LONDON (AP) — Eight years later, the IOC is investigating suspected positive doping tests from the Athens Olympics that could lead to drug cheats being sanctioned retroactively.
IOC medical commission chairman Arne Ljungqvist told The Associated Press on Monday that up to five suspicious results have been uncovered during retesting of samples from the 2004 Games.
The International Olympic Committee is studying the findings to decide whether to test the backup "B'' samples and proceed with any disciplinary cases, Ljungqvist said.
Until then, the test results are "adverse analytical findings" and not official positives.
Ljungqvist declined to identify the athletes or sports that produced the suspicious tests, citing legal reasons.
"It is a matter of less than five," he said. "They are potentially positive. It could be one or two, it could be none. It depends on confirmation and evaluation."
The IOC decided in May to retest Athens samples to catch any dopers who may have escaped detection at the time. Ljungqvist said about 100 samples were reanalyzed at the drug-testing laboratory in Lausanne, Switzerland.
The IOC stores doping samples from each Olympics for eight years to allow for retesting. The statute of limitations for Athens will expire Aug. 29, the date the games closed in 2004.
"There is not much time left," Ljungqvist said.
The IOC previously retested samples from the 2006 Winter Games in Turin and 2008 Summer Games in Beijing.
The Beijing retests caught five athletes for use of CERA, an advanced version of the blood-boosting drug EPO. Rashid Ramzi of Bahrain was retroactively stripped of his gold medal in the 1,500 meters.
The Athens Games produced a record 26 doping cases, more than double the previous Olympic high of 12 in Los Angeles in 1984. Six medalists, including two gold winners, were caught in Athens from among 3,600 tests.
The move to retest Athens samples came after the World Anti-Doping Agency asked the IOC check the samples again based on the emergence of new testing methods since 2004.
Ljungqvist said the IOC still needs to determine whether the athletes flagged in the retests had a TUE, or therapeutic use exemption, that allowed them to use certain medications for valid medical reasons, and whether the chain of custody of the samples was respected.
"In the next couple of days we have to make a decision or not to go forward," he said.
If positive cases are confirmed, the IOC would appoint a disciplinary commission to investigate and report to the ruling executive board. The board can disqualify athletes, nullify results and strip medals.
Ljungqvist said testing methods have improved since 2004, even for standard steroids. One substance that wasn't tested for in Athens but can now be detected is insulin, which improves metabolism. A test for human growth hormone, or HGH, was first introduced at the Athens Olympics, but no athletes were caught for the substance at the time.
Ljungqvist said he was a bit surprised that the retesting produced suspicious results.
"I had not expected it really, I must confess," he said. "The methods were good already and the analysis was good at the time but, of course, we are where we are. I don't know what the final result will be either — if it will be anything, or one or two or three."
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