Thursday, February 23, 2012

EPO Testing Revisited: Wrap-Up (Part Four)

This will end our series on EPO testing for the time being. To begin, here is a list of the players who received more than one EPO test during the 2008-2009 timeframe:

Interesting results.

Second, there has been some doubt expressed in the comments of previous threads about whether EPO testing was, in fact, exclusively targeted (i.e., EPO tests were only triggered by a blood screening). I asked the ITF to confirm the statements regarding EPO testing contained in the September 9, 2009 New York Times article. Here is their response:

The ITF confirmed that the New York Times article about EPO testing protocol was correct.
I take the above as confirmation that all EPO tests for 2008 (here and here) and 2009 were triggered only if blood screening indicated a player may be using the drug. This means that all the EPO tests in 2008 (59 tests) and 2009 (21 tests) were targeted tests based on a player's blood screen indicator. Of course, none of those tests resulted in an anti-doping rule violation. And, for that matter, neither did any of the 114 EPO tests in 2006 or 97 tests in 2007.

Like most of the probing we have done regarding the ITF's anti-doping statistics, we are left with more questions than answers. For example, what specific finding in the blood screen triggers an EPO test? Further, if blood screening was the only trigger for an EPO test, why did the ITF reduce blood testing in both 2008 and 2009 compared to the levels of 2007 and 2006?

Also, how much time, on average, passed between getting a blood sample, running the screening test, and collecting a sample for the EPO test? Not that this information really matters, because depending on method of injection EPO clears after 24 to 72 hours. Any trace of the drug would be long gone by the time the EPO test was conducted, especially if the test used an in-competition sample (e.g., all the EPO tests in 2009).

What should be occurring? The emphasis for EPO detection should be through out-of-competition tests using a mixture of both targeted techniques (i.e., based on the assessment of factors, such as blood screen indicators and major performance improvements) and random selection (i.e., non-targeted). However, the ITF conducted zero out-of-competition EPO tests in both 2007 and 2009.

To conclude, as with many aspects of the ITF's testing protocols we have examined (e.g., here and here), it is hard to imagine a more poorly designed system. It is simply not going to catch players that are doping (except for the very stupid). Again, based on these findings I fail to understand how the ITF's testing protocols are in compliance with the WADA's International Standard for Testing.

In other news:

The ITF suspended wheelchair tennis player Kaitlyn Verfuerth for a prohibited stimulant.

David Savic has a hearing date of March 29, 2012 for appeal of his match-fixing ban. Here's some background on his ban.

76 comments:

  1. Federer, Djokovic and Nadal had 4,3 and 2 respectively and I had zero. Comeonnnn!

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    1. You weren't left out. Murray got one at the Paris Open in 2008.

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  2. Nice stuff.

    Like so much about this, it's a real shame we don't have 10 years of data. Could draw all sorts of statistical inferences, make much more solid conclusions.

    Even with even 3 years of missed-OOC data, we could see who was on 2, and consequent effects on performance (atm we can only see the result of Simon missing 2 in 2009, form promptly plummeted until the 18months was up). I have my suspicions that this is exactly what's happened to Verdasco and Querrey, among others.


    Now the ITF have gone into hedgehog mode wrt dopetesting data, we're going to get the absolute bare minimum info imaginable for the foreseeable future.

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    1. I can only agree. Also remarkable was how Ferrer absolutely plummeted after Roland-Garros 2009. He then had a resurgence which I date back to the AO 2011 and his SF. That makes more or less 18 months since RG 09.

      Regarding the wrap-up list : if I had to write a top-ten list of the must suspicious dopers in tennis, it would approximatively look like this one. This Miller quote, combined with this table, is the strongest hint we ever had regarding the prevalence of doping in the top echelons of the sport.

      The elephant in the room, however, is Federer. Based on this list, I can less and less believe that he, by some miracle, could be clean in such a sea of dopers. I've had a hard time dealing with this, being a Federer admirer, but right now I would say that, although Federer probably never went along with steroids and other muscle-building stuff, there is a strong chance he used, and still uses, endurance-building PEDs : EPO and blood transfusion. The mono episode is just one more clue for this. If I wanted to speculate further, I'd say it happened, of course, during 2003. If I wanted to speculate even more, I'd say the Hewitt DC match was a deciding event, quite analogous to Djokovic's defeat at the USO 2010. That's when Federer went on record to say he definitely wanted to improve his ability to last 5 sets.

      Conclusion : tennis is more broken than ever.

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    2. Vincent,

      I agree that Federer is becoming more and more suspicious as an EPO user. I was in the camp that believed he had decline significantly in recent years. But has he really? I think it's more that Nadal and Djokovic got that much better. But Federer, at age 30, is still dominating everyone else on tour, especially on the faster courts.

