Banned Drugs & Substances at the London 2012 Olympic Games

by on August 9, 2012

The temptation to give oneself the edge on the competition is age-old, but the concept of the Olympic 'doping scandal' began not so very long ago, in 1960.

The first known 'doper' was Knud Enemark Jensen, a Danish cyclist. Given Roniacol [nicotinyl alcohol] before his race, Jensen believed it would increase his blood circulation and give him more energy. Roniacol, a vasodilator, increases the size of blood vessels and is used to treat problems due to poor blood circulation.

It may or may not have worked, but Jensen fell at the end of the race, fracturing his skull. His autopsy revealed the presence of amphetamine, as well.

Amphetamine is a stimulant, increasing heart rate and blood pressure, and is used to treat narcolepsy and ADHD. Trade names for amphetamines are Benzedrine, Dexedrene and Methedrine; on the street they answer to "bennies" or "black beauties."

Unlike steroids, which can increase physical performance, the main effects of amphetamines are mental--they increase alertness and wakefulness and decrease feelings of fatigue.

Only 8 years after Jensen's doping and death, at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City the Olympic committee officially began drug testing.

They have cranked up their efforts each year, but the number of findings has begun to decrease, hopefully suggesting the effectiveness of the testing.

For example, testers found 20 cases of doping at the Beijing Games in 2008, 6 fewer than Athens in 2004.

The IOC does not make the list or determine the rules.

Drug Testing London Olympics 2012

Professor David Cowan (right), head of the London 2012 lab, shows UK Olympics minister Hugh Robertson around the drug-testing facility in east London.

The International Olympic Committee Anti-Doping Rules, applicable to the Games of the XXX Olympiad, London 2012 clarifies that the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) is responsible for the Prohibited List. The WADA Prohibited List identifies the substances prohibited in sports around the world.  The 2012 Olympics hold to the 2012 Prohibited Substances list, valid from January 1 to December 31, 2012.

This list consists of three parts: 1) substances prohibited at all times; 2) substances prohibited during competition; 3) substances prohibited in particular sports. There is, of course, a number of overlap between the three.

London 2012 GSK Olympic Testing Lab

This laboratory is owned by pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline, one of the London 2012 sponsors.

Clear as the list may be, violations of it started even before the Olympic competitions itself began.

As even the news networks, who will do no competing for golds (although much for viewers) are aware, of the 10,500 athletes competing, almost half will be tested for 240 banned substances--and that includes each and every medal winner. Over 6.250 samples of blood and urine will be tested, while nearly 1000 trained people are working feverishly in a London lab, processing athletes' the samples to test for banned substances.

For the first time ever a private sponsor is assisting in the effort. The pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline provides the buildings and labs for the scientists to work.

The IOC started its London testing program in mid-July, and before any competition began, a number of athletes already tested positive for banned substances and were barred from competition.

"Substances Prohibited At All Times


Two Moroccan runners were caught doping, their competitions over before they could ever begin. Oddly enough, they tested positive for the same substance.

28-year-old Mariem Alaoui Selsouli was barred first, at the end of July. Expected to medal, she tested positive for furosemide (known variously as Lasix, Furocot, Delone, and Lo-Aqua) at the Paris Diamond League meeting on July 6th.

Furosemide is a diuretic used to reduce swelling and fluid retention caused by medical problems such as heart or liver disease. It is banned by WADA because it can be used to mask other drugs. It does so by diluting the contents of the urine, thus lowering the concentration of the banned substance, which might then--the users hope--go undetected.

Selsouli faces a lifetime ban if this doping offense is proven, as that would make it the second offense of her career.

Her male counterpart, Amine Laalou, came closer to competing in the world-wide event, but once again, didn't even make to London. He was barred from entering Britain a day before his scheduled competition.

Slated to run in the 1,500-meter heats at the Olympic Stadium, Laalou, too, tested positive for the banned diuretic, and returned to Morocco, his 2012 Olympic chances over before they could even begin.

