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Anti-doping crusade leaves powerful legacy

Posted: Monday August 30, 2004 10:24PM; Updated: Monday August 30, 2004 10:24PM
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ATHENS, Aug 30 (Reuters) -- "We will have zero tolerance for doping in sport, zero tolerance for cheats," Olympic president Jacques Rogge said, and the cynics smiled.

Highly political, the International Olympic Committee has never been the most comfortable place for idealists.

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But Rogge, a determined man with an inflexible set of morals, never wavered. He refused to bow to pressure from sports federations and national Olympic committees horrified as their sports and countries were shamed in public.

The former surgeon and Olympic yachtsman kept his eye on the long-term goal - a clean, credible Olympics - and ignored the short-term bad publicity.

"What counts is that we act against this evil drug use," he said. As a result of his unwavering approach, the Athens Games will be seen as an Olympic watershed, a point where athletes finally realised cheating would not be allowed to prosper.

In charge for three years since taking over from the maverick Juan Antonio Samaranch, Rogge was a relieved man when the Games started with all Olympic venues present and correct after years of delays and in-fighting among the organisers.

He had presided over the Salt Lake City Winter Games just five months after the September 11, 2001, attacks and earned a reputation for calmness under pressure.

As a former chief inspector of Athens Olympic preparations, he also showed his tough side by issuing a series of warnings about the slow pace of preparations in Greece.

He is also determined that, following the bribery scandal surrounding Salt Lake's bid for the 2002 Games, anyone who sullies the IOC's reputation will face swift judgment. Shortly before the Games began, Bulgarian Ivan Slavkov was suspended after allegations of corruption in a television documentary.

However, the campaign Rogge has dedicated most energy to during the 16-day Games has been the one against doping.

"Every positive test catches a cheat and protects a clean athlete. Today everybody knows we mean business."

TEMPESTUOUS STORM

Financially, Rogge's stand appears to be paying dividends.

IOC marketing commission head Gerhard Heiberg said the Games sponsors - each paying tens of millions of dollars to be associated with the Olympic brand - were fully behind Rogge's purge.

U.S. broadcast rights holder NBC has said it will produce a profit of $60 million to $70 million on its Games coverage and that ratings were running ahead of those for the Sydney Games. Rogge estimates ratings are up an average 15 percent.

However, the first week of the Games were in danger of being overshadowed by a doping storm when the IOC pursued Greek sprinters Costas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou.

Kenteris, the 200 metres champion in Sydney, and 100 metres silver medallist Thanou failed to attend out-of-competition drug tests before the Games, and an often farcical cat-and-mouse chase followed.

The sprinters denied taking banned substances but eventually withdrew from the Olympics, to the huge disappointment of Greek fans. It was an undignified beginning as the Games returned to its spiritual homeland and the IOC looked indecisive at times.

"We think people want to know what or who is credible at the Olympic Games," was the 62-year-old's simple response. "We are making major progress against doping because it is becoming more and more difficult to cheat at the Olympic Games."

MORE INTRIGUING

Hungarian discus thrower Robert Fazekas found this out to his detriment. Fazekas was stripped of his gold medal for failing to provide a urine sample.

In total 24 athletes were excluded from the Games for testing positive in IOC tests for banned substances ranging from stimulants to anabolic steroids.

A further four -- including Kenteris and Thanou -- fell foul of doping violations by being unavailable for testing or refusing to provide samples.

Rather than the Athens Games being dubbed the Doping Games, the likelihood is that it will be remembered as the Olympics during which Rogge's crusade took off.

"Drug cheats are not welcome at the Olympic Games," Rogge said. "And they will have nowhere to hide. I assure you under my leadership the IOC will be 100 percent respectful of the rules."

Copyright 2004 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.

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