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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Drug tests not for the faint-hearted

The fans see glory heaped on the winners as they cross the finish line at the world championships. The doping test which comes after is far less glorious. Oslo-based newspaper Aftenposten tested the testing procedure itself, gaining unique insight into how it works and how degrading it can feel.

On Tuesday, for example, Matti Heikkinen had just 15 minutes previously won the men’s 15-kilometer cross-country ski run. From the moment he finished the race, he was trailed by a representitive of Antidoping Norge, the Norwegian anti-doping agency. As Heikkinen answered questions from the media, attended a flower ceremony and visited King Harald in the royal box, the anti-doping inspector was never more than a few steps behind him.

After a few more minutes with the media from his home country of Finland, Heikkinen was whisked away to the anti-doping test center near the arena. Here Aftenposten’s journalist was barred from entering. No unauthorized persons are allowed in at any time. This is where the fate of an athlete can be decided for years to come. There must be no room for mistakes.

Submitted to the testing himself
Instead Aftenposten‘s journalist visited Antidoping Norge’s headquarters, nearer the center of Oslo, to submit to the testing that athletes get.

“Are you ready to give your sample?” asks Mads Drange, from Antidoping Norge.

“This feels completely wrong,” Robert Veiåker Johansen, Aftenposten‘s journalist writes. “And a little humiliating,” he adds. He is standing in the toilet cubicle with the door open, his trousers down to his knees, urinating into a plastic cup as a man he does not know looks over his shoulder. His comfort zone has been severely compromised.

The desk outside is covered with the paraphernalia of the anti-doping tester’s craft; beakers, gloves, wipes, papers, sealable sample containers, a spectrometer to determine whether the urin is concentrated enough to be analyzed, as well as an intricate form headed “Doping Control.”

Name, nationality, date of birth, address and cell phone number have been noted down. Johansen has the same feeling that he gets when he passes through Customs at the airport with nothing to declare. “I know I haven’t done anything wrong. Even so, it feels unpleasant,” he writes.

Long waits for some samples
“The seconds before providing the sample causes the most trouble,” Drange tells Aftenposten. “They feel it difficult to pass water when someone is looking on. In such cases one just has to wait. Sooner or later everyone has to go. One person had to wait eight hours for a small sample.”

To avoid cheating by using means such as hidden tubes, cuffs have to be rolled up to the elbows and trousers have to be pulled down to the knees.

The proceedure is not over when the sample has been collected. The athlete has to decant part of the urin into two separate containers, chosen from a number of sealed cartons by the athlete. No claims about tampering should be possible. The samples are then given a seven digit number and are sent for analysis at Aker University Hospital. The testers  must not know the identity of the owner of the sample.

The sample beakers have a mechanism which can only be opened with a special key.

“Have you used any kind of medicine or nutritional supplement during the last week?” Drange asks, receiving a negative answer.

“If you have used anything you don’t wish to talk about, you can write it down on a slip of paper which will be put in a sealed envelope,” Drange continues. Again the journalist answers no.

“Do you wish to write anything in the section on the form set aside for comments?” Drange adds. Johansen writes nothing.

“Afterwards I regret not writing that it was an interesting experience, but not something I would want to repeat on a daily basis,” Aftenposten‘s journalist concluded.

Views and News from Norway/Sven Goll
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