Drugs mar the face of sport
International sport is still saddled with a hard core of drug cheats even though the Sydney Olympics were not struck by a doping epidemic.
The number of positive cases in competition tests at the Games stood at seven before Sunday's closing ceremony.
With samples still to be analysed from the last competitions the seven positives compare to two at the last Games in Atlanta in 1996, five in Barcelona in 1992, 10 in Seoul in 1988 and 12 at the Los Angeles Games in 1984.
More significantly there was a series of announcements of positive tests in the run-up to the Games and two track and field athletes were caught in out-of-competition tests taken for the first time during the Olympics.
It also emerged in Sydney that U.S. shot putter C.J. Hunter, husband of triple Olympic champion Marion Jones, had failed four tests for performance-enhancing steroids this season.
Rarely did a day pass at the Games when Olympic leaders were not talking about the problem of performance-enhancing drugs.
"Ultimately the Olympics are about sport, about athletes," said Canada's former athlete and new International Olympic Committee (IOC) member Charmaine Crooks.
"But the number one issue is still doping. We have to continue to establish the credibility of our movement. It affects all of us, the innocent athletes probably more and the fact that we have to carry the burden of those who are guilty."
Four weightlifters -- Ashot Danielyan of Armenia, Ivan Ivanov, Izabela Dragneva and Sevdalin Minchev (all of Bulgaria) -- and 17-year-old Romanian gymnast Andreea Raducan were stripped of their medals after positive tests.
Olympic leaders said weightlifting's future in the Games was secure, however.
Norwegian wrestler Fritz Aanes and Latvian rower Andris Reinholds also failed tests but did not win medals.
Belarus hammer thrower Vadim Devyatovsky was sent home earlier in the Games after testing positive for a steroid at the Olympic village. Russia's European 400 metres indoor champion Svetlana Pospelova also failed an out-of-competition test.
The United States came under heavy fire for the way it deals with positive cases.
U.S. chiefs were accused of covering up five positive tests before the 1988 Seoul Olympics and failing to inform international chiefs of 15 suspicious cases in the last two years.
It was a turnaround for a country whose competitors and coaches have pointed the finger at others in the past.
After intense criticism, the American national athletics body appeared set to hand over control of all their anti-doping efforts to the new world anti-doping agency WADA.
Some of the Australian media suggested the drug cheats had soured the Games.
But the positive drug tests were small fry compared to 1988 when Canadian Ben Johnson was stripped of his 100 metres title after testing positive for steroids.
That case shocked the sports world. Now competitors, coaches, officials and spectators alike know that doping is everywhere and the only way to stop it is to increase out-of-competition testing and make the management of those tests transparent.
Dick Pound, the head of WADA, said a handful of cases could not be regarded as an epidemic.
"Sydney is a huge success. If we hadn't had any, you would have been out here saying, 'Ah, a cover-up again'," he said.
"I think there has been a very positive response to the efforts to try to eliminate doping. If you read anywhere that these are drug-tainted Olympics, that's just not so."
Before the Games, the IOC was pleased to announce that it had introduced a new test for EPO (erythropoietin), a drug used by distance runners and swimmers to enhance the blood's capacity to carry oxygen.
But no athlete was caught taking the drug, one of the most dangerous in sport.
"It would have been nice to be able to try one and make sure the science stands up to any kind of attack," Pound said.
"But sooner or later we'll get somebody and try it out."
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