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Aussie Nightmare: Thorpe Clones -- July 25, 2001

By Craig Lord
FUKUOKA, Japan, July 25. AUSTRALIANS were in a spin over the suggestion that Ian Thorpe clones may one day come back to haunt them if the Olympic champion's DNA were ever stolen to create aquatic Frankensteins to rival his immense aquatic talent.

When the subject of what the next big thing in drugs for cheats might be given that a urine test for erythropoietin (EPO), the blood-boosting drug was "almost ready", Dr Andrew Pipe, chairman of the doping control review board for FINA, the international governing body for swimming, said:
"The whole area of gene substitutes will open a whole Pandora's Box in the coming years."

What would that mean for our Ian?, asked the man from News Limited in Brisbane. "That's a very good question," said Dr Pipe, raising an eyebrow. "All athletes should be very careful to know what we (scientists) do with their blood." Procedures already exist to ensure that swimmers, and other athletes, giving blood do so under the strict understanding that the blood is not to be used for any purpose other than drug testing.

Was he seriously concerned? "Look, the technology already exists to us that DNA to identify illness, weakness...the technology is exploding at an exponential rate."

The proximity of the threat that abuse of DNA research in sport will see Dr Pipe and others among the finest minds on the subject converge for a closed meeting in Connecticut in September to consider the dangers ahead in the area of gene therapy.

David Flaskas, Thorpe's manager, said that the swimmer and his team of minders would like to know what happens to all blood samples he may give for the purposes of drug testing" after they are no longer needed for that purpose.

Asked whether Thorpe's DNA might ever hold marketing potential, he said: "Even if we were offered a million dollars for it we would not be interested in exploiting it. We would abhor anything like that."

"There are ups and downs to this type of scientific research," said Flaskas. "Its good when it leads to a cure for various illnesses or disease but it can also carry the possibility of misuse and the drug-testing process need to be reviewed" if there's any chance of misuse.

Meanwhile, Australians have started to ponder whether Bill Sweetenham, former head of the Australian youth program from whence Thorpe sprang and now head of the British team, might have taken a hair from the young Ian's golden locks in his bid to create Thorpedo clones that might one day fire for Britain against his native Australia.