Urine stains

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:53 AM ET

What do the world's fastest man, the winner of the Tour de France and 80% of the Iranian weightlifting team have in common?

They've all tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs this year.

Nearly two decades after the Ben Johnson scandal, drug cheats are alive and well.

From Seoul to Soho, boxing to billiards, rank amateur to millionaire professional, there's someone trying to beat the system.

No longer does all the action happen on the field, the court or the track. What goes on in the lab is just as important.

Give us the final score, sure -- but we're not leaving our seats until we get the test results.

These days, to paraphrase the old cliche, it's not over until the fast lady pees.

Pick a headline, any headline: Winner of (insert event) Tests Positive For (insert substance), Claims He/She Was (insert excuse).

The World Anti-Doping Agency's statistics show the number of positive tests, and their frequency, jumped considerably last year.

So sport must be getting dirtier, right?

WADA boss Dick Pound, the man behind the fight against doping, drops that notion like an oversized linebacker taking on a tackling dummy.

"The ones who are doing it the most are getting more sophisticated at it," Pound told the Winnipeg Sun in an exclusive interview. "Which means you've got to be more sophisticated going after them."

Pound says WADA and its 33 accredited labs around the world have done just that.

Where the cops used to be a block or two behind the bad guys, they're now nipping at their heels.

"We're getting to the point where I think there will be a quantum improvement," Pound said. "I don't know that we're quite there, yet. It's like the old Churchill thing: this is not the end, not the beginning, but it's the end of the beginning."

In this war, the most active battle is taking place on the international front, in the so-called Olympic sports.

It seems a week doesn't go by without another casualty.

Of course, the bigger they are, the harder they still fall.

So when two U.S. icons came crashing down, the whole world took notice.

Olympic 100-metre champ and co-world record holder Justin Gatlin and Tour de France winner Floyd Landis urinated their way into sport's Hall of Infamy within nine days of each other, last July.

CYCLING SCANDAL

The stain on Landis came on the heels of another cycling scandal, as a Spanish investigation forced nine riders to withdraw from the Tour on the eve of the race.

There are two ways to look at the constant stream of headlines: either more people are cheating, or more are getting caught, thanks to better and more frequent testing.

Pound says it's the latter.

Former Canadian track coach Alex Gardiner of Winnipeg agrees.

Currently in charge of Olympic programs with the Canadian Olympic Committee, Gardiner says you can literally see how track and field, for instance, has been cleaned up.

"It's just not the show it used to be," Gardiner said. "I've seen fewer athletes walking around who look like they are superhuman. In the past you could almost tell if someone was using a drug. It wasn't normal."

Gardiner says times and distances in many events aren't getting better, they're actually going in the other direction.

Bigger, faster, stronger has become smaller, slower -- and cleaner.

"The times in the men's 100, if we can use it as one benchmark, have come down," Gardiner said. "There are only two people who are burning up the world, and they are Gatlin, who's no longer eligible to run, and (Jamaica's) Asafa Powell, who to me doesn't look like anybody who's been anywhere near drugs. He's very ordinary looking. He just might be the gifted one."

Gardiner, though, isn't naive enough to think all dopers are getting caught.

"There are certain individuals who have access to better chemistry. Because they have the dollars," he said. "High-end, it might not be cleaner."


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