Saturday, February 25, 2012

EPO Testing Revisited: 2007 (Part Five)

Well, I changed my mind and decided to do another EPO post. As the previous post seems to be stimulating discussion, let's look at 2007. Here are the players that received multiple EPO tests in 2007:

Players who were tested 2 or more times for EPO by the ITF in 2007

I'm interested to see how the discussion evolves this time.

Below are all the players who received EPO tests. All EPO tests by the ITF in 2007 were in-competition.



39 comments:

  1. These are very interesting results. If Rafa has indeed been doping then he's extremely audacious given he keeps rolling on with at least a pretty good level despite the odd drought of titles on the hard courts. This in turn suggests that he would just keep churning out the good ole' drugs anyway - suspicious screening or not.

    I would like to know more about blood screenings indicating use of EPO and how other sports treat those warning signs. In other sports for example, is having a strong indication of EPO usage through a blood screening treated more seriously? I wonder if an indication in the blood screening is actually virtually enough to *already* condemn a player, but that doping regulations are too soft. I mean surely if 3 screenings turn up suspicious then they should be targeting you through the scope of a sniper rifle.

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    1. This particular case had nothing to do with EPO, but the International Skating Union banned German speed skater Claudia Pechstein for 2 years after blood screenings showed irregular levels of reticulocytes in her blood, which was a very strong indicator of on-going blood doping.

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  2. Given the statements on why EPO tests are conducted, it's curious how poorly it matches up with inferred logic when actually analysing data. A slew of tests occur at specific tournaments rather than being dotted around.

    It's possible that a lot of the EPO tests are conducted after a warning flag has been signaled from a blood screening, and that other EPO tests are just random. As things stand, the way they test for EPO and the time given to players who have had suspicious blood screenings to then rid themselves of the drug makes it almost impossible to catch top dog dopers. Or rather, they refuse to catch to uphold the 'real or imaginary integrity of the sport'.

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    1. "As things stand, the way they test for EPO and the time given to players who have had suspicious blood screenings to then rid themselves of the drug makes it almost impossible to catch top dog dopers"


      So, basically entirely consistent with the rest of tennis anti-doping regime then? :-)

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    2. One has to applaud the ITF for being so outstandingly bad; it takes talent, you know!

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    3. To be serious for a moment though, are they paying the employees too much money? Shouldn't EPO testing be standard and very very frequent? They have all that urine to play with - OK, I realise that sounds wrong - and yet they can only conduct so few EPO tests, yet it's a drug that can be traced in urine samples.

      To me, one thing seems clearer by the day: They don't WANT to catch the cheats. They really, really don't.

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    4. To my mind the problem is the players have too much power - drugtesting is invasive, especially OOC testing. Imagine the moaning if they did even half the testing cycling does ..... that would be 15x more tests for the top guys than tennis does now.

      It was probably the same in all sports until their doping was exposed. Cycling appears to be the closest thing there is to an ideal now ..... simply because the public got the impression they were all juiced to the eyeballs. They had to react.

      Frankly though, tennis had its moment with the nandrolene episode, and managed to bury it with the laughable (and later proven false) supplements excuse. Probably the only chance for a big expose is something like a Balco.

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  3. Clearly Australia harbors the most stringent EPO testing in the known universe. The French really need to keep up.

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  4. Does EPO in competition testing comply to the general pattern of players being tested after a loss? If so then it really does seem like sort of last ditch attempt to cram in some EPO tests where catching players is unlikely. Seems strange that they would maintain this unprecedented level of predictability with a test that is supposedly on the back of a suspicious screening.

    As Genesis the fourth said, it is becoming more evident that they really don't want to catch the cheats, which makes me skeptical to why they would even look for suspicious findings in blood screenings in the first place, especially with any of the top players.

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  5. I suggest there is a reason why readers are having difficulty inferring the correct meaning from the ITF testing data; notwithstanding various statements about testing protocols (most of which in fact say very little) it is possible that there is no real systemic basis behind the ITF testing procedures. I am inclined to the view that that is why the ITF is coy about disclosing details of its testing regime, and not because it doesn't want players to catch on. Indeed, I think there will be an understanding between players and the ITF that the testing programme is there essentially for show, and is not intended to catch players who have been doping. Hence the apparent "audacity" of some of those players; the chief suspects show absolutely no fear of being caught, as their performances arouse even greater suspicion.

