Aussie Olympic swimmer Ian Thorpe criticizes FINA stance on illegal drug EPO

FUKUOKA, Japan (AP) — Swimming's governing body will not conduct blood tests for EPO at this week's world championships in Fukuoka, Japan, a decision criticized by the sport's best athlete, Ian Thorpe.

The tests introduced at the Sydney Olympics for EPO, an endurance-boosting hormone, and human grown hormone were not sufficiently conclusive, Dr. Andrew Pipe, the chairman of FINA's Doping Control Review Board, said Tuesday.

The International Olympic Committee has sanctioned the tests, and the International Amateur Athletic Federation said Monday it will conduct blood tests for EPO at the track-and-field world championships next month in Edmonton, Alberta.

Thorpe, who set his second world record in three nights on Tuesday, says better testing is essential to the integrity of swimming.

"I don't think there's a deterrent that's strong enough within the sport that is going to allow all athletes an equal opportunity to race against each other,'' Thorpe said.

"With the lack of tests, or the lack of particular types of tests, you're not going to be able to get the results that will be positive or that will turn the sport around so that it's 100 percent clean.''

"It's not that at the moment,'' he added. "And, I don't know if it ever will be.''

Pipe suggested legal challenges could be mounted by athletes if the tests were not foolproof.

"It's very important that when we institute testing that it goes through the proper validation,'' he said. "We'll do sport and the athletes a great disservice otherwise. It's a situation very much in flux and we'll keep an eye on it.''

But Thorpe says FINA is too slow to act on blood tests for EPO.

"With FINA, a lot of the different things that have happened disappoint me,'' he said. "One is the lack of tests that they've done and the way the tests are done.

"As a clean athlete, from an outside point of view I don't think it looks good for this sport.''

Pipe said limitations on blood testing for EPO make it extremely difficult to administer the test, including requirements that the blood must be handled by a certified laboratory within two hours.

The IAAF intends to make more than 350 drug tests in Edmonton. Fifteen percent to 20 percent of its tests will be for EPO, which stimulates the production of oxygen-rich red blood cells. The EPO controls will involve testing of urine and blood samples. If the blood sample produces a positive finding, the urine will be analyzed for confirmation.

Similar testing was done at the Sydney Olympics on 309 athletes with no double positive findings.

About 200 of the planned 350 urine-only tests at the Fukuoka swim titles have been conducted, with no positive results.

"I was tested in Sydney for EPO and I thought that it was a step in the right direction,'' said American swimmer Diana Munz, who is competing at Fukuoka. "I think the test reassures all the swimmers that everyone is drug free.''

Pipe said there are only two fully accredited laboratories in the world that can handle blood tests for EPO — in Sydney and Paris. He said it was likely that an IOC-accredited lab in Montreal would soon be capable.

Both HGH and EPO are hormones naturally produced by the body and are now available as genetically engineered products.

HGH produces anabolic effects leading to increases in strength and power. EPO artificially increases the level of red blood cells and therefore enhances aerobic and endurance capacity.

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