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Did USOC Underestimate Enemy in War on Drugs?

July 28, 1985|ELLIOTT ALMOND and JULIE CART | Times Staff Writers

The blood doping case is yet another blot on the USOC's anti-drug record. The doping (which involves a transfusion of red blood cells in an attempt to increase endurance) was carried out on several members of the U.S. Olympic cycling team, including athletes who won medals. Blood doping is not against IOC rules, although the USOC subsequently banned the practice. The chairman of the USOC's Sports Medicine Council, Dr. Irving Dardik, resigned after leading an investigation into the incident.

Peter Ueberroth, former president of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee and now commissioner of baseball, praised the USOC, but stressed that coaches and officials supplying drugs or aiding athletes in obtaining drugs should also be punished.

"They've (USOC) got to be steadier," Ueberroth said by phone from his New York office. "It is going to take courage by sports leaders to get the drug war going, to eliminate those who want to cover things up. You saw what's happening in cycling. Officials need to be responsible, as well as coaches and athletes. People have to decide that the health of an individual is more important than a nation winning a medal."

It doesn't add to national prestige for an athlete to win an Olympic medal then have it taken away after failing a drug test. That happened to two of the seven known athletes who tested positive at the Los Angeles Games.

Martti Vainio of Finland was stripped of his silver medal in the 10,000 meters after he was found to have taken Primobolin, an anabolic steroid. Swedish wrestler Thomas Johansson also lost his silver medal after he failed his drug test. Traces of the steroid Dianabol were found in Johansson's urine.

Johansson admitted in a phone interview with The Times that he took 50 milligrams of Dianabol two times a week for two weeks following a nose operation.

"I took this a month before the Games," Johansson said from Haparanda, Sweden. "I was sick. I lost very much weight. I took Dianabol to build weight up. It was very easy to get. I wasn't afraid I would get caught. I was very surprised . . . and a little bit saddened. The Swedish people were very kind to me. I am trying to forget it."

It's difficult to forget. Johansson is reminded of the incident every day that he isn't allowed to wrestle competitively. He was suspended for 18 months by the International Amateur Wrestling Federation and says he will compete again. So does Vainio, who was likewise punished by the IAAF. In what has become the usual pattern in track and field, Vainio was banned for life, but appealed and received the 18-month penalty.

Other athletes who failed their Olympic drug tests were javelin thrower Anna Verouli of Greece and weightlifters Mahmoud Tarha of Lebanon and Ahmad Tarba of Algeria. The weightlifters were banned for life by the International Weightlifting Federation.

According to Ljungqvist, who was present when all track and field samples were processed, two other track athletes tested positive at the Games--Icelandic discus thrower Vesteinn Hafsteinsson and Italian hammer thrower Giampaolo Urlando.

Additionally, a Japanese masseur, Yoshitaka Yahagi, was banned by the IOC from the next two Olympics for supplying a volleyball player with a cold cure that contained stimulants.

The IOC is not releasing further information on the doping control at Los Angeles. However, Prince Alexandre DeMerode of Belgium, Chairman of the IOC's Medical Commission, said during the Olympics that as many as 12 positives could come out of the testing.

This closed-mouth policy raises a question as to the deterrent effect of the testing when the names of the athletes are not released. Some observers also question the legitimacy of a system that routinely reduces a lifetime ban to 18 months. In at least one case in track and field, that of shot putter Ilona Slupianek of the Soviet Union, an athlete who had been caught using drugs came back from suspension to win an Olympic gold medal.

"I think it (drug testing) worked very well in Los Angeles," Ueberroth said. "I think it is very good and necessary. The weakness is after the tests, after there are positives. It is important how they are handled. The thing I'd worry about in future Games is how the information is handled after the positives are found. I think they should get an independent body to be given that information."

What seems to be lacking in the punitive action taken against athletes who fail drug tests is uniformity among the various federations that govern international sport. Of greater concern to others is the way in which the drug problem is approached. For example, there remains much debate about the ethics of pre-testing of athletes by national federations before sending its group to an international competition.

Catlin said some of the first live samples to come through his $1.6 million lab were from the U.S. hockey team.

"The USOC wanted all the winter Olympic athletes tested before they went to Sarajevo," he said.

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