Masters drug-testing up and running

Officials with the 2010 World Masters Indoor Athletics Championships say the games' drug-testing protocols are fully underway, with random and "targeted" testing taking place across a wide cross-section of ages and sports.

The assurance from Stan Perkins, president of World Masters Athletics, comes on the heels of news that one of the U.S.'s master sprinters, who was registered to compete in the Kamloops games, was suspended for two years on the eve of competition after being tested for banned substances.

Val Barnwell was touted by the U.S. team as a "star to watch" at these games. He competes in the M50 category of the 60-mand 200-metre dashes and won gold in both those events, as well as in a team relay, at the 2009 World Master Outdoor Championships in Lahti, Finland, in August.It was at those games the sprinter was randomly tested. His urine samples came up positive for banned testosterone.

Perkins said the WMA notified the U.S. Athletic Track Federation as per protocol when the positive results were noted several weeks after the 2009 games ended. Barnwell was temporarily suspended from competition by USATF pending appeal.

Barnwell availed himself of all his appeal options. The last of those, a two-day hearing, was held late last week. The USATF upheld the suspension, leaving Barnwell unable to compete in Kamloops.

"My reaction is disappointment more than anything else," said Perkins, who also served on the WMA anti-doping committee for 10 years. "People want to be the best. Sometimes they do the wrong thing."

Perkins would not say how many athletes will be tested in Kamloops, but said firmly the testing regimen is meaningful. Some athletes are randomly selected, while others are being chosen from specific sports.

Results from the testing won't be known for weeks, however. While testing in major international events like the Olympics is done almost immediately, the cost of such testing would be prohibitive. It costs roughly $500 per test, Perkins noted.

Perkins said the cost must also be balanced against the risk masters athletes will use banned substances to enhance their performances.

Most masters athletes participate for their health, he said, adding that fewer than 10 masters athletes have been found using illegal performance enhancing drugs at WMA competitions.

Is it possible others in Kamloops are competing illegally?

"I would hope not, but I would never say no. We can't say. Nothing indicates anything adverse is happening here," Perkins said.

Bob Weiner, a U.S. masters athlete and the former spokesman for the White House's national drug policy office, said Barnwell wasn't the first masters athlete to be busted for drugs nor will he be the last.

Speaking personally, Weiner - who was adamant he doesn't speak for the U.S. team on this issue - added the sport is doing all it can to create a "no-doping" environment.

"The sport is insistent on no cheating," he said.

He said the motivation to win is strong enough - even in masters sports - that some turn to drugs to increase their chances on the track or field. It's a poor strategy that steals both physical and emotional health.

"There is no money in master track, there is only your own satisfaction. What respect is left if you have cheated to gain your result? There is no respect," said Weiner.

"(Cheating) is worse than if you had not competed at all.

"I'm not disappointed we are busting people. The dirty athletes are far fewer than what the public perception is."

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