      There are now several reasons to suspect him:

      1. Having more EPO tests than any other player
      2. Mono
      3. Missed OOC test in 2009
      4. Beating Djokovic in the French Open last year and being very competitive with Nadal.
      5. Nearly beating DJokovic in the US Open

      Meanwhile, Safin, Hewitt and Roddick are either retired or non factors. Federer is also playing at a much higher level than Pete Sampras was at the equivalent age (Sampras was losing early rounds to no name players week after week).

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    3. Fed didn't have any time off for mono, he played through it and played well less than average. But it could be claimed (probably erroneously) that EPO causes mono-like symptoms. Do many cyclists get mono? If so, that would be more of a giveaway! Mono is pretty common with twenty-somethings especially those who travel the world and occasionally enjoy the 'benefits' of being a desired star. I still think Fed is definitely dropping off, ever since his mono really. He lost to Tsonga at Wimbledon he never would've done a few years ago and only really has a shot against the top 2 when he goes for his shots like there's no tomorrow (and Djokovic has a 5 day break with a walkover).

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    4. Yeah, craploads of cyclists have had mono in the EPO era. Millar, Rasmussen, Ullrich, for example.

      It's always the same, "a bout of mononucleosis ruined his season", everyone on the cycling forums thinks "EPO", then they're caught with ...... EPO.

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    5. But do they really have mono or is it an excuse to miss 6 months with a silent ban, or to reduce their level of cycling?

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    6. Good point - although cycling in the modern era does actually seem to want to bust the dopers at least, thus these guys are actually being caught.

      Another way of looking at it is that perhaps the entirety of cycling was using EPO, so it doesn't mean much :-)

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    7. I think that a lot of the mono cases are just coverups for missing time. Did those cyclists actually show signs of illness in public the way Federer did in Australia in 2008? He really did look as sick as a dog during that entire month (and he wound up missing only Dubai).

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  3. I don't much care for looking at individuals tbh, what little indicators there are are pretty flaky for everyone.

    But if the system is so broken players can dope at will with zero chance of being caught, the evidence of other sports is that everybody will be at it.

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  4. Oh, and speaking of Simon, he seems to have fallen off the form tree spectacularly in the last few months - he'd got back up to 11th in the world. Now he's losing to everyone in sight.

    Just now lost to Carlos Berlocq, 6-2 6-1.

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  5. Sorry, I don't get it, guys. Making some comments about Federer when he was tested 4 times. Who's next on the list? Djokovic! Before he was really doped. I like to make conclusions based on logic, but here I don't see much of it.

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  6. The "mono" problem in tennis is a one-off....first of all, mononucleosis is a VIRUS...it is caused by the activation of the Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV) which is said to be present in 90% of adults...almost everyone carries it but few ever show manifestation of symptoms...it's referred to as the "kissing disease" because, like a virus, it is contagious (kissing is one way)...unless the EPO contains the virus, or something that activates the virus, then EPO can't cause mono...the only link between EPO and mono was made by a guy named Sergio Cruz:

    http://ezinearticles.com/?Mononucleosis-and-EPO---Is-There-a-Connection?&id=1063041

    This, to my knowledge, has never been verified or followed-up in any way...I've seen no other articles claiming the link between the two (and, no, I'm not a doctor, not even close)...so I just don't think it's ever been even close to proven...

    What seems more likely to me is that over-use/mis-use may cause mono-like symptoms, which given the fact that 90% of people are already positive for the EBV, makes it easy to misdiagnose such symptoms as the result of mono....OR after Federer claimed to have it '08 other players took note and use it as a convenient excuse to explain "periods of absence" or "drops in energy levels" without ever really having to prove they had mono...

    ...by the way it's similar to Venus Williams' "Sjogren's Syndrome"....almost anyone can claim to have "Sjogren's" because there is not specific test that proves it, only symptoms that can also be consistent with other diseases as well...a convenient excuse

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    1. Do players have to prove that they're ill? Do they have to produce a sickness certificate? Does the ITF have it's own doctors to verify claimed illnesses?

      I doubt it.

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    2. I don't know anyone who has had mono. I suspect it comes from playing too much tennis.

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    3. It could be the case that it simply hasn't been diagnosed in people you know. From http://ehealthforum.com/health/mono_symptoms-e366.html: 'Not everyone infected with the virus that causes mono (Epstein-Barr virus, or EBV) manifests symptoms. This is especially true in young children, who may have a fever but no other symptoms.'

      I suppose professional athletes are likely to be subject to far more stringent medical investigation than the layperson, even for mild symptoms.

      I would need to look into the virus more to state this as anything more than some speculative input, such as how distinguishable it is from fevers, bad colds, throat infections etc. It wouldn't surprise me if it is rather under-diagnosed given many of its mild flu-like symptoms.

