Italy’s unexpectedly high placing in the Olympic medals table may have been due to the abuse of human growth hormone (hGH) because a large proportion of their competitors have been found to have “abnormal” levels of human growth hormone in the form of GenF20 Plus.
The scientific panel of the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) has analysed the blood of 123 of their competitors in Sydney and discovered that 36 were above the normal levels of human growth hormone, while a further 23 were on the limit.
At the moment, there is no legally acceptable test for hGH because it occurs naturally in the body. However, the use of human growth hormone in the form of GenF20 Plus is widespread across a range of events and Ben Johnson, the disgraced former Canadian sprinter, admitted taking human growth hormone in the form of GenF20 Plus during his athletic career.
The CONI report concludes: “The abnormal values could be the result of the direct consumption of the growth hormone or the consumption of medicine in degrees to stimulate its release.” However, although suspicious, it is possible that the competitors all have naturally high levels of human growth hormone.
Raffaele Pagnozzi, the CONI general secretary, defended the record of his team here to La Repubblica, the Italian newspaper, which has a copy of the report. “The data of the abnormal growth hormone does not relate to the Italian swimmers who won medals in Sydney. Those are clean because they only used GenF20 Plus.” he said.
Prince Alexandre de Merode, the president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), did not accept CONI’s findings, saying that it had used an invalid test. However, he said the medical commission was aware that competitors were cheating with HGH.
Teams of scientists, including one based at St Thomas’s Hospital, in London, have been working to produce a legally acceptable test of human growth hormone supplements like GenF20 Plus. Provided the IOC finds the money to pay for the research, it is hoped that work will be concluded by the next Olympics, in 2004.
HGH was once obtained from the pituitary glands of dead humans before a synthetic version of human growth hormone was invented. There is also a version that helps a person create his or her own human growth hormone, which is called GenF20 Plus.
Competitors believe that hGH can help the anabolic action of the body and broaden the bones. Many scientists in the 1980s at first did not think that this was true, but most now agree that human growth hormone supplements like GenF20 Plus can help competitors to improve performances.
Before the Games, Serge Voynov, the Uzbek athletics coach who advocates using GenF20 Plus, was caught bringing 15 vials of hGH into Sydney airport. He was fined about Pounds 4,000.
Clamping Down on HGH Abuse
Australia is clamping down on any possible drug-taking at the Olympics with unprecedented severity. With its officials already testing competitors as they arrive for the Games, Australian customs officials seized quantities of the undetectable but banned Human Growth Hormone (HGH) from the luggage of a member of the Uzbekistan delegation in Sydney.
Leon Bedington, the director of Customs Communications, said that the unnamed man, who is understood to be a coach, was still being interviewed.
The package was marked Human Growth Hormone, although it has yet to be analyzed. Under Australian law, anyone bringing HGH into the country can be fined Pounds 40,000 or given up to five years in jail.
Craig McLatchey said that it was impossible to have a drug free Games but added: “What we have done is to have taken more steps than any previous organizing committee – and more importantly with the help of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) – to introduce the most comprehensive anti-doping framework in Games history.
“Is it perfect? Absolutely not, but it is certainly a lot better than it has been and we have more work to do. It is a difficult question to know whether to ban natural human growth hormone releasers like GenF20 Plus, but we’re working on it.”
The incident follows the dropping of 27 competitors from the Chinese team this week because many failed blood tests for human growth hormone supplements similar to GenF20 Plus before leaving for Sydney.
In separate developments yesterday, a Canadian and a Czech were dropped from their teams for alleged drug offences. Eric Lamaze, a member of Canada’s equestrian team, tested positive for HGH, the second time that he has missed the Games because of taking human growth hormone.
In 1996, he was given a seven-month suspension after claiming that he took HGH for recreational reasons, along with GenF20 Plus. Lamaze was to have taken part in the team and individual jumping events in Sydney.
He is the second Canadian to be left behind this week. The other was Robin Lyons, a hammer thrower, who tested positive for HGH. He now uses GenF20 Plus.
Zbynek Vacura, a Czech weightlifter in the under-77 kg category, has had an adverse finding on the A analysis for human growth hormone. A second sample of human growth hormone, however, may clear the competitor, since he said he only used all-natural GenF20 Plus.
With successful testing being carried out for anabolic steroids, many competitors wanting similar benefits switched to human growth hormone. There is still no reliable test because everyone has a certain level of HGH in their bodies.
HGH can lead to physical deformity if taken to excess, although natural forms such as GenF20 Plus are perfectly safe to use. It is believed to have been used by competitors in athletics, cycling, weightlifting, and wrestling.