Apparently furosemide is all the rage in 2012, for it found its way into the hands--and body--of a third athlete--so far--as well. Uzbekistani Luisa Galiulina was the only gymnast from her country competing in the 2012 Olympics, but, as the IOC announced on August 1, she was formally expelled after she, too, tested positive for the diuretic.

"Substances Prohibited At All Times


Other athletes' Olympic chances were also over before they began. Kissya Catoldo da Costa, a rower from Brazil, earned her suspension by failing a drug test done in Brazil, before the formal Olympic testing period began. Although da Costa didn't find out that she had tested positive for the blood booster EPO until she was already in London, when she heard the results she boarded the first plane for Brazil.

EPO, short for erythropoietin, is a hormone that stimulates the production of red blood cells (erythrocytes, hence the name). It is used medically to treat anemia.

Since EPO yields more red blood cells, it also increases the amount of oxygen the blood will carry. This is precisely what athletes are after, as the greater oxygen-carrying potential increases the athlete's endurance, as the blood cells hurry to carry oxygen from the lungs to the overworked muscles.

Recall blood doping, and the Tour de France? A messy and dangerous effort to increase red blood cells, cyclists were reduced to using secret transfusions of red-blood-cell-rich blood.

But EPO has made the whole process so much more elegant and less dangerous. No messy blood transfusions;  the athlete can increase her erythrocyte production with a simple shot of EPO.

Of course, that simple shot can also end an Olympic career.

"Substances Prohibited At All Times


Anabolic agents are prohibited.

1. Anabolic Androgenic Steroids (AAS)"

When the the games formally began they brought with them, more testing--and more doping. The first actual doping case of the Olympics involved Albanian weightlifter Hysen Pulaku, who tested positive for using an anabolic steroid mere hours after the opening ceremony, and the night before Luisa Galiulina was expelled.

Anabolic-androgen steroids (AAS), usually referred to as anabolic steroids, or simply  "steroids," are synthetic substances that mimic the male sex hormone testosterone. "Anabolic" means muscle-building, and "androgenic" alludes to increased male sexual characteristics, both results of increased testosterone production.

Medical uses of anabolic steroids include hormone problems in men, late on-set puberty, and muscle loss due to diseases like cancer or AIDS.

Pulaku tested positive for stanozolol, commonly referred to as Winstrol in its oral form, Tenabol and Winstrol Depot for its intramuscular injections. It's a synthetic anabolic steroid.

Stanozolol is legally used prescribed to treat a condition known as hereditary angioedema. In it, the individual has increased water retention, leading to swelling in different body parts. The steroid prevents the retention of water and thus alleviates the symptoms. It is also used at times to treat anemia,  (insufficient red blood cells) as it causes an increase in red blood cell production.

Stanozolol in the form of Winstrol is used by bodybuilders to preserve lean muscle mass, without causing retention of fat and water.  An anabolic steroid, it heads the Prohibited Substances List from WADA.

Expulsion for anabolic steroid use has been a motif through these Games. Three athletes who tested positive for testosterone were blocked from competing.

Victoria Baranova, 22, the Russian cyclist, was banned from the Olympics after a positive test for testosterone in Belarus on July 4th.

In quick succession, Columbian runner Diego Palomeque's urine sample tested positive for testosterone on July 26th, preventing him from running his scheduled August 4th heat, and  Ivan Tsikhan, a hammer thrower from Belarus was thrown out when the IOC found his doping samples from the 2004 Athens Olympics to be positive for testosterone, as well, when they re-tested.

As unlikely as that sounds, according to Fox Sports, the IOC retested 100 samples from the Athens Olympics to try to catch athletes who might have gotten a false 'all-clear' at the time.

Testosterone is the natural hormone produced by males, responsible for sex characteristics.

According to Mayoclinic, athletes will use testosterone to increase muscle mass and bone density, which, together, clearly increase muscle strength.

Testosterone was one of the main steroids used in the infamous East German swimming team doping scandal in the 1976 Olympics.

"Substances Prohibited At All Times


Any pharmacological substance which is not addressed by any of the subsequent sections of the List and with no current approval by any governmental regulatory health authority for human therapeutic use (e.g drugs under pre-clinical or clinical development or discontinued, designer drugs, veterinary medicines) is prohibited."

