Some Track Athletes Opt for Extra Doping Tests

Some elite track and field athletes are so eager to prove they're clean, they have signed up for many more drug tests than required. The sport has been soiled by doping.

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There's been lots of talk about politics in the run up to this summer's Olympic Games in China. Doping, a traditional pre-Olympics topic of conversation, has largely been missing. This week, hundreds of reporters and Olympic athletes met in Chicago, and there the issue of doping eventually did emerge but with a new twist.

Here's NPR's Tom Goldman.

TOM GOLDMAN: It emerged, no surprise, on the day that track-and-field athletes showed up to face the media. Track and field has been hammered by drug scandals. Former superstar Marion Jones last year admitted doping. Now, she's serving six months in a Texas prison for perjury.

So what does the glut of bad news do for the current stars? Brian Clay is a world champion decathlete.

Mr. BRIAN CLAY (Decathlete): Of course, it's a hindrance, and it, quite frankly, it sucks.

GOLDMAN: Getting out of the shadow of doping - that's the challenge for today's clean athlete. Saying you're clean is one thing. Proving it is another. But Brian Clay is one of several elite athletes who may soon have that proof. Clay revealed this week he's part of a new voluntary program by the U.S. anti-doping agency called Project Believe.

Athletes like Clay agree to drug-testing beyond what's normally done.

Mr. CLAY: Actually, it was a like a two-week period where I was tested six times, blood and urine. They took, you know, five vials of blood each time, and I'll be doing blood and urine tests a few times a month up until the Olympic Games and through the Olympic Games.

GOLDMAN: The agency hasn't officially announced the program, which changes the drug-testing paradigm. Currently, athletes are tested to see if they're above or below a set limit for a banned drug. Doping athletes often know what it takes to stay below the limit while still getting something from the drugs.

With the new plan, athletes give all that blood and urine in order to create a profile of their body chemistry. If that profile changes in subsequent testing, it could be a more reliable indicator of doping. Or, if the profile stays the same over time, a more reliable indicator that an athlete is not using drugs.

That's the exciting part for star sprinter Alison Felix, who also volunteered for Project Believe.

Ms. ALISON FELIX (Sprinter): I just felt like, you know, whatever I can do to prove that I'm clean, I'm willing to do it no matter what time I have to wake up, where I have to drive, whatever it is.

GOLDMAN: Twenty-two-year-old Felix revered Marion Jones and says she was devastated by Jones' fall from grace. She could have been speaking for a generation of track-and-field athletes.

There was a telling moment at the press conference, when a reporter from Fort Worth, where Jones is in prison, asked Felix and the seven others onstage this question.

Unidentified Man (Reporter, Fort Worth): And I'm wondering if any of you have anything that you'd like to say that I can write in the morning paper to Marion Jones since she might read our papers, and she's currently incarcerated there.

(Soundbite of people murmuring)

Unidentified Woman: I think we have no takers on that one.

GOLDMAN: Tom Goldman, NPR News.

SIMON: This is NPR News.

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