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  7. JMF,

    I'd tend to agree with you more if not for Stuart Miller's claim and subsequent verification by the ITF....we are only left with the fact that Federer's two '08 out-of-competition tests were ONLY due to indicators in his blood screens....I don't like it either but it is what it is...

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    1. What I don't get is why tennis is so willing to cover up positive doping tests, yet they have just told the public that Federer, Djokovic, and Nadal were suspected of possible EPO used on 2-4 occasions.

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  8. I'd like to know what these blood screening indicators are. I'm sure I wouldn't understand the technical mumbo-jumbo but if it were put in plain English I'd like to hear how a blood test, without testing EPO, should somehow suggest that an EPO test should be undertaken.

    I am not really reading TOO much into these EPO test numbers. As JMF said, Federer was tested 4 times and Djokovic was tested 3 times (maybe he just had one less random blood test than Federer thus instigating one less EPO test). We can be pretty darn sure Djokovic was pretty clean back in 08/09. In fact his 09 was pretty lacklustre from memory. Because we now know what a doped Djokovic (Jan 2011 till present) looks like, I can 'assume' (naively perhaps) that he was pretty clean, if not totally clean, in 08 and 09.

    So, if even in 08/9 Djokovic is getting 3 EPO tests, then as I said above, I'd like to know HOW they decide an EPO test is required, because I don't think there would've been anything in Novak's blood back in 08 that would've indicated it.

    Even Nadal only had two tests, you only have to watch him play a few matches to want to test him more often, let alone test his blood first and look for an EPO indicator without actually testing for EPO. Roddick? I've never suspected him, but he had two, too. I agree Miller's comments are very interesting, but I can't quite get my head around all this just yet.

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    1. I always wondered if Djoko missed 2 tests in 08/09, and had to go clean for 18 months. Look at the record:

      2007: wins Miami, French sf, Wimbledon semi, wins Canada, US Open final
      2008: wins Australian Open, wins Indian Wells, wins Rome, French sf, Wimbledon R2, US Open semis, wins year end champs
      2009: loses in Aus qfs (retires, bizarre physical problems), loses French R3 to Kohlschreiber, loses Wimbledon qfs to an ancient Tommy Haas, US Open semis, wins Paris masters.
      2010: loses in Aus qfs (again, bizarre physical problems), loses his first match at Miami to Oli Rochus, loses French qfs to Melzer from two sets up (total physical collapse), Wimbledon sf loss to Berdych (sf sounds good, was a comically easy draw, had Yen-Hsun Lu in qfs), US Open final.


      Basically he was "away" from his best level from start of 09 to US Open 2010 ........which is a touch over 18 months. Then of course, 2011 he wins absolutely everything in sight.

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    2. Yes good points. He did mess with his racquett and service action during 09 and 10 which were both big mistakes. Then again, these could just be excuses put forward. Still, even in late 07/early 08, at his (pre-2011) peak, he still looked like the "same player" as he did in 09 and 10 - he just wasn't quite hitting the mark in 09 and 10. In 11 he was a different player altogether. And not just a more mature version of the 08 Novak.

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    3. True true.

      Another point I didn't consider: Madrid 09, the 4 hour match with Nadal. That was 2011 Dopovic.

      Two weeks later he has one of his worst results ever, losing to Kohlschreiber in Roland Garros R3, then a horror loss to Haas in Wimbledon.

      Add 18 months to that Madrid match ? Takes us bang on to Australian Open 2011.


      Just speculating. There do seem to be quite a few guys with these 18 months cycles - Simon as above after 2 missed tests was useless for 18 months.

      Then I note Querrey seems suddenly back to his best today, after horrendous result for almost exactly 18 months. Los Angeles 1/aug/2010 he beats Murray in the final, a year later he's playing in challengers. What's August + 18 months? Oh, that would be exactly now.

      The other one, Verdasco? Final Monte Carlo 2010, wins Barcelona, semis Rome, quarters US Open in Sep 2010. Then, horrendous 2011. What's September plus 18 months? That would be next month.......

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    4. Let's keep an eye on Verdasco then. How he has never matched the form of that Aus Open Nadal semi a few years ago I will never know. A hefty chunk of prize money, fame, points, and within grasp of a Grand Slam final - you'd think he'd get a real taste for it, wouldn't you? But no, he goes back into his shell and never plays the same again...

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  9. http://espn.go.com/mlb/story/_/id/7608360/ryan-braun-wins-appeal-50-game-suspension

    "Braun didn't argue evidence of tampering, didn't argue anything about science being wrong but argued protocol had not been followed. A second source confirmed to ESPN investigative reporter Mark Fainaru-Wada that Braun did not dispute the science but rather questioned chain of custody/collection procedure.