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    1. There could be other issues, such as financial ones, that play a role in all of this. I'm not sure where the money comes from to finance the testing, but I can understand why publicly citing financial limitations might be undesirable in this case from a PR standpoint.

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    2. @Swoon,
      I would call them budgetary issues rather than financial (i.e., the ITF is unwilling to put more money into its testing program rather than lacking funds). They could increase if they had the will. http://content.yudu.com/Library/A1sbtl/ITFAnnualReportampAc/resources/48.htm

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    3. Another thing with respect to cost. As I've shown, both blood and, especially EPO testing, decreased in 2008 and 2009. Where did the money go? Did the ITF reduce its anti-doping budget?

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    4. Without seeing their balance sheet it's impossible to know one way or the other, unless some financial information has been posted and I've missed it (entirely possible). Obviously at some point the differentiation between willful and necessary budgeting splits off, but I don't think it can be ruled out that the money simply isn't there to do more, and/or the return on the investment is not good enough due to the players using drugs that are too difficult to detect, rendering it all a waste of money from their perspective (and that would also explain a decrease in testing, ie they've given up for the most part but are doing some testing to keep giving the right impression).

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    5. I'll agree with you that one possible explanation is that they've stopped trying and are simply going through the motions. I'd also say that there is no positive return on investment from doing more testing. (i.e., the cost of catching even 1 big name on the sport's popular is probably negative enough to discourage them from anything resembling stringent testing.)

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  6. Is it possible that the EPO protocol is what is currently in place (since 2010), and only applicable to the testing stats data we don't have?

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    1. Whoa. Jackhammer of a thought!

      ***

      But it would seem that the comment was made during 2008 or 2009, as stated in Part 1 of this 'EPO Saga'.

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    2. I wouldn't be shocked if you are right. The current data we have seems to indicate that EPO testing was based around specific events and not on specific players. Maybe that changed some time in 2009.

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  7. Since the article is from Sept. 2009, I thought maybe S. Miller told the journalist what would be applicable beginning in the 2010 season, without really saying it.

    Just a thought. Having a hard time wrapping my head around all this stuff.

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    1. In the Sept. 2009 article, Miller is stating the protocol was in place in 2008 (if not earlier). The article addresses the low amount of EPO tests in 2008 and Miller states the protocol as the explanation for the low number of 2008 tests.

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  8. Yes, there are financial issues, Swoon. Hope the extract below helps to develop this discussion- and apologies if it has been quoted here before. The site link is at the end. This info may date as far back as 2003, but it looks like not a lot has changed since:
    “ ... we contacted Dr. Don Catlin one of the preeminent drug testing researchers in the world ... Dr. Catlin heads the UCLA Olympic Analytical Laboratory, one of the top drug labs in the world, and he headed the drug testing lab at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. Although Dr. Catlin did not develop the urine test for EPO detection, his lab is one of 6 in the world, as of March 2003, accredited to perform the test. Currently his lab is doing work on improving the EPO test, by trying to increase the test’s retrospectivity (how far back in the past the test can detect EPO use). .......
    Far too many anti-drug crusaders (including ourselves) have never really truly understood how the process works.
    Question:
1) EPO is a naturally occurring substance in the body. Could an athlete who lives at altitude or has great genetics and thus might have more EPO in their body naturally than a normal person, test positive for EPO?
    A: No. Currently, to be convicted of an EPO offense athletes must test positive for EPO with the urine EPO test.

    Question:
2) I've heard a lot about using both a blood and urine test to detect EPO use. Doesn't an athlete have to test positive for EPO on both the blood and urine test to be considered a doper?
    A: No. Blood testing has received a lot of attention because it is a new concept in the drug testing world. There is a blood test for EPO use, but it is only an indirect test that can be used as a screening measure to save money by determining whether the urine EPO test needs to be conducted. All the blood test does is tell the testers that the athlete has an unusual blood profile that warrants further investigation. The abnormal profile could be caused by the use of EPO, some other blood boosting drug, or just be explained by the athlete being a genetic freak or living at altitude. The testers then perform the urine EPO test to determine whether artificial EPO is the cause of the abnormality.
    The blood test does not have to be done in order for the athlete to test positive for EPO.

