The International Triathlon Union is denying reports that the organization intends to conduct blood tests on athletes during the Sydney Olympics.
Patrick Schamasch, medical director of the International Olympic Committee, said last week that international cycling and triathlon federations had asked to carry out the tests and that other sports were free to follow suit. The ICU, cycling's world governing body, has already introduced the blood tests and is expected to continue its program at the Sydney Olympics. However, ITU president Les McDonald said his organization had no such plans. "Patrick (Schamasch) contacted me and said he was sorry triathlon had somehow been included in sports that were prepared to do blood tests (at the Olympics) - it is not true," McDonald said today in a telephone interview from his office in Vancouver, British Columbia. Triathlon will be making its debut as a medal sport at Sydney, and Triathlon Australia executive director Tim Wilson has backed blood testing immediately before Olympic races. However, McDonald said he was opposed to the testing because it doesn't prove anything. The tests measure an athlete's level of red blood cells and can be an indication of the use of erythropoietin (EPO), a banned performance-enhancing hormone for which no reliable test exists. If an athlete's red blood cell count is above a certain limit, the competitor would be ruled ineligible to compete. The tests are officially classified as "health checks" by ICU medical officials and not doping tests, so athletes who fail the test are not declared guilty of a drug violation. Such blood tests were carried out before cross-country skiing and biathlon events at the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan. They were conducted by the respective international federations. Schamasch said the IOC's rules allow for a sport's federation only to carry out drug tests at the games. But he said the IOC could eventually consider implementing its own pre-competition blood tests if the system proves effective.