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Skaters Untouched By Rising Tide of Drug-Related Sports

March 18, 1989

PARIS (AP) _ Discovering a drug scandal in world figure skating is about as likely as finding rain in the Sahara desert.

While runners, weightlifters and even speedskaters have fallen foul in recent months of rules covering drug abuse, figure skating - a sport in which image counts for everything - has remained untouched by the scourge of international sports.

A leading official and one former world-champion skater say the reasons are varied. Figure skaters, they say, cannot benefit from banned substances such as steroids, amphetamines or Beta-Blockers.

Even if they did try to boost their performances, the chances of being caught are great and the risk of being banned not worth taking, the officials said.

″Most of the drugs that are apparently used in other sports just are not effective in figure skating because of the nature of the sport,″ said Dr. Franklin Nelson, chairman of the medical advisers to the International Skating Union. ″In figure skating, you change direction, you change speeds, you do lifts, jumps, spins and all different kinds of things. It is not a push to the finish.″

Scott Hamilton, four-time world champion and 1984 Olympic gold medalist from the United States, said skaters could be hindered rather than helped by taking drugs.

″Steroids give you bulk and you don’t need bulk in figure skating,″ Hamilton said. ″It takes years to teach your body what it needs to do. Instant strength will hinder those efforts, not aid them.″

Hamilton said stimulants were equally dangerous for a skater’s success.

″They could make you lose touch with the ice and ruin your concentration,″ he said. ″Skating is about instant reflex.″

Nelson, a surgeon from Tulsa, Oklahoma, and an experienced Olympic judge, said that unlike some sports a skater’s chances of returning to competition after a drug-related ban would be minimal.

″Our rules are 15 months for a first offence and life for any subsequent offense,″ Nelson said. ″The sanctions are so extreme that they would effectively end a career. Fifteen months off a skater’s career is a huge blow.″

Many sports, including track and field, had adopted similar two-stage sanctions, usually two years for a first offense and a life ban for repeaters.

Better education on the dangers and pitfalls of drug-taking within figure skating is another reason the sport has remained clean, Nelson said.

″In the United States, we have been conducting seminars on doping control, the use and abuse of drugs,″ Nelson said in an interview at the World Figure Skating Championships. ″These seminars are obligatory for our athletes.″

Only one figure skater ever has been caught for taking drugs. ISU records show that French ice dancer Christine Chiniard was stripped of the bronze medal at the 1982 world junior championships in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, after failing a dope test for a weight-loss drug.

″It was an unfortunate case because she had been prescribed the medication. Figure skating is a drug-free sport,″ Nelson said.

Nelson said that although he was totally opposed to performance-enhancing drugs like the steroid that led to Ben Johnson’s disqualification at the Seoul Olympics, the accidental use of prohibited over-the-counter substances needed to be reviewed.

″The prohibition of substances like caffeine which is often found in decongestants perhaps should not carry so strict a penalty as performance-enh ancing drugs, provided the victim has taken it for medicinal purposes,″ Nelson said.

″I would almost favor a warning in such cases for a first offence and there may well be a recommendation to this effect to the ISU Congress sometime in the future.″

Despite figure skating’s clean image, there is no hint of complacency in the fight against drugs.

At the European Championships in Birmingham, England, last January, the ISU tightened its doping controls by testing after the compulsory figures as well as at the end of competition.

The practice was first introduced at last year’s Calgary Olympics but had not hitherto been implemented at any ISU event.

Before Birmingham, only the three medalists, the fourth-place finisher and one other skater selected at random were sent for testing in the men’s, women’s, pairs and ice dance events.

Nobody tested positive at the European Championships and the ISU decided to withdraw testing after the compulsories at this week’s world championships. The top four plus one other still are dope-tested after the final.

″We are not doing it (compulsory testing) here because I don’t think it’s necessary,″ Nelson said. ″We have discretion over which of our championships will be subject to controls after the compulsories and we did not choose this one.

″Besides, compulsory figures are being eliminated from international competition next year when we wouldn’t be able to test anyway.″

Nelson conceded that the sport’s drug-free record may not last for ever.

″As the years go by and human nature being what it is ... it would not surprise me if the record was broken,″ Nelson said. ″But while the use of drugs in some sports has overtly been rampant and some athletes will tell you they must use them in order to be competitive, figure skaters feel they can be competitive and drug-free at the same time.

″I doubt any of them would want to be responsible for breaking that code of ethics.″

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