    Question:
3) If the blood test doesn't have to be performed, then why does it exist? Not only do you say it is unnecessary, but it seems quite invasive and expensive to test athletes' blood when a simple urine test could be done.
    A: Believe it or not, the blood EPO test is much cheaper than the urine EPO test. The blood test costs somewhere in the ballpark of $60, whereas the urine test costs approximately $400 per test. The reason for this is that conducting the urine EPO test takes up a lot of the time of the technicians in the lab (sometimes up to two or three days) . Thus, the blood urine test can be used in situations to save money.
    If would be very expensive to conduct a urine EPO tests on all athletes at $400 a pop. Thus the blood EPO test can be used to determine which athletes are most likely to be on EPO, and then the urine EPO test can be administered on this smaller sub sample.

    Question:
4) Are you positively sure about the blood EPO test being unnecessary? Didn't Olga Yegerova get her positive EPO test in 2001 thrown out because a blood test wasn't done?
    A: Yes we're sure the blood test isn't necessary and yes she did get the test thrown out because a blood test wasn't done. But let us explain. When the EPO testing was done in Sydney the protocol was to do the blood testing to first screen the samples and then use the urine test to actually test for EPO. It took a while for the scientific community and the sports federations to finally agree that the urine test in itself was the only test necessary for a positive EPO test. .... (continued ...)

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    1. Thanks. I've added a link in the Recommended Reading.

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    2. Thanks for that. Dr. Catlin is the same one featured in the link about PEDs in MMA that I posted recently, and which SNR also put on the recommended reading page. This is the link http://www.mmafighting.com/2012/2/17/2804766/in-mmas-war-on-drugs-some-experts-say-were-not-fighting-the-right

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  9. I have a question. Is it possible for an athlete to have a normal blood test result but then test positive for EPO through the urine test?

    There is also something else that confuses me. The vast majority of players are listed as having blood and EPO tests on the same day, but NO URINE TEST. Example: Federer and Roddick were both tested for blood and EPO the day of the 2009 Wimbledon final. But they did not have a urine test.

    So what does this mean? Does this mean that Federer and Roddick did not give a urine sample after their match? Or was their urine tested only for EPO and not other drugs?

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    1. Given that the EPO test is a urine test, it must be that a urine sample was collected exclusively for the purposes of an EPO test.

      The EPO urine test is very specific and involved, which is why I assume a separate sample is required: http://www.antidopingresearch.org/EPOtestJuly08.pdf

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  10. (continued from above)
    “Question:
5) What about an athlete testing falsely positive? Isn't that a possibility?
    A: It's highly, highly unlikely if proper procedures are carried out. As Dr. Catlin said the urine test is "a very solid test." Only 6 labs in the world as of this past March carried out the EPO test. Dr. Catlin said, "I don't know how other labs do it ..., but we don't call a test positive unless we're absolutely sure". In addition, the March 2003 WADA report evaluating the urine EPO test stated "in its normal use, this test, apparently, has never been found to give false positive results".

    6) How effective is the urine EPO test? Won't the drug cheats always be figuring out ways to beat the test?
    A: The bad news is that the urine EPO test currently doesn't detect EPO usage very far back in time. Dr. Catlin noted that how effective the test is in detecting past EPO use is highly variable and depends on the dose of EPO the person is taking, their metabolism and other factors. It is common for the urine test to only detect EPO use in the last 48 hours but for some individuals the test can detect EPO use up to 6 or 7 days in the past. Around 100 athletes at the Salt Lake Olympics who had abnormal values from the blood EPO test (indicating that they were possibly doping), passed the urine EPO test. Presumably some or many of these 100 athletes were dopers, but passed the urine EPO test only because currently the urine EPO test can only detect very recent EPO use. As Dr. Catlin said in the March 20, 2002, Washington Post about these 100 suspicious people, "My guess is that we were looking at people who had used, but their urine [sample] turned up negative because EPO goes away very fast."
    The good news is researchers are slowly making the urine EPO test more effective (so it will go back farther in time looking for EPO usage) and less expensive. ....”

