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Games a watershed in war against cheats

Posted: Monday August 30, 2004 10:09PM; Updated: Monday August 30, 2004 10:09PM
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ATHENS, Aug 29 (Reuters) -- It started with a missed drugs test and ended with a stripped gold medal. In between it was dominated by steroids, stimulants and diuretics.

The Athens Olympics truly earned the title the Drugs Games.

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It was not what the Greek organisers had wanted, but rather than tainting the Games, Olympic president Jacques Rogge's hardline stance towards drug cheats will mark the Athens Games down as a watershed in the fight against doping in sport.

Rogge, a determined physician with inflexible morals, had warned that the Games -- the first since a global anti-doping code was initiated -- would offer up more positive tests than any previous Olympics.

But it is unlikely even he had expected such a number of high profile cases to dominate the world's greatest sporting extravaganza.

As the Games wrapped up on Sunday, 24 doping violations had been uncovered by Rogge's crusade against drug cheats.

That figure is double the previous highest number of 12 at the Los Angeles Games but rather than it degrading the Games, Rogge's campaign would appear to have edified an event which had been in grave danger of poisoning itself with a cocktail of drugs.

"You have 10,500 athletes in the Olympic village, you do not have 10,500 saints, you will always have cheats," Rogge said.

"What counts is that we act against this evil drug use. Every positive test catches a cheat and protects a clean athlete. Today everybody knows we mean business. We have got zero tolerance towards drug use. Zero tolerance towards drug cheats."

The message had not been lost on anybody.

One Greek newspaper summed up the local media's bemusement at the number of cheats uncovered with a cartoon. It depicted a bashful youth, with a gold medal round his neck, being surrounded by microphones and cameras, saying: "I am only a volunteer but everyone else has tested positive."

"MAJOR PROGRESS"

Such depictions of the Games do not bother Rogge one bit. "We think people want to know what or who is credible at the Olympic Games," he said. "We are making major progress against doping because it is becoming more and more difficult to cheat at the Olympic Games."

The athletes found this to be true.

Before the Games even began, two of its potential stars had disappeared in a cloud of shame.

The withdrawal of Greek 200 metres Sydney Olympics champion Costas Kenteris from the Athens Games and that of his training partner 100 metres sprinter Katerina Thanou cast a dark shadow over the first week of the Olympics.

Kenteris pulled out of the Games after missing a drugs test in mysterious circumstances the day before the opening ceremony.

He has denied taking banned substances and says he was never informed of an appointment with doping officials. The Greek authorities are investigating the entire episode.

Prior to these Games, the last track and field gold medal to have been stripped was that of 100 metres sprinter Ben Johnson in Seoul in 1988.

Never before had two track and field golds been taken away.

In Athens, the count was three -- Irina Korzhanenko's shot put gold for testing for stanozolol, the crude steroid Johnson had used 16 years earlier, and the gold medals of Hungarian discus thrower Robert Fazekas and compatriot hammer thrower Adrian Annus for refusing to give urine samples.

Many lesser medals were taken away and also-ran athletes booted out of the Olympics for dabbling in a number of banned substances.

Sponsors and television viewers have embraced Rogge's notion that while the record figure of rumbled drug cheats is a disappointment, it is necessary in order to clean up sport.

As former surgeon Rogge would no doubt put it, you sometimes have to sacrifice a limb to save a life.

Copyright 2004 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.

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