Four years after the Winter Games in Sochi were corrupted by one of the largest and most egregious doping scandals in history, the best athletes from around the world once again are gathered to compete atop snow and ice. In PyeongChang, South Korea, they are competing in sports that demand speed, precision, endurance, and big air. With the 2014 Winter Games now synonymous with a Russian doping scandal that involved cocktails of performance-enhancing drugs and swapping urine samples through mouse holes, athletes and fans worldwide have never been more aware of the need for meaningful action to protect the integrity of the Olympics.
Motivated by these events, athletes from at least seven countries have united behind #MyMoment in a global movement to explain why clean sport matters to them, and to demand that their irreplaceable Olympic moments be protected from doping. Olympians and Paralympians of all ages and disciplines have taken a stand for the moments they’ve earned as clean athletes, including biathlete Lowell Bailey, who lost the medal he earned in 2014 to an athlete who doped. These athletes exemplify both the power of the athlete voice and the many reasons why clean sport is worth fighting for.
In this turbulent and frustrating environment, it is perhaps more important than ever that the PyeongChang Organizing Committee for the 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (POCOG) in South Korea execute a comprehensive and effective doping control program. During the Games, the POCOG is utilizing highly trained Doping Control Officers (DCOs) from experienced anti-doping organizations worldwide to collect samples from athletes at any time and location throughout the Games. The International Olympic and Paralympic Committee policies also allow for long-term storage and reanalysis of samples, meaning a sample can be pulled from a freezer vault and analyzed using the latest technologies for a period of 10 years after the Games. This serves as a significant deterrent to any athletes who believe that their legacy cannot be tarnished due to discovery of doping long after the Games.
For most of the athletes at the Games, the doping control process is very familiar because elite athletes must comply with anti-doping rules throughout their athletic careers. Many athletes will provide dozens of urine and blood samples, both in and out of competition and without advance notice, during their careers. Even after they arrive in PyeongChang, athletes must continue to submit Whereabouts information so DCOs can find them — anytime, anywhere — in the athletes’ village, dining hall, training venue or at a competition.
For in-competition testing, athletes are notified as soon as they step off the field of play. The athlete is closely chaperoned, even during media interviews and medal ceremonies, until the urine and/or blood sample is provided and secured.
The WADA-accredited laboratory based in Seoul is then responsible for all the sample analysis. Working around the clock, and reporting many results within 24 hours, scientific experts conduct analysis to identify more than 250 prohibited substances and methods that are included on the WADA Prohibited List. Athletes will also have their biological passports scrutinized, which could lead to further target testing or additional sophisticated analyses.
If there is an adverse analytical finding, or positive test, an athlete may face repercussions unless they have a valid Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE), certifying a legitimate therapeutic need to use a prohibited substance. In the absence of a TUE, athletes can choose to have their B sample tested to confirm the positive finding of their A sample. To ensure due process, the athlete is afforded the right to present their case before an independent Court of Arbitration for Sport panel.
In addition to advocating for clean athletes’ rights both nationally and internationally, USADA provides our U.S. Olympic and Paralympic athletes with comprehensive education and resources, including Supplement 411 andGlobal Drug Reference Online, to ensure they are equipped with the information they need to compete clean. To further prepare them for the Games, USADA required U.S. Olympians and Paralympians to complete educational programs to learn about Games-specific doping control measures.
In partnership with Stanford University, USADA also developed HealthPro Advantage: Anti-Doping Education for the Health Professional, which is designed to help physicians learn about anti-doping rules so they can better serve athlete patients. All ACSM members can take the HealthPro course for free and physicians can earn CME credits for completing the corresponding evaluation materials.
The voices of athletes and their support networks are critical in the fight for clean sport, but it remains crucial that all who believe in a level playing field stand together to demand that sport leaders protect the integrity of sport. Clean athletes train their whole lives for their irreplaceable podium moments and every moment matters in PyeongChang!
Editorial Note: USADA is the national anti-doping organization in the U.S. for Olympic, Paralympic, Pan American, and Parapan American sport. For more on USADA’s mission, responsibilities, programs, and resources, see U.S. Anti-Doping Agency on the web. SMB is grateful to Dr. Fedoruk for sharing with our readers his insightful views in this commentary on doping control – an undertaking inherent to providing fair and clean competition for athletes at the Winter Games in PyeongChang.
Matthew N. Fedoruk, Ph.D., is an ACSM member and the current science director at the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). Next month, Dr. Fedoruk will support doping control oversight at the Paralympic Winter Games as a member of the Anti-Doping Committee for the International Paralympic Committee. Dr. Fedoruk was responsible for managing anti-doping operations at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. As a recognized expert in the field of anti-doping science and doping control, Dr. Fedoruk also serves as a member of numerous World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Expert Groups.