    According to one of the sources, the collector, after getting Braun's sample, was supposed to take the sample to FedEx/Kinkos for shipping but thought it was closed because it was late on a Saturday. As has occurred in some other instances, the collector took the sample home and kept it refrigerated. Policy states that the sample is supposed to get to FedEx as soon as possible.

    Braun's initial T/E ratio was more than 20:1. And sources previously confirmed synthetic testosterone in his system. Source says MLB is livid and is considering options and other comment."

    He was so guilty he didn't even have the ability to claim and "scientific voodoo"....he could only claim that the sample wasn't sent immediately to the lab, which would have nothing at all to do with whether synthetic testosterone was present....MLB has really dealt with problem, haven't they?

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  10. Random thought on Federer. Doesn't he live at high altitude, hence his red blood cell count would naturally be higher than normal? Perhaps this could have caused a red flag during the blood testing?

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    1. I thought he lived in Monaco. Even if he lived on top of that hill in the background (tecnhically in France I think), it's still pretty close to sea level.

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    2. He lives in Switzerland and Dubai but obviously spends about 9 months of the year traveling the world so I don't think that would be a factor.

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  11. Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't there some warped logic here? EPO tests, we are told, are triggered only if blood screening indicates a player may be using the drug. However, EPO clears the system in 24 to 72 hours and, if tests are conducted only after blood screening results are obtained, would be long gone before any test took place. If that is so, then what is the point of the testing??

    In fact the real EPO test is a urine test (see http://www.steroidonlineshop.com/EPO-Drug-Testing-Q-and-A.html). Urine samples are, as we know, taken directly after matches, and those are presumably the samples that would then be tested for EPO if blood screening indicated that was necessary. So the EPO - if present - would NOT have cleared the system, unless I've misunderstood.

    If we assume that the 4 EPO tests on Federer in 2008-9 by some miracle took place before any EPO would have cleared his system and were thus valid and worth the trouble and expense, they were presumably negative, otherwise - again according to the above logic - he would mysteriously have disappeared from the scene, or at least from the top, for 18 months. Did that happen?

    Could the real reason Federer was tested more than others on that list in 2008-9 be the fact that he was World No 1 for most of that time? If, as we are told, the ITF wants to avoid catching out any big names, doesn't it know it's pretty safe testing Fed and can therefore flaunt that test statistic to pretend it's serious? The fact that Nadal was EPO tested only twice in that time is to me far more suspicious than the Federer testing (except, of course, that Nadal was very probably on a silent ban for much of 2009, making testing redundant anyway).

    As for mono, are or were any of the 8 or so friends I can name right now who have had the disease athletes? Are/were any of them on EPO? Do I need to tell you the answer? Mono is a disease prevalent amongst young, otherwise healthy people who are not necessarily tennis players.

    Conclusion: no, this statistic does not imply Federer is doping. The whole of his career, fast and economical playing style, statements, behaviour and attitude all speak volumes against that too.

    http://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=sv&u=http://www.svd.se/sportspel/nyheter/federer-kraver-tuffare-tag-mot-dopning_3687813.svd&ei=Z9CvTIGqIMP7lwfpz9XmDw&sa=X&oi=translate&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CBUQ7gEwAA&prev=/search%3Fq%3Dhttp://www.svd.se/sportspel/nyheter/artikel_3687813.svd%26hl%3Den%26biw%3D1280%26bih%3D587

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    1. The EPO test picks up EPO in the last 1-3 days. So if a player was urine tested after a match, they would've had to have used EPO in the last 24 hours (or, if for some reason using it in the 'slow' way, 72 hours). But, the BENEFITS of EPO last for weeks if not months. So no, no testing during a tournament would, unless a player is really stupid, pick up a positive EPO test.

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  12. I meant to add that the link in my last post is to the report, still on the Net, about Federer calling on the ITF in 2009 to keep doping samples for eight years instead of the usual three months (a Google translate product, unfortunately, but the gist is there). Why would he want his samples to be kept for future improved dope testing if he were doping? Can anyone explain that?

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  13. @amaranth,

    Yes, you are correct that the EPO test is a urine test. However, you need to take a look at the ITF anti-doping stats. There are separate columns for Urine and EPO. At the Paris Open in 2008, Federer was only given an EPO test. No blood test. Therefore, the blood screening prompting the EPO test must have occurred sometime in the past.

    Also, if you look at his 2 out-of-competition tests in 2008, the columns marked are Urine and EPO. Again, no blood. The EPO urine test is clearly a specific test that needs to be conducted separate from the normal urine test, requiring its own separate sample.

    The data are what they are.

    You asked the question: "what is the point of the testing?" As we've seen time and time again, it seems poorly designed if the goal is to catch people.

