WADA Data: Blood testing on the rise, Aquatics among most-tested Olympic sports

This month, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) released its 2013 Anti-Doping Testing Figures Report – in short, an aggregation of all of the drug testing data it acquired over the past year.

The report is divided into four separate documents, each focusing on various angles of the anti-doping process. We’ve dug through all four to distill things down to a more manageable, “layman’s terms” version, viewed, of course, through a swimming-centric lens.

One important note: these data track the number of total samples (both blood and urine) tested, alongside two types of findings – “adverse analytical findings” and “atypical findings.” Neither of these are automatic “failed drug tests.”

Adverse analytical findings (AAF) represent samples that show “the presence of a Prohibited Substance or its Metabolites or Markers… or evidence of the Use of a Prohibited Method.” These findings don’t always correlate directly into a sanctioned positive test case, though, as the numbers in this report include athletes who are approved to have these anomalies under the Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) process, for example, an athlete with a prescribed medication.

Atypical findings (ATF) merely represent findings that require further investigation. Both of these type of findings are included in the data, though most of the data looks at Adverse Analytical Findings, which we’ll call “adverse tests” or abbreviate below as “AAF’s.”

Also keep in mind that we’ll be reporting on the specific swimming-related results when possible, but many of these numbers are aggregates of all sports WADA tests in.


1. Laboratory Report

View Report 1 here

The Laboratory Report begins by breaking down findings by the specific laboratory location that tested the results. Perhaps more interesting, though, is the next bit of the report, which shows the most common banned subtances picked up in WADA tests.

63% of all findings reported to WADA were reported because of the presence of an anabolic agent, and by far the biggest anabolic agent among them was testosterone. A rough explanation of the test: the body produces testosterone in roughly the same amount as another substance called epitestosterone. When an athlete tries to dope more testosterone into his or her system, the amount of epitestosterone in the body is typically unchanged. Therefore, the test looks for the ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone, known as the T/E ratio. A ratio of 4:1 or greater constitutes an AAF.

High T/E ratios make up almost 60% of all anabolic agents found in these adverse tests. The second-most-found substance was stanozolol, a common steroid that led to swimming suspensions like Bulgaria’s Aleksander Nikolov last fall.

Much further down on that list is DHEA, the substance that led to the high-profile ban on Russia’s Yulia Efimova. DHEA only accounts for 0.5% of the “anabolic agents” category, with just 16 occurences. (For reference, the high T/E ratio had 1,859 occurences).

Behind the broad category of “anabolic agents” are “stimulants” which make up the next-biggest category of AAFs. Notable under the “stimulants” umbrella is methylhexaneamine, once marketed as a nasal decongestant. Methylhexaneamine causes blood vessels to constrict and can significantly improve athletic performance. It led to the suspensions of three different swimmers this spring alone: two Indonesian swimmers, an Australian and an Indian athlete as recently as May.

2. Sport Report

View Report 2 here

The second report breaks things down by individual sport. A few things to note about the “Aquatics” category (swimming, water polo, synchronized swimming, diving and open water)  as a whole:

  • Aquatics is one of the most-tested sports overall with 11,585 individual samples tested in 2013. The vast majority of those (8,616) came from swimming. The only other Olympic sport categories to test more samples are cycling, athletics (track, field, cross country, etc) and soccer.
  • As a whole, aquatics saw just 0.8% of its samples come back with adverse findings. That’s just below the average for Olympic sports, which stands at 0.97%. The highest percentages belongs to weightlifting at 3.2%. Behind that is wrestling and equestrian at 2.3%, though Equestrian’s sample size is significantly lower, meaning a few AAF’s can drastically affect the percentage. A few percentages for the other highly-tested sports:
    • Cycling: 1.2%
    • Athletics: 1.2%
    • Soccer: 0.5%

The numbers also break down based on in-competition testing vs out-of-competition testing. When an athlete is tested at a meet, it’s considered in-competition, while random testing of athletes in the FINA or national federation testing pool falls under out-of-competition testing.

Swimming’s numbers for each were very even for both. Just over 4,000 urine samples were tested both in-competition and out-of-competition, plus just over 100 blood samples for each. As we’ll see in a later report, blood testing seems to be becoming more popular, but obviously has a long ways to go to become as prevalent as urine testing within the sport of swimming. Blood testing also didn’t come up with a single adverse finding for a swimmer in 2013, while urine testing found 68 AAFs between in-competition and out-of-competition testing.

3. Authority Report

View Report 3 here

The third report breaks things down by testing authority. In swimming, some testing is run by FINA, while other rounds of testing are conducted by national swimming federations like USA Swimming.

FINA tested 1,573 samples in 2013, which ranks 6th among Olympic sport federations. Cycling, a sport that has been rocked by doping allegations and violations for years, leads the way with 9,430 samples, a very expansive drug testing system to respond to the heavy doping in the sport. No other federation had even half that many individual samples.

The report also shows total samples tested by each nation’s drug testing body. One of the more interesting tidbits is that Russia’s anti-doping body actually tested more samples than any other national governing body at 14,582. A close second was China at 13,364, probably a result of China’s high population. But Russia, despite having about 1/10th the population of China, actually tested more samples for doping. Russia tested double the number of samples as the U.S.’s anti-doping body (USADA) despite having about half the population.

Russia has plenty of reason for its more thorough testing, though, as it’s had its fair share of doping violations, with swimming a good example of that trend. Russia’s national anti-doping body has seen 1.4% of its samples come back with an adverse finding, compared to 0.9% for the U.S. and 0.2% for China’s anti-doping body.

4. ABP/Blood Testing report

View Report 4 here

The final report deals specifically with blood testing and the Athlete Biological Passport (ABP). At a basic level, ABP tests athletes blood outside of competition to create a personalized “passport.” Then when blood is tested in-competition, it can be compared to the passport to see if any elements have significantly changed.

It’s a relatively new idea in doping control, but is gaining significant steam over the past 4 years. The number of ABP samples tested per year has nearly quadrupled since 2009, up to 23,877 samples in 2013.

Aquatics by itself tested 1,236 samples, which makes up 5.5% of all ABP samples from 2013.

As blood doping has become a major problem in cycling, it’s no surprise that the cycling federation tested the most ABPs last year, almost double any other sports federation or national anti-doping federation. FINA tested 470 ABPs in 2013, 4th on the list. The top 3, though, vastly outpace the rest of the list – they were cycling (5,246), athletics (2,877) and skiing (1,605).

In terms of individual country, Russia and Australia have really picked up on the blood testing element, leading all national anti-doping federations with 1,766 and 1,633 samples tested, respectively. France and Germany each tested over 1,000, and USADA is 5th on the list with 786.

Leave a Reply

Notify of

1 Comment
oldest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
9 years ago

And it might interest some people to note that another Russian swimmer has tested positive: Vladimir Dyatchin, an open water swimmer tested positive for a banned substance bringing Russia’s total up to 14 in the last 4 years.

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

Read More »