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USADA tries ‘virtual’ testing amid COVID-19 pandemic

USADA has launched a program in which athletes collect blood and urine samples from themselves at home, while being monitored remotely online by testing personnel © AFP/File / Miguel MEDINA

LOS ANGELES, United States, Apr 18 – The US Anti-Doping Agency has come up with a novel random testing program to cope with the unique circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic.

With the United States, like much of the world, under lockdown as authorities try to slow the spread of the virus, USADA has launched a program in which athletes collect blood and urine samples from themselves at home, while being monitored remotely on Zoom or FaceTime by testing personnel.

The test kits were sent to athletes, who must produce samples when they receive an unannounced call from a doping control officer.

The officer watches the blood sample being taken, but urine samples are provided in private.

The samples are sealed under the eye of the doping control officer and sent to an accredited lab for testing.

USADA chief executive Travis Tygart told the New York Times that plenty of top US Olympic hopes were eager to sign up for the pilot project.

Freestyle swimming great Katie Ledecky and athletes Noah Lyles and Allyson Felix were among those who volunteered.

“We’ve been talking about this and laying the foundation for several months,” Tygart told the newspaper.

“COVID put that on fast forward and allowed us to roll it out.”

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Ledecky said she “felt very comfortable” administering her first self test this week at her home in California.

USADA has built safeguards into the system to limit opportunities for cheating.

Although athletes are not observed during collection of urine, they show the monitoring officer the bathroom that will be used, they are timed and the temperature of the sample is recorded to lessen the chances of sample tampering or sample substitution.

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