Doping in triathlon: the passport system


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Had an interesting chat yesterday with Leslie Buchanan, the International Triathlon Union’s Vancouver-based director of anti-doping. She’s here with WADA’s outreach program, setting up daily in the Athlete’s Village to answer questions about the rules and the reasons for them. (Most of the questions she’s fielding are about the whereabouts program, which requires athletes to be reachable by their country’s anti-doping officials at all times.)

Anyway, I asked her why triathlon seems to have dodged the perception of widespread dirtiness that plagues its constituent sports (perhaps cycling most of all, but distance running and swimming have hardly been squeaky clean). She noted that triathlon has really only had four high-profile busts: Dmitriy Gaag, Brigitte McMahon, Mariana Ohata and Wang Hongni. Part of it is money: as a newer sport that’s only been in the Olympics for a decade, there wasn’t the same incentive for triathletes to dope until relatively recently.

Obviously that’s no longer the case. But I didn’t realize that triathlon has followed cycling’s lead and, starting this year, instituted a “biological passport” program. While cycling is apparently aiming for 12 blood tests per year, triathlon is starting with a more modest program: a minimum of three and aiming for six bloods per year for each of its top 50 men and women. That will hopefully establish a baseline so that deviations will trigger an alarm even in the absence of a positive urine test. The system went into effect at the beginning of 2010.

I’d heard a lot of talk about biological passports, but I hadn’t realized that they’re actually being implemented in some sports. Anyone know which (if any) other sports have them? Does track and field?