The International Olympic committee (IOC) define drug doping as the use of any method or substance that might harm the athlete, in a quest to gain an unfair advantage over their fellow competitors.
What methods are used?
Typically, cheats use performance enhancing drugs or blood doping. The performance enhancing drugs are usually stimulants, which increase alertness and physical activity, or steroids, which increase muscle mass. Blood doping involves undergoing a blood transfusion in order to acquire a higher red blood cell count, allowing extra oxygen to be carried to the muscles.
How are drug cheats caught?
Two urine samples are obtained from athletes and analysed using gas chromatography (which separates the contents of the sample) and mass spectrometry (which provides the exact molecular specification of the compound). If a banned substance is identified in both samples a positive result is declared.
Blood testing is also used to detect banned substances and to build a ‘blood profile’ over time for an individual athlete. This is used to determine average readings for the athlete and any significant changes that could indicate blood doping.
What’s so special about London 2012?
For the first time, a private sponsor -GlaxoSmithKline (GSK)- will be providing what are considered to be the most hi-tech laboratory facilities in Olympic history, at a cost of more than $30 million. GSK will test over 6,250 samples of blood and urine during the London Olympics, compared to 4,500 in Beijing, and 150 scientists will be on duty around the clock.