What the Biological Passport Means for Running

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Last Thursday, the IAAF, track and field's international governing body, announced a plan to drug test every single athlete at the world championships in Daegu, South Korea later this month. It will be the first comprehensive testing ever performed at a world or Olympic final in track and field, and, although the IAAF will likely catch few athletes using drugs, it represents perhaps the greatest anti-doping success for the sport in years. Testing every athlete, and collecting baseline blood samples from every athlete, means that track and field is getting the biological passport.

The passport program, rather than trying to trap athletes with drugs in their system, instead looks for biological markers that indicate drug use—instead of screening for EPO, which passes through the body in days, it looks for variances in blood chemistry associated with blood-boosting agents or blood doping. A too-high percentage of reticulocytes in the blood, for example, strongly suggests EPO use, and a too-low percentage suggests blood doping. Abnormal results in either direction can get an athlete banned. The program came to cycling in 2008 and was nominally unveiled in track and field last December. But the plan to test everyone at the world championships—and establish individual baseline parameters for nearly all of the sport’s top athletes—suggests that the passport is finally going into wide effect.

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