From Inside the Games

An analytical method known as gas chromatography combustion isotope ratio mass spectrometry (GC/C/IRMS) has emerged as one of the most potent weapons in the anti-doping police’s armoury, in new testing statistics published by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

WADA’s 2018 Testing Figures Report – a 343-page compendium of data relating to the 340,000-plus samples analysed in WADA-accredited laboratories during the year – shows that GC/C/IRMS yielded a 3.52 per cent adverse analytical finding (AAF)-rate in 2018.

This compares with an overall AAF figure of just 1.42 per cent.

Anti-doping authorities are often criticised for spending large sums on tests which produce a far lower proportion of positives than the percentage of athletes suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs.

In spite of the method’s apparent effectiveness, the number of GC/C/IRMS tests conducted was said to be down marginally at 5,231 in 2018.

WADA explains that GC/C/IRMS is “connected to the steroidal module of the [Athlete Biological Passport]”.

It can be triggered, the agency says, “by the athlete biological passport or requested by the [testing authority] based on other information”.

In Summer Olympic sports, the data indicates that just over 3,500 GC/C/IRMS urine tests were conducted for steroid profile markers, producing 119 AAFs.

More than 40 per cent of these AAFs – 51 in total – came in weightlifting, a sport whose doping problem is well-known.

This was even though weightlifting accounted for less than 12 per cent of GC/C/IRMS tests conducted in the Summer Olympic sport sphere.

Cycling accounted for 23 of the remaining AAFs and athletics 12.

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