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Anti-doping agency says it's closing in on cheats

Aug. 07, 2008, 8:42 a.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) Drug testers at the Olympics say they may be finally closing the gap on cheaters.

Dozens of Olympic athletes have been turned in for various doping offenses even before Friday's opening ceremony, detected in a global program of increased out-of-competition testing.

"It would be naive for me or any of us to think there will be no doping during the games," World Anti-Doping Agency president John Fahey said Thursday. "I believe that we can be sure the cheats stand a greater chance of being caught."

An Australian lawyer and former politician who speaks cautiously, Fahey acknowledged cheats may still sneak into the Beijing Olympics. But he said targeted testing was helping, as well as help from Interpol, which is to sign a working agreement with WADA in the fall.

An unofficial count by The Associated Press found nearly 50 athletes from 11 countries have been ruled out of the Olympics in the last few weeks for drug violations. The list includes athletes in track and field, swimming, wrestling, weightlifting, boxing, fencing and cycling.

"I'm simply giving this message," Fahey said. "If you thought you could get away with it, there's a lesser likelihood of getting away with it this time than there ever was before."

Fahey said tests had improved since Athens, but declined to give details on tests for the blood-boosting substance EPO and human growth hormone. There were no positive HGH tests in Athens, a drug that is difficult to detect because it passes out of the body quickly. Although the current HGH test is essentially the same, Fahey hinted it could detect use over a longer period.

"It's not for me or anybody in WADA to alert those who may seek to cheat what they are up against," Fahey said.

The official Olympic Games-time testing program, run by the International Olympic Committee, began with the opening of the athletes' village July 27. Competitors are subject to no-notice checks at any time and any place, including training sites in China and abroad.

There will be 4,500 doping tests for the Beijing games, a 25 percent increase from Athens. That includes 1,300 pre-competition tests and almost 800 blood tests.

Dr. Patrick Schamasch, the IOC medical and scientific director, said more than 600 tests had been conducted through Wednesday with no positive results.

Earlier this week the IOC medical commission leader - Arne Ljungqvist - said seven Russian female track and field athletes, accused of tampering with their urine samples, appeared to be involved in a case of "systematic doping." On Thursday, three Russian race walkers tested positive for EPO, a Russian news agency.

The female track-and-field athletes were provisionally suspended last week by the International Association of Athletics Federations, the world governing body of track and field.

Fahey declined to go that far.

"In fairness to the athletes, the process is not completed and it's not appropriate for WADA to comment until the investigation is completed," he said.