Drug testing is your life

The privilege of representing your country brings responsibility. I have decided to dedicate this week’s column to being a strictly factual explanation of the process of drug testing in sport for the general public, and as an educational guide for aspiring athletes.

I have been subjected to constant drug testing since 2001. I have been tested countless times, both in competition and at unannounced surprise out-of-competition visits. Strangers show up wherever I am in the world unannounced, roust me out of bed in the pre-dawn hours and demand my urine, and now also blood. I happily submit myself to this because I want clean sport.

Drug testing in sport is intended to catch cheaters by enforcing the World Anti Doping Agency’s (Wada) Prohibited List. This is an annually updated list of all the performance enhancing drugs, masking agents and illegal substances that athletes are not allowed to put into their bodies, which if used will result in a minimum ban of two years from the sport.

The list prohibits the use of the following types of substances and methods that are used to cheat: 
• Anabolic agents, otherwise known as “steroids.”
• Peptide hormones and growth factors. This includes things like EPO and human growth hormone.
• Beta-2 Antagonists and stimulants. This part of the list prohibits things that aid the cardiovascular system.
• Hormone and metabolic modulators, this part of the list basically prohibits artificial substances that are aromatase inhibitors, meaning things that prevent testosterone from being converted to estrogen by the body, thus artificially raising free testosterone.
• Diuretics and masking agents. These are used to rid the body of other banned substances or hide them altogether.
• Stimulants
• Narcotics
• Cannabinoids, the substances found in Cannabis.
• Prohibited methods: This prohibits things like blood transfusions, tampering with samples and the mysterious methods of gene doping.
• Glucocorticosteroids, naturally produced hormones that inhibit inflammation

In addition to having mandatory drug testing for medal winners and random participants at high level competitions in all sports worldwide, the World Anti-Doping Agency runs a programme known as “Whereabouts” in which top-ranked athletes must submit very detailed information about where they are at all times to facilitate unannounced out of competition testing.

This is done to ensure that no cheating is taking place out of competition. Athletes must provide their exact location, and be at that location for one hour each day so that the testers may find them. 

The collected samples are identified only by a number that corresponds to one given to the athlete during the test to ensure that the lab will never know who they are testing. If the testers show up, and the athlete is not at the designated location at that preset time, it’s deemed a missed test. Three missed tests in a period of 18 months is considered to be a positive test resulting in a minimum ban of two years. 

The threat of missing a test is a constant low grade stress in the lives of athletes who must diligently update an online database on the Internet known as ADAMS with their intended overnight accommodations, travel plans, competitions and daily activities.

The World Anti-Doping Agency holds the athlete responsible for anything illegal that is found in his or her sample. It’s true that some medications contain substances that are on the banned list. Take for example, the popular over-the-counter cold medication for sinus pain and congestion called Sudafed.

This medication contains pseudoephedrine which is on the Wada prohibited list because it is a stimulant and will result in what is known as an adverse analytical finding or a positive test requiring a minimum ban from competition of two years.

The onus in on the athlete to know the contents of the Wada prohibited list and to be conscious of what they are putting into their bodies at all times. I never take anything without first learning what it is and then verifying its allowance. The status of medications may be checked to see if safe for use at the website, Global Drug Reference Online (www.globaldro.com). 

Supplements seem to be ubiquitous in sport today with protein powders, vitamins, amino acids and post workout recovery shakes being big business. However, there have been cases of positive tests resulting from contaminated supplements.

Investigations into those cases have revealed that there was cross contamination with other extreme bodybuilding supplements that were being produced in the same facility. That is why, if you choose to take supplements, it’s essential that they be from reliable brands that are laboratory tested to ensure that they are safe for use in elite sport even if they are slightly more pricey.