The bitter taste of victory
More and more athletes are using stimulants to enhance their performance. This week 2012 Comrades winner Ludwick Mamabolo tested positive for the banned substance methylhexaneamine.
The long-distance runner faces a two-year ban and will be stripped of his title should he be found guilty by an independent tribunal.
Mamabolo, the first SA athlete to win the Comrades in seven years, was tested after he completed the marathon earlier this month.
Last week long jump star and Olympic hopeful Luvo Manyonga was banned for 18 months after testing positive for the drug methamphetamine, commonly known as tik.
With the ban, he will not be able to compete at all until September 2013, meaning he will miss the 2012 London Olympic Games.
And internationally, Lance Armstrong is facing more doping allegations just a few months after he thought he had finally put them to rest.
The US Anti-Doping Agency has filed new doping charges that could strip the seven-time Tour de France winner of his victories in cycling’s premier race.
Dr Shuaib Manjra, chairman of the SA Institute for Drug-Free Sport (Saids), said doping among the country’s athletes had steadily increased over the past two years.
This year alone, 50 out of 2 300 SA athletes tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs.
“We have about 50 positive tests, which is about 2 percent of all the tests we perform,” said Manjra.
Manjra said that there were various reasons for the increase.
“I think there is an increase in doping with newer substances. But our detection methods are also more sophisticated, which accounts for the higher number of positive tests in the recent past.”
He said that there were several drugs available on the market that were difficult to trace.
“The designer steroids uncovered in the Balco scandal (involving Major League basketball players) were undetectable. We have no idea how many more of such designer steroids are out there in the market.”
Still, the most popular performance-enhancing drug used by athletes was anabolic steroids, he said.
To date eight elite SA athletes have tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. They include:
l Gert Thys: long-distance runner
Thys was suspended for two years after testing positive for the prohibited substance norandrosterone. He was tested in South Korea at the Seoul International Marathon on March 12, 2006, which he won.
l Hezekiel Sepeng: middle-distance runner
Sepeng, an Olympic silver medallist, tested positive for the anabolic steroid nandrolone in 2005. He was found guilty of having committed a doping offence and was declared ineligible to participate in any competition for two years.
l Ofentse Mogawane: sprinter
In 2007 Mogawane was found guilty of methylprednisolone doping after testing positive for it in Algiers, Algeria. Publicly warned by the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF), he was not banned.
l Burger Lambrechts: shot putter
Lambrechts was suspended for two years after testing positive for the banned steroid stanozolol in 2001 at meetings in Port Elizabeth and Stellenbosch.
l Surita Febbraio: hurdler
Febbraio was found guilty of testosterone doping. The sample containing the banned substance was delivered on December 13, 2005, in an out-of-competition test in SA. She received an IAAF suspension from March 2006 to March 2008.
l Okkert Brits: pole vaulter
Brits tested positive for ephedrine following a local athletics meeting in Potchefstroom on January 31, 2003. He was immediately exonerated because under IAAF rules for ephedrine, athletes are warned for a first offence, but banned for a second offence.
l Elana Meyer: long-distance runner
The Olympic silver medallist was suspended from competition in 2003 after testing positive for an excessive amount of caffeine in her system. At the time caffeine was still on the prohibited drugs list. She was exonerated.
l Luvo Manyonga: long jumper
Manyonga received an 18-month ban last week after traces of crystal meth (tik) were found in his blood sample.
Manjra said that Saids was trying its utmost to reduce the trend.
Last year, the organisation launched an anti-doping campaign.
“We use a deterrence strategy that includes education and testing,” said Manjra.
“We have up-scaled our education and awareness campaign significantly to all sectors of the sporting community.”
He said they also used intelligence to target test athletes who were suspected of doping.
“We have been working with law enforcement agencies to target the manufacture and supply chain of drugs. Most importantly, we have run a campaign highlighting the ethical aspects of sport.”
Although the drugs taken by athletes can enhance their performance, there are consequences.
“The long-term effects of prolonged steroid use are well-documented in medical journals,” said Khalid Galant, CEO of Saids.
“These effects manifest themselves differently in men and women. Aside from the increase in muscle size it can have a commensurate increase in organ size, which is not always a beneficial effect.”