Despite the unseasonable weather across northern Europe, this summer is seeing a bumper crop of high calibre sporting occasions. No sooner did the European Football Championships draw to a close in Poland and Ukraine, than Wimbledon got underway in the UK, and with the Tour de France entering the finishing straight, all eyes are now turning to London for the 2012 Olympic Games.
It is a sad fact that wherever there is a major sporting event the shadow of performance-enhancing drugs is never far away. Already this year one Tour de France rider has tested positive for Xipamide, a sulfonamide used to treat oedema, fluid retention and hypertension, and another has been dropped by his team on suspicion of trying to use banned substances.
The past few years have seen the use of steroids like nandrolone decrease markedly because they are easy to detect, with competitors turning instead to drugs that mimic or are naturally produced in the body.
Perhaps the temptation is understandable, given the intense physical and psychological pressures on athletes from all disciplines, but this year the chance of getting caught is higher than ever. During the 2012 Olympic Games some 5,000 blood and urine samples will be tested, and all medallists will be tested as standard.
Technology and equipment has moved on since the Beijing Games, and testing will be faster, more comprehensive and more sensitive than ever before. This is particularly true of the detection of Human Growth Hormone (HGH). Previously, HGH could be detected only if it had been used a few days prior to the test; now, advancements in bio-marker technology mean it will show up even if the abuse took place weeks before the test.
It is estimated that 50% of athletes will be tested and the samples retained for eight years to enable retrospective testing as new tests for more drugs evolve.
Faster, higher, stronger will be the motto not only of the athletes at the London 2012 Olympics, but also of the 1,000+ people responsible for keeping the Games as clean as possible.