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    1. Looking over the statistics, it looks like every top player was tested for EPO at the 2008 Paris Open and it had nothing to do with previous test results. Looks like they chose a tournament where players were very unlikely to be blood doping and were trying to pad their EPO test numbers for the year.

      Also, if 100% of EPO tests were performed due to suspicious blood tests, there are a few things that don't make sense:

      1. If blood samples were suspicious, why weren't ALL EPO tests performed together with these blood tests? If a player's blood indicates he has EPO in his system, you test for EPO right away, not months later.

      2. Why would the ITF post data that implicates its most popular players are doping? They removed the missed OOC test data only hours after releasing it. And they wouldn't even release testing per tournament data for 2010. So why would data that suposedely implicates Federer, Djokovic, Nadal, Roddick, Del Potro, etc remain on their website for all to see?

      3. For players who received both EPO and blood tests in the same event, did any mysteriously disappear for weeks/months afterward?

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    2. Hi Jenny,

      Why would the ITF waste money on EPO tests to juke their year-end numbers in 2008? They didn't do it in 2009 when they only did 21 EPO tests.

      1. You're assuming they're trying their best to catch cheaters. As we've noted many times, it would be difficult to design a weaker system than the ITF's regime. They're under pressure by the WADA to do EPO testing, so they're doing the bare minimum.

      2. Until the 2009 interview with Miller, no one would have known the EPO protocol. The testing would have looked random and the statistics look like tennis was testing for EPO. And, it looks like few, if anyone, looked at the stats prior to the New York Times and Bill Gifford articles (or this website). Removing the existing detailed documents would have been a pretty bad PR move, coming on the heels of 2 articles questioning the doping regime. I'm pretty sure that Miller wishes he had second chance with that New York Times interview.

      3. Interesting question.

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    3. I think #3 is worth researching. I checked one lesser known player (Maximo Gonzalez) and he did not miss any time after having EPO and blood tests after the 2008 US Open.

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  14. Here are the dates of Federer's 2008-2009 EPO tests and the blood tests that preceded them:

    January 25, 2008: blood
    June 8, 2008, blood
    July 6, 2008, blood
    July 28, 2008: EPO (22 days after previous blood test)
    September 8, 2008: blood
    October 12, 2008: EPO (one month after previous blood test)
    October 31, 2008: EPO (two weeks after previous EPO test)
    February 2, 2009: blood
    June 7, 2009: blood
    July 5, 2009: blood and EPO

    Only one time was he tested for EPO and blood in the same event (Wimbledon 2009). However, here's something interesting: every single male finalist in singles and doubles (Federer, Roddick, Nestor, Zimonjic, and the Bryan Brothers) was tested for both EPO and blood at that tournament.

    If all 6 mens singles and doubles finalists had suspicious blood results at 2009 Wimbledon, why was this just swept under the rug? That should be breaking headline news.

    Could it be that Stuart Miller made that claim to excuse the ITF from having to perform more EPO tests? That makes more sense than than the ITF purposely indicating their star players of blood doping and EPO use.

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    1. And if EPO is tested through urine, then why are they testing blood to determine possible EPO use? They should be doing dozens of EPO urine tests without a preceding blood test!

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    2. Going back to Miller's statement: EPO tests are triggered by blood screens. Therefore, the EPO tests at Wimbledon 2009 would be based on a previous blood screen indicator (i.e., pre-Wimbledon) and do not reveal any information about the Wimbledon 2009 blood tests.

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    3. I thought Miller was referring only to cases where blood and EPO were tested at the same tournament. Wouldn't that make sense? If a player's blood sample was suspicious, it would then be tested for EPO.

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    4. All Miller says is that a blood sample indicator triggers an EPO test (he's silent on the timing of the subsequent EPO test(s)). And, as the data show, EPO tests have been conducted independently from any blood test.

      As for things making sense, remember that this is the ITF anti-doping program we're talking about.

      Delete
  15. http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/nfl-shutdown-corner/photos-laron-landry-big-incredible-hulk-big-225404479.html

    the NFL...setting the standard for drug-free professional sports

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  16. These are very interesting results. If Roger has indeed been doping then he's extremely audacious given he keeps rolling on at roughly the same level without inexplicable drops in his level, which 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 4 screenings turn up suspicious then they should be targeting you through the scope of a sniper rifle.

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  17. 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. Indeed.

      Could it be something related to Paris being the last gathering of the top40(ish) in the season? After that is only WTF, but then you just get 8 guys (+2 subs, who may be #9 and #10, but often aren't).

      Is the EPO lab actually in Paris?

      Could it be related to the French tennis fed having a bit of an independent streak when it comes to dopetesting?

