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The current time in Athens is 21:37 on September 23, 2023

28th Olympic Games - JO

Athens, Greece, August 14-28, 2004

Features for Friday, August 6, 2004

Costas v. The Cheats

The man whom athletes least want to meet at the Athens Games is Costas Georgakopoulos.

The former Olympic discus thrower heads the doping lab that will be analysing thousands of samples during the duration of the Games, and given the recent worldwide focus on doping cases, Georgakopoulos knows his lab near the main Olympic stadium will undoubtedly have a significant impact on the legacy of the 2004 Games.

Georgakopoulos, a chemical engineer who finished 11th in the discus at the 1984 Los Angeles Games and held the Greek national record for two decades, became head of the lab in 1996 - one year before Athens won its Olympic bid.

His 125-person crew will work around the clock in three eight-hour shifts during the games. Some 180 samples will be analysed per day, and the results of each "A" sample will be known within 36 hours. Those athletes who flunk their "A" test will get to meet Georgakopoulos when their "B" samples are tested.

The lab cost about $US5.4 million ($A7.68 million) to build and equip with everything from refrigerators to rubber gloves to mass spectrometers.

Samples are prepared on the ground floor, then sent upstairs in coded vials to rooms where technicians will look for THG or EPO or other banned substances. Each drug, or group of drugs such as steroids or stimulants, has its own room.

As the technology becomes more sophisticated, both among dopers and anti-doping authorities, the cost quickly multiplies. Georgakopoulos worries whether governments and sports bodies will have the resolve to continue funding such costly drug testing.

"It's the money that is the challenge. In my view, the main problem is the financing," he says. "We continuously have to add new methods, and some athletic bodies are not always willing to undertake that cost."

"It is like being an athlete preparing for a competition. I am trying to get used to sleeping less hours now to prepare myself for it," he said.

"After the games, I think we will need to go to a psychologist to put us back in normal life again."

Athens dope testers have extended blood sampling to all Olympic sports for the first time. Blood testing was previously limited to endurance sports, which was screened for the blood-boosting synthetic hormone erythropoietin (EPO).

More than 3,000 tests will be conducted at Athens, a 25 per cent increase from the 2000 Sydney Games, according to IOC officials. Blood samples taken from athletes will also be frozen and stored for potential retroactive tests.