Any cyclists or other sportspeople who have sought to use gene doping in order to cheat but evade detection are risking detection in the Rio Olympics, with the IOC stating that a new test may be in place shortly.
IOC medical director Dr Richard Budgett recently spoke to the press about retesting for the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games, and revealed that a new method of examination is on the verge of being introduced.
Until now, there was no way of detecting gene doping.
“Testing for gene doping has only recently been developed by the Australian WADA accredited laboratory and it is soon going to be used in sample analysis for the first time,” Dr Budgett said.
“If this gene doping testing is used in Australia or elsewhere before the Rio Games 2016, then this testing will be performed on games-time samples at the Rio WADA accredited laboratory. They have already got the expertise and equipment needed to carry out this testing.”
Gene doping has been rumoured to be a possible problem for several years. When first conceived, it was regarded as a way to get the boosting effects of performance enhancing substances without the danger of being caught.
A similar situation existed prior to the introduction of the EPO test in 2000. In that case, the new screening method was in place before that year’s Olympics. It too was developed in Australia, and led to a spate of positives in the following years.
According to Dr. Budgett, WADA is the body responsible for giving the final green light to the new gene doping test.
“I understand from their scientific director that this is already the case,” he said. “It is a good test that the Australians have developed, and it is merely a matter of the logistics of obtaining the suitable reference material that is holding things up.
“As soon as testing actually starts in Australia or elsewhere, we will be able to do it in Rio. It is a scientifically accepted test, it just needs to be happening in practice.”
The IOC is currently re-examining samples from the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games, using test to detect long-term anabolic metabolites and also erythrocyte-stimulating agents such as EPO.
Media reports have suggested that there have been 32 positives from Beijing and 23 from London. It is unclear if these are all confirmed B samples.
On Monday the International Weightlifting Federation says it has been notified of 20 positive tests – including medal winners – with ten from each of the Games in question.
That would leave 35 from other sports. A number of Russian athletes are understood to be amongst those deemed positive, as are five sportspeople from Kazakhstan.
Thus far one cyclist – London 2012 competitor Ekaterina Gnidenko – is the only confirmed rider. However that doesn’t rule out others also being involved.
Asked about this in recent days, the IOC declined to provide clarification of cycling’s situation vis-à-vis the re-examinations. “You will understand that we are not able to comment at this stage on the process,” a spokesperson told CyclingTips.
Even if athletes are not picked up at this point in the 2008 and 2012 restests, it doesn’t mean they are home and dry.
According to Dr. Budgett, the new gene doping test could also be applied to samples from Beijing and London.
“If we have suitably stored samples from previous Games then, because this reanalysis is an ongoing process, we will also be analysing them for gene doping in the future,” he said.