Big name cheats boost anti-doping cause: the recent doping admission by Olympic champion Brigitte McMahon--book-ended by charges against other top athletes--is prompting calls for information campaigns targeting young athletes.

Author:Ledsom, Mark
Position:Sports News

Until July it was hard to picture Swiss triathlete Brigitte McMahon without a huge grin on her face. The memory of her racing across the finish line in Sydney to grab a surprise gold medal at the 2000 Summer Olympics was still so vivid for the country's sports fans.

A few weeks after her Olympic triumph, she was beaming again as guest of honour at a welcome party thrown in Switzerland's national parliament for the returning medallists--gleefully pointing out that the painted landscape in the debate chamber depicted one of the regular training routes near her central Swiss home.

Nine months later, McMahon cemented her place in Swiss hearts and earned herself the nickname 'supermum' when--all smiles once more--she presented her newborn second child at a hastily arranged hospital press conference.

Fast forward four years to July 2005 and a pale, unsmiling McMahon calls another press conference--this time to tell the world that she has been caught taking the banned blood-boosting drug EPO during an out-of-competition test. In a recent interview, she told the Basler Zeitung that life pressures had overwhelmed her. "I had the divorce (from former coach Mike McMahon), we had a new an pair (babysitter) to get used to, and my three children needed their mother as much as ever. It was all simply too much."

Second 'big name'

"I had mixed reactions when I heard it was Brigitte," recalls Matthias Lamber, head of doping prevention at the Federal Office of Sports. "I was sad, naturally, that an athlete like her would get caught tip in something like this so late in her career."

"But I was also pleased that we could show our anti-doping systems were working fine, that top level athletes were not being overlooked and that our targeting of endurance athletes for specific EPO tests was justified."

McMahon was Switzerland's second 'big name' to test positive for EPO, following the August 2004 case involving former world cycling champion Oscar Camenzind.

Less than a month after McMahon's admission there was a third positive EPO test, this time involving Andrea Del Biaggion, a 24-year-old pro cyclist from Ticino.

Relatively few

Of course as anti-doping organisations succeed in catching more violations, the public may be persuaded that 'everybody's doing it.'

But Lamber says it's not so. "Swiss Olympic's Anti-Doping Commission carried out about 1,900 doping tests last year of which 22 were positive--and half of those involved the use of cannabis," he told Swiss...

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