(AFP) – Apr 16, 2008
CHICAGO (AFP) — US sports stars are taking part in a new US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) extensive test program to help prove they are not using performance-enhancing drugs in the wake of several steroid scandals.
US sprint star Allyson Felix and 2005 world decathlon champion Brian Clay revealed the previously secret program, "Project Believe", here Wednesday in a gathering of American hopefuls for the Beijing Olympics.
"Their goal is to prove athletes are clean rather than athletes are dirty," Clay said.
NBC, the US Olympic telecast rights-holder, reported that swim star Michael Phelps is also participating in the program. Phelps won six gold medals at the 2004 Olympics and will try to break Mark Spitz's record of eight in Beijing.
"I may get in trouble for talking about it but I want people to know I'm doing everything in my power to stay clean," said Clay, who began having extra tests done before last month's world indoor championships.
"It's expensive testing. It's not something they can afford to do for everyone," he said. "It's more of a pain for me but anything I can do to show I'm clean and taking that doubt away from people, that's my number one goal."
USADA asked Felix, Clay and others to undergo extensive blood and urine tests beyond World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) rules to create baseline body chemistry readings for hormones and other substances.
Altered levels of such substances often indicate doping, so the move could help restore credibility in a doping-riddled sport.
"Their goal is to prove athletes are clean not just that athletes are dirty," Clay said. "I went through a two-week period where I was tested five times, blood and urine, and I've got another round coming up.
"I'm tested randomly more often than most athletes. Plus I'm tested at meets and in the WADA pool. Any time I get the chance to prove I'm clean I try to take that chance. People are always asking questions."
One day earlier, US Olympic Committee officials expressed confidence they would send a "clean" team to Beijing and that people should not lose faith in athletics, in part because new stars saw the rise and fall of Marion Jones.
"I'm willing to sacrifice extra time out of my schedule to do whatever I can do to prove to the world I'm clean, no matter what time I have to get up or how far I have to drive," Felix said.
Felix was devastated by her former idol Jones admitting she was a dope cheat when she turned in a star performance at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
Jones and her relay teammates were stripped of their medals. Jones is now in a federal prison after a perjury conviction for lying to federal investigators where she said she did not take performance-enhancing drugs.
"It was personally devatstaing to see what happened to her," Felix said. "It would have been great if my role model could have been clean and still been my role model.
"I was just a high school athlete looking up to the superstar. For that to erode was a shock and a disppointment."
Felix joined the "Project Believe" program because of a greater desire to provide extra proof she is no dope cheat.
"I feel a greater responsbility to be clean," Felix said. "Whatever I can do to prove I'm clean, whatever it takes, I want to do it to show that I'm not taking drugs."
Felix is hoping the extra testing combined with a stellar showing in Beijing can erase the doping stain on past US Olympic feats.
"Our sport has taken another unfortunate step backwards," Felix said. "It's a bad place to be in. We've recovered from this before. We're having to do it again. There's something left in this new generation to bring it back.
"We are all in agreement it's our responsibility to shed some light back on our sport. The best way to do that is with some outstanding performances in Beijing."
Clay could feel the sponsorship opportunities in athletics vanishing as he watched Jones' disgrace.
"It was sad. It just sucks," he said. "A lot of companies don't want to take a chance on athletes who might test positive.
"You want the testing but at the same time it's harmful. It keeps overshadowing track and field in general. It's sad. It really does hurt track and field."
Reigning world shot put champion Reese Hoffa said he needs to think there is a level field in his discipline.
"I have to believe every athlete I compete against will be clean," he said. "If one of us tested positive, the ramifications would be tremendous. None of us want that to happen."
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