The IOC announced this week that 31 athletes in six sports and from 12 countries could be banned from the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro after their doping samples from the 2008 Beijing Games came back positive in retests. Some questions and answers:
Q: How can athletes be caught so many years later?
A: The International Olympic Committee keeps all Olympic doping samples for possible retesting. Samples are frozen and stored at the anti-doping lab in Switzerland. The statute of limitations for retesting was eight years, but that was extended to 10 years in 2015. The IOC can retest samples with improved techniques to catch cheats who escaped detection. Normally, the IOC prefers to wait until near the deadline so that it can make use of the very latest testing methods. In this case, the IOC decided to test selected samples from Beijing to weed out any cheats before they got to Rio.
Which athletes were caught in the Beijing retests?
The IOC did not identify the athletes, their sports or their nationalities, citing legal reasons. It said it will notify the 12 national Olympic committees involved "in the coming days" and that details "will follow in due course." The IOC said it retested 454 samples and targeted athletes who "could potentially" compete in Rio.
What action can the IOC take?
If athletes are found guilty of doping, they will be banned from competing in Rio. In addition, they could be retroactively disqualified from the Beijing Games and stripped of their results and any medals. Any longer-term punishments are up to the individual sports federations.
What about samples from the 2012 London Olympics?
The IOC has also been reanalyzing some London samples, with results of 250 retests "to come shortly." Those tests, too, focused on athletes planning to compete in Rio. The IOC is also conducting a wider retesting of samples of medalists from Beijing and London, so there is the potential for a major reallocation of medals from both those games.
Is this the first time this has happened?
No. The IOC has retested Olympic samples several times in the past. Five athletes were caught in retests of samples from the 2004 Athens Olympics, including men's shot put winner Yuriy Bilonog of Ukraine. A few months after Beijing, the IOC reanalyzed nearly 1,000 samples with a test for the blood-boosting drug CERA. Five athletes were caught, including 1,500-meter gold medalist Rashid Ramzi of Bahrain. Nearly 500 samples from the 2006 Winter Games in Turin were retested. The IOC has not disclosed whether those retests had produced any positive cases. However, these latest retests have produced by far the highest number of positive cases.
Will samples from the 2014 Sochi Winter Games be retested?
Yes. While the IOC could wait until 2024, it is taking "swift and decisive action" following allegations by former Russian lab director Grigory Rodchenkov that he was involved in state-sponsored doping in Sochi and covered up cheating by Russian athletes, including 15 medalists.