    The above is from here: http://www.steroidonlineshop.com/EPO-Drug-Testing-Q-and-A.html - plenty more information on that site, which seems to sell drugs to bodybuilders but to be against doping in sport (anyone have more info - THASP?)
    To me it says 2 main things: (1) Blood testing is not necessary for a positive EPO finding, but the urine test is. (2) In the knock-out sport of tennis you can therefore dispense with the blood test altogether for in-competition EPO tests: the smaller sub-sample (sometimes obtained through blood screening in athletics) is simply those who reach a certain round, whether the final or the round of 16 or whatever, depending on the tournament. This would explain why the EPO in-competition test lists consist mainly of top players. I’m not saying this is the correct way to do things, but it does appear to be what happens. Why Dr Miller says otherwise I do not know.

    A question from me: what exactly were our chief suspects - those who have mysteriously disappeared from the game for a few months or more - found to be on? EPO or something else? Anyone know?

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    1. I think we should go back and compile a list of tennis players who have disappeared mysteriously and then compare it to the testing data. It's a real shame that the 2010 data was never released because we'll never know if any of Serena's testing info.

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  11. Filed under - Isn't this interesting...

    How is it that high school rules can be applied, yet the ITF cannot do its professional job?

    A disappointment here but as they say rules are rules -- Swim Team Loses Title.

    http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/highschool-prep-rally/maryland-swim-team-retroactively-loses-county-title-because-153508295.html

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  12. Seems like no matter what the ITF does, they can do no right. To me the bottom line is it is a level playing field. Many forget that sports is entertainment. It is like watching a TV show, movie or anything else on TV. You watch to be entertained. Much of what's on TV is not real so I'm not sure why people expect sports to be any different. Seems to me the fundamental basis for thinking sport should somehow be above it all, is where those that watch it go wrong. The expectations for entertainment are out of whack. Enjoy the show and just realize that what you are seeing is probably an illusion.

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    1. How is it a level playing field when non-marquee players (e.g., Kendrick, Mohazebnia, and Verfuerth) get suspended? It appears that some players will be thrown under the bus to maintain the illusion of enforcement. Further, some players live in countries with aggressive national anti-doping enforcement. Other do not. This is not a level playing field.

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  13. Soccer has a doping problem.

    http://thelongballtactic.wordpress.com/tag/epo/

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  14. *IF* every single EPO test is only requested after a blood test indicates a high level of red blood cells, then every single player who gets tested for EPO must be using it as far as I'm concerned.

    However with the way those tests are done, such as testing all last 8 of the Paris Masters seemingly each year (one of the most meaningless Masters of them all along with Shanghai), and a load of players at Roland Garros because of the thorough-testing French, makes me think the tests are more of a random nature, or, more probably, targeted at the top players in general.

    For instance, if Djokovic was using EPO all along, I'd love to get my hands on some of what he's using now!

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    1. Might be they're just saving up a year's worth of suspicions, and them doing them all at once. After all, there's inevitably a delay after a bloodscreening indicator anyway.

      The lab that created the current EPO test is near Paris btw, called Chatenay-Malabry. Pretty convenient for testing purposes at least.

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    2. @Arf: True. We have no idea how much time passes between a blood trigger and the EPO test. Could be months.

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  15. http://www.eurosport.fr/tennis/atp-tour/2012/nadal-aucun-n-est-dope_sto3171337/story.shtml


    Nadal: doping system "inhuman", no top player dopes because it's impossible.


    All said with a straight face, apparently.

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    1. Thanks, Arf. Here's the full Nadal story: http://www.rtve.es/deportes/20120227/rafa-nadal/501857.shtml

      It still hasn't been picked up by the English language press.

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    2. First English coverage emerges:

      Nadal on doping: "It's a global problem...There are always people who are going to cheat. I want a clean sport but I don't like the system, it's unfair."

      http://www.espn.co.uk/tennis/sport/story/138425.html

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  16. Well that's really bad news, because I was sure there is a lot of doping. Now it's clear there isn't. Time to close the blog? :)

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