SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Prince Alexandre de Merode of Belgium, chairman of the International Olympic Committee medical commission, said Saturday that he hopes to have a new test for anabolic steroids approved before 1992.
But despite his confidence in the test, he said that there are scientific and legal concerns that might prevent the IOC from ever using it to sanction athletes who fail.
Earlier this month at the Canadian government's inquiry into drug use by athletes, the laboratory analyst who developed the test, Dr. Manfred Donike of Cologne, West Germany, confirmed earlier testimony that the test was used on urine samples of male athletes collected in the 1988 Summer Olympics at Seoul as an experiment.
De Merode told the New York Times Friday that the test indicated that 5% of the 1,100 male athletes tested, which would be 55 athletes, had used anabolic steroids within six months of the Summer Olympics.
The names of the athletes whose urine samples were tested were not known even to the laboratory technicians at Cologne, where the research occurred after the Olympics. But even if the athletes had been identified, de Merode said that they could not be sanctioned because the test does not reveal the specific steroid used. According to IOC rules, the exact drug used by an athlete must be identified before a test is valid.
"Dr. Donike can prove people have taken steroids, but he doesn't know which ones," de Merode said Saturday.
De Merode said the IOC could change its rules to allow the test in time for the Winter and Summer Olympics of 1992. But he said that the members still must be convinced that the test is accurate. Donike is scheduled to present a report to the IOC medical commission in October at Moscow.
"Then we will have to look at all the legal aspects," de Merode said.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times in June, Donike said that the test measures the endocrine gland's production of male hormones, which are suppressed if an athlete has used an unnatural male hormone derivative, such as a steroid.
If the test reveals that natural production has been suppressed, Donike said, the assumption is that the athlete has used a steroid.
He said that the test is relevant only for men. No test has been developed for women.
Although the test was supposed to be used only for research purposes at Seoul, it was found to have a practical application when Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson claimed that his routine drug test revealed a steroid because a beer that he drank in the doping control station had been sabotaged.
When that was presented as Johnson's defense before the medical commission, the experimental test was conducted on his urine sample. Donike said that the test indicated long-term use of steroids. Johnson since has admitted that he began using steroids in 1981.