SOCHI, Russia, Feb 15 (Reuters) - Olympic champions on the way to their Sochi medal ceremony should expect a drugs-testing van shadowing them, ready to collect a sample, as the International Olympic Committee (IOC) attempts to root out cheats any which way it can.
Even the medals plaza at the coastal Olympic park, where all athletes are awarded their prizes, is not off-limits for testers, who will do anything for a satisfactory urine or blood sample at Russia’s first winter Olympics.
“There is a van that follows the athletes down (from the mountain venues) if they need to go,” IOC medical director Richard Budgett said on Saturday.
He said this was being done in case the medal winners had failed to provide a sufficient sample immediately after their competition.
The IOC tests all medallist as well as several other finalists for banned substances, while also conducting hundreds more targeted tests based on intelligence.
A total of about 2,500 tests -- a winter Games record -- will be carried out and more than 50 percent of those will be before the athletes even compete, another first.
The IOC is eager to prevent the situation where winners who have used drugs still have their moment on the podium before the IOC sets about the long and Olympic brand-damaging procedure of stripping medals and re-awarding them.
Catching the cheats before they compete would mean removing them from the Games, but without the added publicity of catching a medal winner and leaving other athletes, viewers and sponsors disappointed following a tarnished triumph.
Potential cheats should also be aware that any samples taken during the Sochi Games will be stored for a decade, in line with the new world Anti-Doping Code that comes into effect on Jan. 1 2015, instead of the current eight years.
“Where there is new evidence, new tests or new intelligence we will consider new analysis earlier,” Budgett told reporters, adding however that samples will normally be tested towards the end of the statute of limitation period so as to have the latest technology available.
IOC Medical Commission chief Arne Ljungqvist said cheats should know that they will ultimately be caught.
“If you cheat and if do not find you now, we will find you sooner or later,” he said. “It (the 10-year-period) is a strong deterrent. They are steadily, for 10 years, under threat.”
There were no doping cases during the 1994 Lillehammer Games, none at Nagano 1998 while seven athletes were caught at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics and another seven in Turin in 2006, Ljungqvist said.
One athlete tested positive at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics but there have been none so far at the Sochi Games that end on Feb. 23.
Asked if this drop in positive cases meant scientists had become smarter or that cheating athletes had become more sophisticated, Ljungqvist said: ”Who knows who is smarter? But I would put money on our scientists.
“When it comes to smartness, our scientists are smart enough to solve this issue.” (Editing by Mitch Phillips)