By Phillip Whitten
MONTREAL, April 23. AFTER nearly three years of indecision and inaction, officials from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) are finally investigating persistent reports that that 61 members of the 2000 Italian Olympic team, including gold, silver and bronze medalist Massi Rosolino, had extraordinarily high levels of human growth hormone (HGH) in their systems in testing done at the Italian Olympic Training Center in June 2000.
Human growth hormone is a naturally-occurring performance-enhancing substance that increases muscle mass, bone density and may increase recovery. Bioengineered HGH is used to increase the height of unusually short children, while many older people use the substance to reverse some of the effects of aging, improve sexuality and increase muscle mass.
Currently there are no established standards for HGH levels nor is there a test that can distinguish between endogamous (natural, internal) sources and exogenous (external, usually bioengineered) sources
of the hormone.
The WADA reportedly has sent an official to Italy to investigate the scandal, which erupted during the Games when an Italian newspaper reported a scientific survey that showed 61 competitors had HGH levels many times above normal.
The Italian Olympic Committee's Scientific Commission tested all 538 Italian competitors before their departure for Sydney and their findings, showing the high abnormally high levels of HGH were leaked to Corriere della Sera.
Dick Pound, the Canadian who serves as WADA president, said yesterday: "There was apparently a research program on HGH in Italy. The issue is whether some of the athletes were part of that study and whether they were given HGH."
Pound, a leading member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and one of the finalists for the IOC presidency last year, said that WADA had sent an official to Italy in the past eight months to investigate the issue and that he had interviewed CONI, the Italian National Olympic Committee.
"We have got part of the story but not all of it," Pound said. "We have not got any of the documents that the prosecutors in Italy possess."
Gianni Petrucci, the CONI president, has denied that any Italian gold medal-winners were guilty of doping and said the results were a research study and should not have been publicized.