100% clean?

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 11:27 AM ET

Canada's next great sprinter steps into the starting blocks and looks across the line at his competitors, content in the knowledge they're all drug-free.

A worldwide TV audience leans forward in their seats, the word "doping" the farthest thing from their minds.

A clean Olympics. Clean world championships. Clean professional leagues. The purity of sport, restored.

A pipe dream or a real possibility in the future?

Based on the experts we've talked to, probably the former.

Things may improve from the constant stream of drug-related headlines we've seen the last few years, but the consensus is the war on performance-enhancing drugs will never truly end.

"I don't think so," Winnipeg's Alex Gardiner, a former track coach now with the Canadian Olympic Committee, told the Winnipeg Sun. "My idealistic side says, 'Yeah, I hope so.' But where there's money, human nature, ego -- I don't think so."

Bruce Pirnie, a former shot putter and coach who competed for Canada in two Olympics, agrees.

"It's always going to be a contest between the police and the crooks," said Pirnie, director of athlete development with Athletics Canada. "The testers, the police, are doing a better job. It's making it much more difficult to cheat. But I don't believe it's ever been clean, since the start of man, and I don't think it ever will be 100% clean."

Even Dick Pound, the unrelenting, outspoken head of the World Anti-Doping Agency, concedes there may be no way to rid sport entirely of drug cheats, no matter how good the technology.

However, Pound predicts we'll come awfully close.

"I think we'll catch an increasing percentage of them, yes," Pound said. "It's like society in general -- 99.9% of the people obey the law whether they're really convinced it's right or not. But there will always be the 0.1% that don't give a s---. And we'll have those in sport, as well. That's human nature.

1 OUT OF 50

"What you then have to do is convince the 99.9% that you'll catch the 0.1%, so they don't have to try to level the playing field on their own."

If 0.1% is Pound's goal, he's got a ways to go.

That's one out of every 1,000 athletes. WADA's statistics from 2005 indicated the rate for positive tests was more like one of every 50.

There is reason to be optimistic, though.

WADA is spending more and more on research ($6 million U.S. this year, or about one-quarter of its budget), which is how you stay on top of designer steroids like THG, the one manufactured by BALCO, the lab at the centre of the biggest steroids scandal in sports history.

Pound says WADA is actually waiting in the weeds, having discovered a whole raft of other designer steroids that haven't even been identified publicly, yet.

"The key is, do you announce which ones you can find, or do you wait and catch someone -- do you get more of a splash from it?"

Of course, there could be more BALCOs out there, another doctor or chemist with a blurred line of morality who sees dollar signs, if only they can help a star athlete beat the system.

"But there's a limited number of things in doping," Pound said. "You've got growth enhancers. You've got strength enhancers. You've got oxygen enhancers. You've got stimulants. You've got masking agents. So while it's a complicated science, it's not rocket science."

Pound says in the past a lack of research has given the dark side a free ride.

"They could experiment away and come up with these things and try them out without too much fear of being caught," he said. "That comfort margin has disappeared. Yeah, you can make a little money doing this, but you're going to spend some time in the clink."

If governments and police agencies continue to get more involved, Pound sees the day when sport can be declared virtually clean.

"It's not going to be an eight-second sound bite... it's going to be over time," he said. "Basically, you've got to educate people, and convince them not to do it, first 'cause it's wrong, second 'cause it's dangerous."


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