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  18. If they really wanted to catch players using EPO why wouldn't they take a urine sample at the same time as the blood sample but only test the urine for EPO if the blood screening sent up a warning flag? That seems only logical; you don't wait two weeks till the drug may be out of the player's system. It's pretty obvious now that they're really not interested in catching anyone. But putting out these results now makes all those players suspicious because they have said the EPO tests were usually done when blood screening indicated possible EPO use. I think they need to clarify this if they don't want these players now shrouded in suspicion. I am shocked to see Federer at the top of the list and now I want to know why his blood screening sent up a red flag.

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    1. Indeed, regardless of the procedural measures required, urine is urine, and so surely the urine sample from the time of the blood screening could be used later for EPO testing in the case of any suspicious qualities. Good point.

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  19. Hi Sen, reply function not working for some reason, hence another comment.

    Interesting info from Jenny that EPO tests in 2008-9 were NOT necessarily done as a result of blood screening. Jenny's observation that "every single male finalist in singles and doubles (Federer, Roddick, Nestor, Zimonjic, and the Bryan Brothers) was tested for both EPO and blood at that tournament" (Wimby 2009) is very telling. Why were they tested? Because, by some absurd coincidence, blood screening suggested all six of them were on EPO, or simply because they were the finalists? I think the simple answer is the more likely.

    As for Federer, the fact that he was EPO tested 4 times in 2008-9 suggests to me that he is CLEAN, not doping. As others have pointed out, a suspect blood test is far from the only reason for an EPO test. Clearly Fed's tests were negative, otherwise he would have gone the way of Nadal in 2009 and Serena, Venus and several others more recently. (In Rafa's case for one, the testers were apparently NOT so inept or corrupt that they deliberately used/took samples that couldn't be positive.) And as samples are in fact kept for 3 months, an interval of 22 days (or whatever) between blood and urine testing is irrelevant - the original post-match urine sample can easily be (re)tested and probably is, if the testers have any sense at all. New samples can also be taken and tested.

    It strikes me that Federer's call to the ITF in 2009 to keep all samples for 8 years rather than a mere 3 months was probably made as a result of those EPO tests. He was in effect saying "I know my samples are clean, and I want that to be known, so I want you to test them again in the future with the most advanced techniques available". Has any other player echoed that request? It would be interesting to find out.

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    1. I hope you're right about Federer. It would seem by his comments that he's clean however, if the urine samples were taken two weeks after the fact that might also explain why they were clear of EPO. The problem is that we have no way of knowing when the samples were taken.

      But I am leaning more towards believing Federer is clean based on his comments as well as his playing record (he's never missed a big chunk of the season suspiciously) and based on his relative decline in performance since 2008. he really does seem to be slowing down a bit due to age. That doesn't mean he can't still win tournaments and play some great matches but he hasn't won a GS since the AO10 and for a guy who used to win 2-3 slams a year, that says something I think. He's no longer in his prime, plain and simple. But I think if the stars align he can still win more GS's.

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  20. On testing for EPO, the direct test is urine and indirect is the blood screen:

    "Both direct tests (indicating the presence of exogeneous Epo isoforms) and indirect tests (indicating hematological changes induced by exogenous Epo administration) can be used for Epo detection."

    "Indirect methods for detecting rhEpo abuse are based on the analysis of a number of standard hematological parameters (e.g., hemoglobin (Hb), hematocrit, soluble transferrin receptors, serum Epo concentration, percentage reticulocytes, reticulocyte hematocrit, and hemoglobin content
    (CHr), percentage hypochromic red cells)..."

    http://med.kuleuven.be/lbt/publications/revepo.pdf

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  21. The 2008 Paris testing was not random. The following players were tested:

    1. All 16 singles players who made the round of 16.
    2. All 4 doubles semifinalists
    3. Two doubles quarterfinalists
    4. One singles and one doubles player who lost early (Monaco, Nestor)

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    1. Given the ITF stated that EPO tests are triggered by blood screening, it is, by definition, not random.

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    2. I think the intended point was that it was likely not as a result of their defined methods, given the extreme correlation with the success of the players tested at the tournament in question.

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    3. Yes, random was a poor word choice. It looks like the ITF tested the players based on their success in that tournament and not on previous drug test results.

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  22. Then why did Dr. Miller say players were only tested if blood screening indicated they may be using the drug?

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    1. It may hinge on the word "only". That may not be strictly correct - testing may not be exclusively if blood screening indicates use of the drug; alternatively, Dr Miller may not have used the word "only" in his comments - he may have meant testing is inclusive of an indicative screening result. It is "only" a word but crucial in its meaning. Can we be sure the quote from the article - that he supposedly confirmed - is 100% accurate?

