Medals, records... and question marks


The Beijing Olympics have witnessed a spectacular series of new world records. Amid the excitement, the heat has gone out of the doping debate.

This content was published on August 21, 2008 - 18:11

But Swiss former Olympians claim that people would have to be "naive" to think that every jaw-dropping performance was down to good old-fashioned hard work.

On Saturday Ukrainian weightlifter Igor Razoronov was kicked out of the Beijing Olympics, only the sixth athlete caught for doping during the Games.

Another Ukrainian, Lyudmila Blonska, was stripped of her heptathlon silver medal on Friday after testing positive for the steroid methyltestosterone.

Previously disqualified were Greek hurdler Fani Halkia, North Korean shooter Kim Jong Su, Spanish cyclist Isabel Moreno and Vietnamese gymnast Thi Ngan Thuong Do.

Only six cases in almost two weeks of exceptional performances and daily world records in sports including weight lifting, cycling, shooting and especially swimming and track events.


On Wednesday Usain Bolt made Olympic history by becoming the first sprinter since Carl Lewis in 1984 to win both the 100- and 200-metre sprints at one Games – and the first to do it while setting world records in both.

On Sunday US swimmer Michael Phelps won his record eighth gold of the Games, setting his seventh world record into the bargain.

To explain the athletes' apparent cleanness, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has pointed to the deterrent effect of its drug control programme.

More than 4,000 tests have been carried out, according to IOC spokeswoman Giselle Davies, including more than 3,000 urine tests and 800 blood tests.

By the end of the Games on Sunday the IOC will have conducted 4,500 tests, 900 more than in Athens four years ago.

What's more, 39 athletes were busted before the Olympics started.


Yet doubts remain. In Switzerland two privileged observers have dared to voice criticism and are calling for an end to the hypocrisy.

Dano Halsall, former holder of the 50m swimming world record, has questioned the performances in Beijing in several Swiss media.

"When I see swimmers getting out of the water without being physically worn out, it's very... strange," he wrote in the Tribune de Genève newspaper.

"In a sprint you give everything you've got, and at the finish you are short of oxygen. [In Beijing] I can't see any real shortness of breath. It's disturbing. Some explain it by saying that so and so worked hard during the year and put on eight kilos of muscle, but give me a break! That's not possible."

Masking agents

Jean-Pierre Egger, a physical trainer and former Olympic shot putter, agrees with Halsall.

"You'd have to be naive to believe that all these extraordinary performances are the result of nothing other than drinking water," he told swissinfo.

"People try to improve their performances in any and every way imaginable, so why not also pharmacologically. To remain worthy of interest, athletics needs records."

Egger points out that many records held by athletes who used steroids when they were undetectable are now being broken.

"Doping controls are more advanced nowadays, sure. But maybe doping methods or masking agents are more advanced too. To be guilty of doping, you need to test positive. That's like saying that when you're driving, if you don't get flashed by a speed camera, you weren't speeding..."

Thanks but no thanks

The accuracy and reliability of doping tests remains to be seen. However, this reliability was recently dealt a blow by the revelations of the head of the Swiss Laboratory for Doping Analyses in Lausanne.

Martial Saugy wrote in Le Matin newspaper that one of his colleagues, a specialist in detecting blood doping – receiving blood transfusions to boost the number of red blood cells and thereby enhance performance – was set to go to Beijing to supervise the analyses.

But his trip was cancelled at the last minute by the authorities responsible for the Chinese laboratories where the tests were to be carried out...

swissinfo, Mathias Froidevaux

Swiss Laboratory for Doping Analyses (LAD)

The Swiss Laboratory for Doping Analyses (LAD) in Lausanne is one of 34 WADA-accredited anti-doping labs.

Martial Saugy, head of the LAD, and his team of 20 staff analyse doping control samples ("A" and "B" samples) for banned substances and methods.

The Lausanne laboratory specialises in the detection of EPO, growth hormones, testosterone and blood doping.

A blood transfusion and growth hormone specialist will be representing LAD in Beijing as a lab expert.

Martial Saugy is a scientific consultant to the anti-doping commissions of a number of international sports federations such as Fifa and Uefa (football), the IAAF (athletics) and the UCI (cycling).

During Euro 2008, which took place in Switzerland and Austria in June, two players from each team underwent a drugs test after every match. All 124 samples were analysed in Lausanne.

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Swiss medals

Switzerland won six medals:

Gold: Roger Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka, Tennis, Men's Doubles

Gold: Fabian Cancellara, Cycling, Men's Individual Time Trial

Bronze: Fabian Cancellara, Cycling, Men's Road Race

Bronze: Karin Thürig, Cycling, Women's Individual Time Trial

Bronze: Sergei Aschwanden, Judo, Men's Middleweight (81-90 kg)

Bronze: Nino Schurter, Men's Mountain Bike Race

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