IN THE NEWS #446 - Olympics/Drug Use

By Nancy Steinbach

This is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program IN THE NEWS.

Over the next two weeks, ten-thousand athletes from two-hundred countries will compete in the Summer Games in Sydney, Australia. They will try to live by the Olympic saying, "Faster, higher, stronger." But in the world of sports, experts say too many athletes use performance-improving drugs to reach these goals.

The International Olympic Committee says drug use risks the health of athletes and violates the rules of sport. If an athlete fails a drug test before an event, he or she is banned from the competition. Athletes who fail a test after winning an event lose their medals.

This year, the I-O-C says it is testing more Olympic athletes more often than ever. Some experts say this is still not enough. They say it is still too easy for athletes to use drugs and pass the tests.

The International Olympic Committee bans six kinds of substances and three methods of increasing performance. One group of banned drugs is anabolic steroids. These substances increase muscle strength. Experts say that some fast-acting steroids now leave the body in just a few hours. That makes them extremely difficult to find.

Another banned drug is known as EPO [E-po]. Erythropoietin [e-RITH-ro-POY-a-tin] increases the production of red blood cells. The resulting increase in oxygen can improve an athlete's performance in both short and long distance events. Officials at the Sydney Olympics are testing for EPO for the first time this year. But experts say the officials may not find any, if an athlete stopped taking the drug about a week before the Games began.

Another banned substance is human growth hormone, which builds muscle size and strength. Others include beta blockers and diuretics. Beta blockers are taken to calm nerves. Diuretics increase the production of red blood cells. They also increase urine production, which can hide the presence of banned drugs.

Still another illegal way to increase performance is called blood doping. Blood is taken from an athlete. Red cells are removed and cooled. One month later, the blood is put back into the athlete's body. This increases the amount of oxygen the body carries.

The newest way that some athletes try to improve their performance is with blood substitutes. These also increase the amount of oxygen in the blood.

Many of these banned substances are dangerous. They can thicken the blood, cause an enlarged heart, or damage the reproductive system. They can even kill.

Yet a recent United States government study said about thirty percent of Olympic athletes use illegal drugs. Winning a medal can mean fame and a chance to earn a great deal of money. Some athletes say taking drugs for a few years will not hurt them. They believe the risk to their health is a small price to pay.

This VOA Special English program IN THE NEWS was written by Nancy Steinbach. This is Steve Ember.


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