The 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi have officially ended, but some athletes may still end up in the hot seat over drug testing. How is this possible? The World Anti-Doping Agency says testing can soon begin for the presence of Human Growth Hormone in already-collected samples from Olympic athletes, once a court appeal relating back to the case of Olympic cross country skier Andrus Veerpalu comes to a conclusion. The skier tested positive for Human Growth Hormone in January of 2011 and was originally banned from skiing for three years after the positive test. However, he appealed the ruling from the International Ski Federation and the ban was overturned because of a statistical technicality. The Court of Arbitration panel on the case determined that the test could cause false positives and that the Ski Federation had failed to prove their case against Veerpalu, even though there was a belief on both sides that Veerpalu had probably used HGH.
After Veerpalu’s ban was overturned, he retired from racing, but was allowed to stay involved in skiing as a coach or as an official. In fact, Veerpalu was at the Sochi Games as a coach for Kazakhstan skier Alexey Poloranin.
The policy of retesting samples from previous Games is becoming more common as new and more sophisticated testing procedures become available. In fact it was recently reported that another skier, Olympic champion Kristina Smigun-Vahi, has received a positive drug test from samples collected from the 2006 Games in Torino, where she received two medals. Three other positive drug tests from the 2006 Torino Games have been confirmed, although the athletes associated with those tests have not been revealed yet. Rumors are circulating in media reports that one of the positive tests may have belonged to . . . Andrus Veerpalu, who came away from Torino with a gold medal.
In the case of this year’s Olympic Games, as with Games past, samples have been collected and are kept, not discarded. As new tests are developed for performance enhancers and drugs that were not available when the previous Games took place, those collected samples are retested and any positive tests could have consequences for cheating athletes, including being stripped of medals or losing final standings in the rankings. Now that the statistical technicality associated with Veerpalu’s appeal has been addressed, with the panel requesting proof of an accurate HGH test and two teams researching the results of Veerpalu’s tests and confirming the statistics were accurate, the door to catching athletes who use HGH is opening.
Since March of 2013, as the Court of Arbitration for Sport was having the validity of Veerpalu’s test results checked, testing for HGH had come to a halt. Now that the teams have backed up the original findings, the samples awaiting testing can be tested, and any samples associated with the Sochi Games will be able to undergo HGH testing as well. As with previous games, samples that were tested for other substances are now fair game for HGH testing. Hopefully, the samples will come up clean . . . but only time will tell!