen samples from the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games in Beijing and London respectively.

It is thought that a new ESA test could have a similarly wide-ranging effect in endurance sport, including some on the Winter Olympic programme such as cross country skiing, biathlon and speed skating.

EPO testing grew through the 2000s and, by the end of the decade, took place alongside the athlete biological passport system which detected changing blood values over a period of time.

There have been few changes, though, to improve upon this system in the last seven years.

As well the short-detection window, athletes are also micro-dose to avoid exceeding limits.

“Testing isn’t the whole answer, obviously,” Budgett added, when asked about the effectiveness of their Pyeongchang 2018 pre-Games programme.

“Intelligence is more and more important.

“For instance, the Oswald cases [involving Russian athletes accused of doping at Sochi 2014] were done on other evidence.

“There’s other evidence you can gather from individuals involved and this is going to become increasingly important.

“But, fundamentally, a strong deterrence is to have a large enough number of tests that are unpredictable, the athlete don’t know when they are going to be tested and they have to make that calculation that ‘I’m at risk’ if I’m going to cheat.”…PACNEWS

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