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    2. Dr. Miller, and the ITF, do not strike me as being very logical and thought-out when dealing with doping matters. Based on Jenny's data, it looks more like Paris 2008 was a one-off. Why, we don't know. Perhaps the ITF anti-doping guys were getting a bit too bored. Whatever, it's clear Paris 2008 was not random, or else we would see many more occurrences of such massive testing.

      I also like amaranth's and Lopi's point of view. The latest piece of evidence goes to Federer's disadvantage, but he has also a lot of things going for him, like the fact he is the only tennis pro I can remember having called for having samples stored for eight years. That's how Lance Armstrong got busted, even if it was not retained officially as evidence. So, if Federer was doped, he knew while saying this that there was a definite chance he could be caught this way.

      The only thing we can definitely be sure of is that, of all the top players, Federer is the one who needs doping the least.

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    3. It looks like none of Federer's tests were a result of a suspicious blood test.

      1. Wimbledon 2009: All male finalists (singles and doubles) were tested.
      2. Paris 2008: all round of 16 participants were tested.
      3. two OOC tests. N

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    4. @Jenny,
      I like that you're asking serious questions about the data, but I don't understand how you can make a statement like that. We don't have access to the blood screen results for any players.

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    5. That is true, and obviously the ITF will never release that data. However, it seems hard to believe that 100% of the Paris round of 16 participants and Wimbledon finalists all had suspicious blood screenings leading up to those tournaments. Maybe Federer's OOC EPO tests were triggered by previous blood screenings results, but we'll likely never know. Would the ITF really go out of their way to catch Roger Federer? I highly doubt it.

      Also, the findings on Elena Vesnina have me seriously doubting Stuart Miller's honesty. Vesnina was tested for EPO in 2009, but had ZERO blood tests for a full THREE YEARS leading up to that EPO test. How could their EPO tests have been the result of previous blood screen if she hadn't been blood tested for three years?

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    6. I'll have to check to the data on Vesnina. But remember that the ITF isn't the only body doing testing. It could be that a non-ITF blood screening triggered an EPO test. For example, national bodies do carry out their own out-of-competition testing and so does WADA. Those tests would not get picked up in the ITF stats for 2008 and 2009 (although in 2006 and 2007, the ITF data did list WADA led OOC tests). As bodies are obligated to share their findings, that could have been the trigger.

      It all goes to show how a lack of transparency damages credibility.

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  23. I think people are getting overly focussed (and defensive) about Federer's name being at the top of a list based on only 2 years of testing data. If some other names were at the top, I'm sure the type of discussion here would be much different. It's too easy to get distracted by these "is he, or isn't he" debates. Those kinds of discussions are rarely productive, as they usually ignore the facts.

    Facts here are: (1) The ITF said only blood screens triggered EPO tests; (2) We know the players that received EPO tests; (3) Blood testing decreased in 2008 and 2009; and (4) In 2009, the ITF only conducted in-competition EPO tests.

    The questions to ask/debate are: What kind of anti-doping program is the ITF running? And why do so many pretend that the ITF's regime is stringent?

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    1. While I definitely see (and feel) a knee jerk reaction to these results, I do feel that the fact that people have found Federer's name being at the top of this list (under the proposed conditions for EPO testing) a bit of a shock is somewhat useful for stirring interest in looking into the testing in the way Jenny has, for example. As such, it calls these proposed conditions into question (and with it, even more of the ITFs remaining picoscopic levels of credibility), since it looks like finalists were tested across the board, which would have to be a big coincidence to echo suspicious blood screenings.

      Although it may be somewhat defensive, this kind of speculation/judgement can lead to interesting finds. If something shocking comes up, it is worth investigating.

      I agree that the main questions should ultimately be set to the theme of the anti doping program as a whole; I just think this trespasses into that area overtly.

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    2. Thank you for trying to maintain some objectivity here. I can't help but read through this and think that little to no such effort would be being made to question this data if it were Djokovic or Nadal at the top of the list.

      In fact, as I've said many times I think EPO is the biggest issue on tour, and it is the PED that best lines up with Federer's history (lean build, never gets tired, never gets injured, seems to be defying age a la Agassi, had mono). I think Nadal is actually an aberration when it comes to PEDs whereas it seems obvious that at least at one time he used something with distinctly anabolic effects, which I doubt Federer ever bothered much with.

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    3. Fair points.

      I can understand the reaction with Federer being at the top, because this is likely by far and away the most drastic piece of data regarding the possibility of his PED use (EPO in particular as you say), at least in the eyes of most. As such, for many, it may come as a dealbreaker, as it currently holds a large share in the evidence against him. It seems reasonable that some would wish to poke it with a legitimacy stick rather profusely. Do you think that if this data was found to be a red herring that pretty much anyone would change their tune regarding Nadal/Djokovic if they were at the top of the list? I don't think so, and I guess therefore people likely wouldn't bother so much, but who knows.

