BEIJING -- Over the course of the 2008 Olympics, the International Olympic Committee carried out the most extensive testing program for human-growth hormone to date. In the final days of competition, the IOC was on pace for more than 500 blood tests for HGH.
Anti-doping experts believe that HGH is one of the most widely abused drugs in elite sports, partly because of the difficulty of detection and the perceived lack of side effects. So why wasn't there a single positive test?
In fact, around 300 HGH blood tests were conducted at the Athens Games, and about 100 in Turin, and there were no positives there, either. Perhaps the testing itself serves as a deterrent, but anti-doping experts suggest that in-competition testing for HGH simply is not effective.
Current research suggests that HGH, on its own, has very little, if any, performance-enhancing qualities. Studies and anecdotal evidence, however, have shown that, as New York University's
Multiple former anabolic steroid users told
The time of using the HGH-with-anabolic-steroids strategy with impunity, however, maybe be drawing to a close. In the months prior to the Games, for the first time, WADA labs around the world were provided with HGH test kits. Even though HGH tests had been used at the previous Summer and Winter Games, testers ran out of antibody needed to conduct the test when the company that was producing it was taken over, and stopped production. Now, however, the test is commercially available for the first time, and Wadler says he expects WADA to begin out-of-competition HGH testing.
As for the strategy of combining HGH and lower doses anabolic steroids to avoid detection, Wadler expects that "this paradigm will change as more out-of-competition testing is done."
It has been a long time coming, but the very first positive HGH test of an athlete shouldn't be far off.