British athletes involved in fresh doping scandal

Leaked data from the IAAF pointed to hundreds of medals being won by athletes who have recorded 'suspicious' blood test results. Picture: PA
Leaked data from the IAAF pointed to hundreds of medals being won by athletes who have recorded 'suspicious' blood test results. Picture: PA
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A TOP athlete is among seven Britons under suspicion following fresh allegations of widespread doping in world athletics.

Leaked data belonging to the International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF) shows more than 12,000 blood tests from 5,000 athletes from the period 2001-12.

Athletes appear to have doped with impunity

Robin Parisotto

The information, which was released to the Sunday Times by a whistleblower, has been analysed for the newspaper by two leading anti-doping experts – scientist Robin Parisotto and exercise physiologist Michael Ashenden.

According to the two men, the leaked data reveals that more than a third of medals – including 55 golds – have been won in endurance events at the Olympics and world championships by athletes who have recorded suspicious tests.

It is claimed that none of those medals has been taken away by the authorities.

While none of the athletes has been named, it is alleged one is a top UK star who is among seven Britons with “suspicious” blood scores.

It is also claimed that 10 medals were won at the London 2012 Olympics by athletes who have reportedly recorded dubious test results.

Among the other claims, the Sunday Times says more than 800 athletes – one in seven of those named in the files – have recorded blood-test results described by one of the experts as “highly suggestive of doping or at the very least abnormal”; and that more than a third of the world’s fastest times in endurance events were recorded by athletes whose tests have triggered suspicion.

However, stars including Mo Farah and sprinter Usain Bolt emerge as clean with no abnormal results.

Mr Parisotto said: “Never have I seen such an alarmingly abnormal set of blood values… So many athletes appear to have doped with impunity, and it is damning that the IAAF appears to have idly sat by and let this happen.”

Mr Ashenden was also critical of the IAAF, saying: “For the IAAF to have harvested millions of dollars from the broadcasting of athletics events around the world… yet only devote a relative pittance of those funds towards anti-doping, when they could see the terrible truth of what lay beneath the surface, is… a shameful betrayal of their primary duty to police their sport and to protect clean athletes.”

The World Anti-Doping Agency said it was “very alarmed” by the latest claims which would “shake the foundation” of clean athletes across the globe following the “biggest leak of blood-test data in sporting history”.

German broadcaster ARD/WDR was also given access to the leaked data. An ARD documentary, Doping – Top Secret: The Shadowy World Of Athletics, contains a series of new allegations regarding widespread doping in international athletics.

Wada president Sir Craig Reedie said: “Wada is very disturbed by these new allegations that have been raised by ARD; which will, once again, shake the foundation of clean athletes worldwide.”

He also announced that given the nature of the allegations, they would be handed over immediately to the organisation’s Independent Commission for further investigation.

According to the Sunday Times, the top British athlete at the centre of the doping allegations said they had “never cheated”.

On three occasions during their career, blood test results were so “abnormal” that there was only a one in a thousand chance that they were natural.

The data allegedly shows the athlete’s blood scores increasing as their performances improved on the international stage.

One of those scores is said to have been recorded just days before winning a major race.

The IAAF is alleged to have put a red mark against the athlete’s name, which should have resulted in follow-up tests.

The Sunday newspaper said the athlete had sworn on the lives of loved ones that they had never blood-doped.

In reference to the Sunday Times’ long-running legal battle with disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong, who was obliged to repay libel damages after admitting he had cheated, the athlete reportedly said: “You print it and I sue you [and] you won’t be getting any money back in future like Lance Armstrong – I promise you that.”

The IAAF said it was aware of serious allegations made against the “integrity and competence” of its anti-doping programme.

It said: “The IAAF is now preparing a detailed response.”

How a simple blood transfusion can provide cheaters with an advantage

Blood doping is the misuse of certain techniques or substances to increase an athlete’s red blood cells, allowing the body to transport more oxygen to muscles and increase stamina and performance.

One method is through the use of blood transfusions, with blood taken from an athlete’s body around a month before competition.

Around a pint of blood is taken before being vacuum-sealed and refrigerated. In the weeks that follow, the body increases red blood cell production to make up for the loss. Eventually, all the blood that has been lost is compensated for. In the days before the race, the transfused blood is then re-injected back into the athlete’s body, increasing the number of available red blood cells and their ability to transmit oxygen to the muscles. An athlete can put themselves at significant health risks using the technique.

Unnaturally high red blood cell levels increase the risk of heart attack, stroke and pulmonary or cerebral embolism. According to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), the use of blood transfusions for the purposes of doping dates back decades. However, its recent resurgence is likely to be due to better detection of the hormone EPO.

EPO is a peptide that is produced naturally by the human body. It is released from the kidneys and acts on the bone marrow to stimulate red blood cell production. It can be developed synthetically and injected into the body. However, synthetic EPO can be detected with a urine test.

A third doping technique is through the use of synthetic oxygen carriers, such as haemoglobin-based oxygen carriers (HBOCs) or perflurocarbons (PFCs). Their misuse for doping purposes carries the risk of cardiovascular disease in addition to various serious side-effects, including strokes and heart attacks.

The investigation analysed 12,359 samples from more than 5,000 athletes. It looked at haemoglobin – the oxygen-carrying protein in the blood – levels and the proportion of red blood cells in the body.

In total, 12 per cent of the individual blood tests gave abnormal readings. The newspaper said 21 athletes recorded blood values so extreme they should have been given emergency treatment to have their blood drained.

According to the newspaper, Russia was the “dirtiest” country, with 30 per cent of its blood tests showing up as abnormal.

Britain was near the bottom of the list, with four per cent of its tests showing an abnormal result. Among the other worst offenders were Ukraine, Turkey, Greece and Morocco.