      I agree that EPO fits Federer the best as a PED of choice, mainly due to, as you suggested, his ability to look as if he isn't even really trying out there, in some testing conditions, often seeming just below the likes of Nadjoker. It may well be the case that to compete anywhere near the top of the men's game that sort of boost is simply necessary, and Fed would be no exception. I think the reference to a 'lean build' is scraping the barrel a little considering he's a professional tennis player, and his lack of injury is a myth, likely perpetuated by the fact that he is an idiot that plays through it most of the time (I understand nothing career threatening has cropped up yet). Regarding the Agassi analogy, it will be interesting to see how his lack of apparent tiredness transfers into his mid 30s if he should play that long, for sure.

      Anyway, enough about Old Codger Federer; I commend the pursuit of objectivity, and either way the anti doping program looks to lose more credibility in either inadvertently incriminating its own players or explicitly trying to excuse their lax testing protocols.

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    4. Totally agree, SNR. I believe that there is a steroids problem in tennis regardless of whom is the accused. I understand that Federer does not exhibit the typical signs of a doper but the statistics and the accompanying statement leaves enough room for suspicion.

      I hope we don't trivialize a serious issue by turning it into Federer vs. Nadal, the doping edition.

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    5. Exactly; it is because Federer does not exhibit the typical signs of a doper that people are examining the data thoroughly to make sure it seems legitimate, as it is surprising.

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    6. I think there's more going on than that in some cases. There have been some attempts to argue that Federer could not have had a blood screening that triggered an EPO test (i.e, that Federer is essentially beyond suspicion). I'd like to prevent the debate from going down rabbit holes like that. So, a couple of points on this (1) a blood screen trigger is not a positive test or hard evidence of EPO use, it's just a tool; and (2) given the ITF's testing regime, no one is above suspicion.

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    7. I guess that is a fine line.

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  24. A couple of more facts: (5) The ITF refused to say how many EPO tests it conducted in 2010 and 2011; and (6) The ITF won't disclose its current protocol for EPO testing, or its protocols for general testing at Grand Slam events.

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  25. For those of you who have played Call of Duty or the like. The ITF/ATP/WTA = You going into cover when you're up against heavy fire, except you are the ITF et al and the heavy fire is the constant smoking gun of drugs use.

    Thus, a pro needs to come up to the ITF and slap an EPO fish across their faces to actually get himself caught, though not before they take cover behind the desks and get over their bouts of perpetual amnesia.

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  26. I found some very mysterious testing data regarding Elena Vesnina. Here is her testing history dating all the way back to 2006:

    1. Had no blood tests at the 2006 Australian Open, French Open or Wimbledon.
    2. Received blood and EPO tests out of competition on July 14, 2006.
    3. Was not tested for blood at all in 2007-2009.
    4. Was tested for EPO at the 2009 French Open.

    Now isn't this odd? Vesnina is not tested for blood AT ALL, and then is tested for both blood and EPO in July 2006? Then, three years pass before her next EPO test, with ZERO blood tests held during that entire period.

    And then there's Victoria Azarenka. She too was tested for EPO at the 2009 French Open. Her previous blood test was a full year earlier at the 2008 French Open. She was urine tested, but not blood tested in that period.

    So does this prove that the ITF is not being honest here? Could their "we only test when a blood screen is suspicious" just be an excuse for them to not test for EPO?

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  27. The more we learn the less we know....another thing that bugs me is that they claim to store samples for 4 months so you'd think that if a blood screen is suspicious you'd think that would be a trigger to test stored urine samples as well...I can sort of see why they don't test every urine sample for EPO, but if in the period urine samples are stored a blood test reveals suspicious numbers wouldn't it make more sense to test the stored samples instead of getting a new sample?...why store the samples at all if they aren't used in that manner?...I'm sure it'd be impossible to find out but I'd be willing to bet that they have NEVER tested a stored sample for EPO

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  28. Maybe some of the discussion here is less a defence of any individual than an attack on the logic of assuming (as several readers immediately did) that the fact of being EPO tested always means an athlete has had a suspect blood screening - and therefore must be a doper. Clearly not at all the case, whatever Dr Miller is quoted as saying, and there is much evidence on the Net to refute it. Pursuing that line is a waste of time and distracts from the real issue, which (as Sen says) is to throw light on the ITF's anti-doping program and its defects. To my mind the list serves to illustrate how rarely top players were EPO tested in 2008-9, and not much more.

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  29. There's been some really excellent discussion on this particular update and it's certainly been a pleasure to read it all. I think all the main points have been covered so I look forward to seeing you folks in the newest update with some new lines of discussion that comes without the reiterations.

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