ATHENS, Greece The United States' invigorated fight against drugs in sports has led to major anti-doping progress since the 2000 Sydney Olympics, officials said Monday, but a rash of positive tests on the eve of the Athens Games shows much work remains.
Officials in Athens, as well as back in North America, said improved cooperation between sports movements and governments such as the U.S. probe of BALCO that has led to suspensions for several track and field athletes has made it tougher for athletes to break the rules.
And they said the United States, which four years ago had a worldwide reputation of being soft on drug-using athletes, now has shown it will no longer tolerate doping.
''There has been a sea change in the world of anti-doping in the last two years, and central to that is the emergence of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency,'' said Dr. Andrew Pipe, former chairman of the Canadian Center for Ethics in Sport. ''For the first time, the U.S. now has an independent anti-doping agency. USADA has made up for lost time.''
In the past year, USADA has used information gleaned from the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative probe to suspend several athletes and bring charges against others in cases that await arbitration. Those suspended include two-time world champion sprinter Kelli White and those charged include Tim Montgomery, holder of the world record in the 100 meters.
''These are not isolated cases. This is really a systemwide approach in the United States. This is a new world order,'' said Dr. Gary Wadler, a member of the World Anti-Doping Agency. ''The United States needed to, and has taken, aggressive steps to put its house in order.''
While Pipe and Wadler were speaking on a conference call sponsored by the American College of Sports Medicine, several athletes were having trips to Athens canceled because of doping.
Monday, four days before the start of the Olympics, athletes from at least four sports were banned because of doping offenses.
Two Greek baseball players, a Swiss cyclist, a Spanish canoe team member and an Irish distance runner all lost their places at the Olympics because of doping. Also Monday, USADA announced that U.S. sprinter Bernard Williams had been warned after testing positive for marijuana and teammate Torri Edwards awaited a final ruling on whether she'll be suspended for using a banned stimulant.
IOC president Jacque Rogge said in a speech Monday night in Athens that such cases are good news.
''Paradoxically, this is an encouraging sign that the fight against doping is gaining ground, and that is it becoming increasingly hard to cheat,'' Rogge said at the opening of the International Olympic Committee's session. ''Police investigations in many countries confirm our belief that only collaboration between the sports movements and governments, with their legislative and legal powers, can be effective.''
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