Then, the third case of banned substances in two days: St Kitts and Nevis sprinter Tameka Williams admitted to using a banned substance and was sent home before competing.

22-year-old Williams' voluntarily providing the details of her illegal substance use might very well lead to a reduced sentence--or possibly no sentencing at all, depending on how judges view the circumstances.

Newspapers reported that Williams injected a substance called 'Blast Off Red' into her system, which is a drug used to enhance the performance of race horses and greyhounds.

It is quite difficult to ascertain the ingredients of Blast Off Red, and thus it is possible that the injection doesn't fall under a specific heading in the Prohibited Last of the WADA.  However, it would fall under the category of "veterinary medicine," which is in the introduction to the List.

"Substances Prohibited In Competition


Circumstances took an abrupt turn when Nick Delpopolo, an American judo player, became the first to fail an 'in-competition' doping test since IOC drug-testing began, as his positive test occurred on July 30th, the day of his judo competition.

The drug seemed to be one of the least likely to have raised its head in competition.

No diuretics or steroids were involved, nor any substance banned from use in sports in general; rather marijuana, banned only during competition, made its most unusual appearance when 23-year-old Delpopolo was expelled after testing positive for it.

The story got even stranger. Apparently, if Delpopolo's story is to be believed, he ate a brownie that he did not know was laced with marijuana before he left for the Games.

Delpopolo's expulsion re-ignited the public debate about cannabis's place on the Prohibited List at all.

There's precious little evidence to suggest it can enhance performance in any arena--and its legality in certain countries makes its presence on the List even more complex.

David Nutt, a professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London, told Reuters, "There's no evidence cannabis is ever performance enhancing in sport, and since its use is legal in a number of countries, there's no reason for it to be banned by WADA. I can't think of any sport in which it would be an advantage. And it seems ludicrous that someone could quite legally smoke cannabis in Amsterdam in the morning and then come over to London in the afternoon and be banned from competing."

In fact, there is evidence to suggest that marijuana may negatively impact performance. It causes slowed reaction time, problems with hand-eye coordination, and can decrease perceptual accuracy. It's hard to imagine what athletes would get out of using it during competition.

WADA has indicated that it might look into changing cannabis's status as a banned substance, but no time frame for the decision has been set.

"Substances (????) Prohibited . . . ???"

Oddly enough, the  'doping scandal' that has gotten the most play in the press is a scandal that's lacking a crucial component--any positive testing for a banned substance.

16-year-old Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen shattered records, and swam a faster 50 meters in the freestyle leg U.S. swimmer Ryan Locthe, the world record holder at that distance.

Additionally, her time in the entire 400 IM contest was a full seven seconds faster than her own previous best last year.

Olympic officials announced that Ye had passed her drug test--and that should have been the end of that.

But the brouhaha continues, as sports watchers feel certain Ye could not have pulled out such a performance without artificial enhancement.  As China takes offense, it has become a political drama.

Of interest for our purposes, though, is why the negative test doesn't end the story.

Experts have suggested that there are ways around the tests, by masking the presence of performance enhancing drugs with certain other substances, or by taking substances so new that they can't even be screened for yet.

Another expert says there are ways to get around it by knowing in advance when the testing is done, by using masking agents that hide the presence of performance enhancing drugs, or by taking new substances for which sports authorities haven’t yet developed screening tests.

It has happened before. The IOC now keeps blood samples of the athletes for 8 years, to re-check them as tests for new drugs are developed. And, in fact, in 2009 these tests caught five medalists with the new blood-boosting drug CERA in their systems.

CERA is short for Continuous Erythropoietin Receptor Activator, and is the general term for EPOs, the drugs that boost red blood cell production, and the ones for which Kissya Catoldo da Costa was already banned from the Games.

Clearly Ye did not have that in her system, as screening techniques can now find it.

So. . . did she have something still undetectable? Or did she simply swim the swim of a lifetime, only to face criticism and suspicion?

Only time will tell--and only time will tell if the next few days of Olympic competition hold more positive drug tests and resulting expulsions.

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