Video: Olympic effort against drugs

By Mike Taibbi Correspondent
NBC News
updated 2/9/2006 8:19:13 PM ET 2006-02-10T01:19:13

America's top skeleton racer, Zach Lund, was in the home stretch for the Olympics when he was told he would have to stay home in Utah, suspended from the team.

"They told me that I had tested positive for a drug I never even heard of — in my life," he says.

The drug, finasteride, is found in the baldness treatment Propecia, which Lund was using. But it's also one of more than 400 drugs now bannedfor athletes by the World Anti-Doping Agency, not because it might improve performance, but because it can hide the use of other drugs that can.

"Never in a million years did I imagine that it could be used for something else that was not legal," says Lund.

It may seem grossly unfair — an athlete simply trying to not lose his hair now faced with losing his Olympic moment — but drug testing during the games has gotten progressively tougher. That's because doping scandals in the 1970s and 80s posed such a threat to the integrity of the games that a crackdown was unavoidable.

At the Torino Games, that means squads of drug-test cops out in force after each event, testing the top five finishers, as well as unexpected knocks at the dormitory door – resulting in random tests for hundreds of athletes.

In fact, at a Torino laboratory, more than 1,200 drug tests will be performed — some 70 percent more than at the last Winter Games. And even that might not be enough to catch every cheat.

"As we've caught up, the bad guys say, 'hmm, maybe last year's product isn't going to work. We'll have to think of something else,' says Dick Pound, chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency. "And so, no, you need the testing."

As for Lund, he has traveled to Torino but can only practice and wait. A ruling in his case could come Friday.

"You know, I've been very depressed," he says. "I could be losing my life dream."

It's a dream is at risk, because of the fine print in the new Olympic reality.

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