Anti-doping fight: “When we see exceptional performances, we place the athletes on our radars”



The cross :How is your action reflected since the start of the Tokyo Games?

Benjamin Cohen: It is historic that an agency independent of the organizer (the IOC, Editor’s note) manages the anti-doping program at the Games. This helps to get out of possible conflicts of interest. We define the control plans, we manage the authorizations of use for therapeutic purposes (for athletes who need to take drugs containing a prohibited substance, Editor’s note) and we take care of the disciplinary part, proposing sanctions for the athletes tested positive.

Two controls came back positive for samples collected in Tokyo: from a Kenyan sprinter and a Georgian shot putter. They were suspended for the duration of the Games, as were a Nigerian sprinter and a Ukrainian triathlete, for samples collected just before the Games.

We are 24 ITA officials on site for coordination. There are 250 controllers and 700 chaperones – responsible for notifying and accompanying the checked athletes. We are based in the Olympic Village and carry out 5,000 tests during the Games, in and out of competition.

Several performances surprised during these Games. Unexpected athletes have emerged, such as the Italian Lamont Marcell Jacobs in the 100 meters. Does this kind of exploit attract your attention?

BC: When we see exceptional performances or athletes coming out of nowhere, we necessarily put them on our radars. The easy word is to say “They are doped”. But they are very popular athletes, already at home by their national agency. If the control is negative, we have reached the limits in the scientific field. But if there are real suspicions, we must follow these athletes with our investigative departments.

→ THE FACTS. Doping, France affected in turn

At the Games, we have a clear principle: all national, Olympic and world records give rise to doping control. All the medalists are also checked.

Doping controls have halved around the world in 2020, due to the pandemic. Do you think that this could have had an impact on the cleanliness of these Games?

BC: There have been a lot of cancellations of competitions, therefore a drop in the tests carried out in competition. But the machine started up again in April 2020. It is true that the period of one year before the competition is at risk. The ITA was able to issue 25,000 testing recommendations to national agencies in all countries six months before the Games to test all eligible athletes. 80% of the recommendations issued were respected. Most athletes from countries considered at risk have been tested. And if we see any holes in the system, we test them here in Tokyo.

→ READ. Cycling and doping, the return of suspicion

Our arsenal has evolved, the program is much more holistic. It’s not just control: geolocation of athletes, information on their entourage, centralization of biological data in a passport, performance monitoring and long-term storage of samples… We will continue to refine our resources. But we must remain humble: we know that cheaters also refine theirs.

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